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Alabama, One Big Front Porch

Kathryn Tucker Windham

NewSouth Books
978-1-58838-219-1
$25.95 hardcover
8 x 9 ½ 
168 pages
black-and-white photos & illustrations throughout
Published in 2007 

In her inimitable style, storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham takes readers on a tour of the history, people, and places of the “heart of Dixie.” First published in 1975 and long out of print, Alabama, One Big Front Porch is now reissued for the enjoyment of all.

“Alabama,” Mrs. Windham writes, “is like one big front porch where folks gather on summer nights to tell tales and to talk family. Everybody, they say, is kin to everybody else—or knows somebody who is. The tale-tellers don’t all look alike and they don’t all talk alike, but the stories they tell are all alike in their unmistakable Southern blend of exaggeration, humor, pathos, folklore, and romanticism.”

Within, find the story of the night the stars actually fell on Alabama, the tale of the famous Canoe Fight, the origins of Alabama’s football cheers, how Coffee County gained a boll weevil statue, and the space flight of Miss Baker the monkey. Thrill to the exploits of the Outlaw Sheriff, and learn of the teacher Julia Tutwiler and her dog Professor Frederick. Also included are recipes for barbecue sauce, Brunswick stew, and more, as only Alabama can make it.

Excerpt:

Many of Alabama’s finest stories used to begin with a reference to “the night the stars fell,” and even now there is an inclination among some residents to divide local history into two segments: before the stars fell and after the stars fell. That would make November 13, 1833, the dividing line.

Thousands of Alabamians, thinking the end of the world was at hand when they saw the heavenly spectacle, fell to their knees to plead for mercy and forgiveness. Others promised eternal renunciation of sin (card playing, dancing, whiskey drinking, cursing, and associated vices) if they were spared whatever catastrophes were in the offing. Still others jumped upon horses and tried to outrace the fearful menace they believed was pursuing them.

That night, the night the stars fell, may have branded Alabama as a strange land, her people forever set apart by a horoscope of enchantment and turmoil. Some historians, sociologists, romanticisms, astrologists, and conjure women say so. Maybe it did. It was quite a night.

Storytelling spots aren’t all on front porches: they’re any place where storytellers gather. But the best stories are a family’s very own tales, stories whose humor and pathos provide nostalgic links with kinfolk who were here awhile ago.