During Women’s History month, I continue to extend my regards to women who have had a positive influence on my life. This post is all about the Southern writer, Eudora Welty, whom I had the pleasure of seeing at a literary conference years ago.
I encountered most of her works in literary anthologies which reach a different audience from the mass market readers. Most college students study these texts and they have the opportunity to analyze, dissect and critique chosen writers’ works.
During my freshman year in college, I read Welty’s A Visit to Charity. A young girl scout has to visit a senior citizen home for points and she is amazed at how old the woman is. She notices the woman’s wrinkled, spotted skin and learns a lot about the aging process.
As she leaves the home, she takes a bite out of an apple which symbolizes a loss of innocence. Welty is known for her use of symbols and I never forgot how my instructor made us see the meanings of these tangible items in the short story.
Eudora Welty is known for writing short stories with a use of symbolism. Many of her stories center around good race relationships in many everyday situations. In A Worn Path, an older African-American woman called Old Phoenix is seen walking along a trail. It is not clear where she is going but in spite of her age, she is determined to get to her destination. She encounters a white man who first helps her after she has fallen and then tries to scare her. She assures him that she is too old to be scared of anything and they part company amicably.
We find that she is traveling to get medicine for her sick grandson and after she is given two nickels, she goes to buy him a toy windmill for Christmas while in Natchez. I had forgotten this story until I re-read it and was surprised that the character’s name was Phoenix. That is the name of the main character in my two novellas. We never know what is etched in our memory banks!
And then there is the story called Livvie. It takes place in rural Mississippi, and it opens with young Livvie in the house with her dying husband, Solomon. He is a very old man who is slipping in and out of consciousness as he holds on to his watch. The watch symbolizes that time is running out for him.
He has locked Livvie away from the world because he did not want anyone looking at her. He married her when she was very young but he is now old. He is considered to be prosperous and owns a lot of land.
Livvie dutifully stands by his bedside and is at a loss, until the doorbell rings. Baby Marie, a white saleswoman is selling cosmetics. When she realizes that Livvie has no access to money, she gives her tube of lipstick. Livvie puts on the lipstick and feels young and vibrant. Baby Marie asks to see her dying husband and cannot believe how old he is.
This gives Livvie a sense of freedom and she walks out of the house feeling that she is beautiful. She sees young Cash, a local field hand, who is donned in new clothes. Together, they go and look in on Solomon. Before he dies, he asks Livvie for forgiveness for his selfishness. He realizes that he has stifled her ability to be free and really live. He gives them his blessing and Livvie and Cash walk out into the fresh air releasing the past and looking forward to the bright future.
I never forgot this story and I named one of my used cars Livvie, hoping to extend its life. I think it worked! Good writers leave impressions on us and we never know when we will pull up those things and use them again. A sincere thank you to Ms. Eudora Welty!
Lynn March 6, 2015