Road Trip Visit with an “Old” Friend

Hard to believe Aileen Kilgore Henderson and I have been friends since she was younger than I am now, which makes her just about a centenarian. I won’t take the math any further than that! We met while serving together on some sort of literary writing panel at a community college and have stayed in touch ever since.

Time flies when we connect–in person or on email, comparing notes on what we’ve been reading, what we’ve been writing, and what connections we’ve had with other writers around the state. Yesterday was no exception. A beautiful afternoon for a drive, especially the last few miles along shady back roads above Tuscaloosa. Aileen was sitting comfortably on her screened front porch, and on the tiny table next to her was my autographed copy of her latest book–THE WORLD THROUGH THE DIME STORE DOOR, which I look forward to curling up with soon. It’s her third memoir, drawn from diary entries of the 1930s and 1940s. The jacket describes it as “a personal and engaging account of a Southern town and its environs in momentous transition as seen through the eyes of a poor young woman with only a high school education but gifted with a lively mind and an openness to life.”

Aileen’s other non-fiction books include STATESIDE SOLDIER: Life in the Women’s Army Corps 1944-1945; TENDERFOOT TEACHER: Letters from the Big Bend 1952-1954; and EUGENE ALLEN SMITH’S ALABAMA: How a Geologist Shaped a State. She’s also written five award-winning books for children, including THE SUMMER OF THE BONEPILE MONSTER and HARD TIMES FOR JAKE SMITH.

I would have to say that Aileen, all this time later, is still quite open to life and continues to plumb and share from the depths of her lively mind. I will definitely file yesterday afternoon away in a folder for very special fall afternoons.

UPDATE: I finished reading (and relishing) THE WORLD THROUGH THE DIME STORE DOOR this week and thoroughly enjoyed the trip back through the 1930s and early 1940s, which I didn’t arrive on earth in time to experience personally. However, those were times I often heard my parents and grandparents tell stories about. Aileen did a wonderful job of weaving her family’s personal experiences, and her own, with events in the larger world. She told of the British airmen who trained not far from her home and of Howard Hughes’ flight around the world, of shelling peas and peeling pears at a community canning center, and of the scary Halloween night in October 1938 when she and her father listened to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” on the radio. This is memoir–narrative non-fiction–at is best.

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