I was reminded recently of one of my all time favorite bits of words, the achingly beautiful short story "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" by Katherine Anne Porter. I promised Colleen I'd post a link so she and our other critique-mates could read it and (oh, yes) weep. Katherine Anne Porter was born Callie Russel Porter in Indian Creek, Texas. She was proud to be a direct descendant of Daniel Boone. When Porter was just two years old, her mother died, and her father took her and her four siblings to live with their grandmother, Catherine Anne Porter. Porter spent part of her childhood with relatives in Marfa, Texas, and her work held a whole new meaning for me after I went to Marfa with Colleen when she was researching her novel Triple Exposure. Bleakness and beauty coexist, as do life and death, hope and despair, miles and miles of everything that goes on.
My daughter Jerusha and I discussed the story at length as we were driving to Killeen a few months ago, and it struck me deeply how drastically the meaning of the story had changed since I first read it as a teenager.
Here's a bit from the story:
Her bones felt loose, and floated around in her skin, and Doctor Harry floated like a balloon around the foot of the bed. He floated and pulled down his waistcoat, and swung his glasses on a cord. “Well, stay where you are, it certainly can’t hurt you.”
“Get along and doctor your sick,” said Granny Weatherall. “Leave a well woman alone. I’ll call for you when I want you…Where were you forty years ago when I pulled through milk-leg and double pneumonia? You weren’t even born. Don’t let Cornelia lead you on,” she shouted, because Doctor Harry appeared to float up to the ceiling and out. “I pay my own bills, and I don’t throw my money away on nonsense!”
She meant to wave good-by, but it was too much trouble. Her eyes closed of themselves, it was like a dark curtain drawn around the bed. The pillow rose and floated under her, pleasant as a hammock in a light wind. She listened to the leaves rustling outside the window. No, somebody was swishing newspapers: no, Cornelia and Doctor Harry were whispering together. She leaped broad awake, thinking they whispered in her ear.
“She was never like this, never like this!” “Well, what can we expect?” “Yes, eighty years old…”
Well, and what if she was? She still had ears. It was like Cornelia to whisper around doors. She always kept things secret in such a public way. She was always being tactful and kind. Cornelia was dutiful; that was the trouble with her. Dutiful and good: “So good and dutiful,” said Granny, “that I’d like to spank her.” She saw herself spanking Cornelia and making a fine job of it.
“What’d you say, mother?”
Granny felt her face tying up in hard knots.
“Can’t a body think, I’d like to know?”
“I thought you might like something.”
“I do. I want a lot of things. First off, go away and don’t whisper.”
Click here to read "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" in full. And in case you're worried that kids today aren't getting any great words thrown at their heads, here's a moment from TV's teen angst-fest One Tree Hill, featuring the profound words of Katherine Anne Porter. Kudos to the writers for including this quote, even if they had to google for it.