It's A Family Affair

Two bookstores tomorrow; today is a family day -- Eudora Welty's home in Jackson, Mississippi (you can revisit my last visit, here), a school visit, and a family dinner. This is the way the Shoestring works, as Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt helps me fold bookstores and book-selling friends into travel already planned, and find the richness of stories in the midst all of it.

Eudora Welty has been a huge influence on my writing and even my gardening. The gardens at the Welty House (which were tended lovingly by Chestina Welty, Eudora's mother) are blooming like mad -- we are behind these bloom dates, in Atlanta, so I'm looking forward to the sweet William and daisies in my own garden later in May.

I couldn't make it to Jackson for the centennial celebration of Eudora's birth earlier this month, but coming to the house this week was still a balm to my soul. Those of you who have read THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS will know that I have a character -- a beloved canine character -- in that book named... Eudora Welty.

Thank you, Mary Alice White, and everyone at the Welty House for always making me feel welcome, and for regarding children's books as a respected form of literature within the Welty universe. I hope to be back to eat tomato sandwiches on the back porch with you next summer.

After the Welty House, we made a stop at the Brandon Library to meet the new branch manager Lisa Sorey.

Did we get the same "Dress for Wednesday" memo? We had never met each other, but discovered we had lots in common.

Sometime I'd love to detail Lisa's thoughts about public librarianship. I follow several librarians on twitter, and can say that Lisa's thoughts are spot-on what I read elsewhere... but more on that another day -- let me finish up with Wednesday's Shoestring Tour:

I started out Wednesday in my cousin Carol Booth's school.

I spoke to the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades at Pine Lake Christian Academy in Brandon, Mississippi, in three short assemblies. My cousin Carol, the cousin I admired every summer and wanted to be like -- she was just that much older than I (today she's much younger, she'll tell you) -- is the librarian at Pine Lake and has faithfully read LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER to her third graders every year, so I had a passel of people waiting for me who knew all about Ruby and Melba Jane and Halleluia, Mississippi.

It's a thrill to be able to talk about these Mississippi stories with Mississippi readers. They know how Mississippi looks. They know the way the dirt smells, the way the air feels, the way the bayous breathe and the piney woods sway and the way the people talk and more -- it's such a pleasure to be in-country with those who know this place.

And it's a pleasure to write for those who don't know the deep south -- it makes me a better writer, to work at helping readers see, hear, taste, touch and smell the sensual world of my childhood. It is different and yet there is so much that is the same, don't you think? Storytellers are always looking for the universal connectors in stories, no matter what world they inhabit for that story.

And one thing we know: what's universal is always held in the heart.

On Wednesday night, when the family turned out for Carol's lasagna, we told stories. Old stories, new stories. We connected the past with the present for the next generation of storytellers. We passed on our history. We created new history.

This is, in part, what the Shoestring Tour, this trip, is all about, too. Let me close with a quote from Eudora Welty about travel, far and near:

The trips were wholes unto themselves. They were stories. Not only in form, but in their taking on direction, movement, development, change. They changed something in my life: each trip made its particular revelation, though I have not found words for it. But with the passage of time, I could look back on them and see them bringing me news, discoveries, premonition, promises -- I still can; they still do.