portulaca in pie pans

"Portulaca in pie pans was what they set along the front porch. And the mirror on the front of the house: I told you. In the yard, not a snap of grass -- an old auto tire with verbena growing inside of it ninety to nothing, all red. And a tin roof you could just imagine the chinaberries falling on -- ping! And now the hot rays of the sun."

From The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty.

This, my friends, is voice.
Every year, I plant portulaca in pie pans, on the front porch, in honor of Eudora Welty and this wonderful story of generous, rich and lonely Uncle Daniel Ponder, his brand-new -- surprise! -- 17-year-old wife Bonnie Dee Peacock (a little thing from the country who looked as though a good gust of wind could carry her off), and the crazy Peacock family, not to mention our narrator, Edna Earle Ponder, bless her little know-it-all heart.

The book was published in 1954, when I was a year old. I found a paperback copy of it in a used book store in Front Royal, Virginia, when I was in my thirties and trying to write for children. The book was pubished for adults, but I found this copy in the children's section -- lucky me.

I have read this book so many times, I have broken the spine. I have underlined passages and just about memorized stretches of this story. I took it apart, and learned from it, as I tried to write stories of my own. "How does she do that?"

Today, I am convinced that the June family, the family I have created in Hang The Moon, the second book in The Sixties Trilogy, owes a lot to the Peacock family in The Ponder Heart. They aren't the same, not by a long shot, but... they are, in their crazy southern way. I hear echoes today, and I recognize a legacy being passed down because Eudora Welty wrote and published this book, and I reached out and said yes, I love this, I want this, I want to learn; teach me.

I didn't see this as I wrote the draft, which I started in the mid-nineties. But I see it today. What an influence Welty has been on my work.

Influences. Do you know yours? Who and/or what are they? Can you see them in your work, whatever kind of work you do? Name them out loud today. It will give strength to your sword arm.

And maybe, portulaca in pie pans.  (I know; it's a cake pan. I revised. :>)

I'm headed to Knoxville, this minute. Tomorrow I work at the Knoxville Children's Festival of Reading at World's Fair Park. I speak at 11:30 and again at 2:00. Come see me! I'll be talking about influences, for sure, as I introduce Countdown to a brand-new audience in Tennessee.

I am doing the same thing Welty did, in my own way: I am releasing my book, my tender story, into the wide world, not knowing who may need it now, or who might, years after I am gone, come across a dusty old paperback in a used bookstore one day, and say... yes.

3 comments:

  1. YOU are my Eudora Welty. I love Comfort, I'm attached to Ruby, and I'm getting attached to Frannie. I quote Uncle Edisto, I use Declaration and her snooty friends to teach my 4th grade students about the ups and downs and heartache of real friendship. And then there is Peach Shuggars... enough said. There are layers of meaning in your stories that can best be appreciated with multiple readings. Thanks for taking the time to fix the comment section. I really wanted to comment.(smile)
    Leslie W.

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  2. THank you, dear Leslie. Your words are awfully generous, and I appreciate them. I am still learning, still searching for those layers of meaning, and still hoping to do my best, just as you are. Let's keep learning from one another.

    Thanks for commenting. :>

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  3. I love your portulaca!!!

    My influence is Cynthia Rylant. Voice. voice. voice. place. place. place. Sigh.....

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