- 1990:I Call on Eudora Welty An Interview
As soon as we were in the car, she was telling me a story: something shocking and comical about a woman who'd walked off and left her baby in an elevator in a building downtown.1
"Said—this was in the newspaper—it was so hot she'd forgotten she even had the child with her"—a regional anecdote to break the ice and comment on the weather for a pilgrim from a distant state. But while she talked and drove, she watched me, peering through her curtain of words for signs of intelligent life in this visitor.
Things may not have looked promising. I was jet-lagged, culture-shocked, and struck dumber than usual by being in the presence of maybe the most revered writer in America as she piloted us through the streets of Jackson, Mississippi, in her own automobile.
And what an automobile: a purple-and-white 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, with squeaky white seats and four-on-the-floor. Pine needles littered the dashboard.
"You're welcome to use these seat belts if you know how," she'd said when we'd got in. "I never did do it. I do it everywhere else, but not in my own car. I know it's the best idea."
The eighty-one-year-old Eudora Welty could barely see above the steering wheel. She was a cautious driver, approaching signal lights slowly in case they turned red. In traffic she drifted from lane to lane as she talked, pointed out landmarks, and looked for streets.
Coincidentally, she'd just gotten back from southern California, where I had just arrived from. There she'd been the guest of former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, also of Mississippi.
"A lovely girl," said Miss Welty. "She's married to that fellow who's on that morning TV program, what is it? Good Morning, A.M.? Anyway—they have a wonderful daughter who was graduating from this very exclusive school there, and they invited me to come speak at the commencement. They said they'd pay my plane ticket and put me up at the Beverly Hills Hotel and everything, and I thought it would be rather churlish of me to refuse. And besides, I thought it might be … interesting." [End Page 1]
Had she gone to that hotel's famous Polo Lounge?
"Oh, yes." She described a marvelous scene she'd witnessed there. A young actress waiting for some producer type to show up, primping expectantly, all aglow and eager. "Then finally he lanced in." Miss Welty made swaggering, shoulder-swinging motions behind the steering wheel. "Sits down to speak with her. Then there was a page; he'd gotten a telephone call—and you just know he had arranged for this to happen. He got up and left to take it. And then, when he came back, that's when he broke the bad news. And this poor girl, the tears just sprang to her eyes and rolled all down her cheeks, just like a waterworks. And of course he just got up and left; he walked right out of there.
"It was everything you would expect it to be, or could have wanted it to be," Miss Welty said of her Polo Lounge experience. "But," she concluded surprisingly, "just a little bit … old fashioned, I thought."
We had arrived at Miss Welty's house at 1119 Pinehurst Street.
She parked the Cutlass in the drive. We got out and walked toward the Tudor-style two-story.
"The squirrels have just made a mess of this front yard," she apologized, pointing at the dozens of pine cones strewn about the base of a big tree. "They climb up there and tear those off when it's hot like this to get the moisture out, and then they just—toss them away, just like a Dixie cup."
The mailbox was stuffed with envelopes. Half a dozen packages and mailing tubes lay on the front porch step. "Oh, curses!" Miss Welty said. "Those all look like things for me to sign."
A few weeks earlier, one of the letters in...