Adele Elliott: Welcome Center

April 24, 2009

Adele Elliott - [email protected]


In the South we are known for our warmth and hospitality. It doesn''t matter if someone asks for directions, or advice on where to get great barbecue, or just says "hi" as they walk through our lovely streets. In this part of the world, and especially in Columbus, we are eager to respond. In fact, we sometimes wish there were more opportunities to illustrate why we are called "The Friendly City." 


For the last few days, I have had a chance to fill in for Miss Virginia at The Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. (No one can really replace her.) This is a never-a-dull-moment sort of place. The job description is a composite of greeter/tour director/wedding and party planner/diplomat. 


I particularly like to talk to those interested in literature. Everyone has heard of Tennessee Williams. (Even a group of Rotarians traveling all the way from India!) The Welcome Center has big posters, with photographs of the writer''s family, and lots of information about his career. 


The character of the fragile sister in "The Glass Menagerie" was based on his real sister, Rose. We have a lovely photo of her in the dress she wore for her d├ębut. She looks like a flower in a skirt made of layers of tulle cut into petal-like points. Her cupid-bow pout and sad eyes reveal so much about her damaged psyche. 


It''s not hard to form camaraderie with the folks who stop in. A conversation that began about our local architecture evolved into one about the renovation of "Beauvoir," and taught me a great deal. It was the home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. Although horribly battered by Katrina, it is nearly renovated, with much of the original structure preserved. 


This is the place to come for maps, driving tours, restaurant info and especially directions to the historic homes. It is also the pulse of what visitors really want to see. Most-asked are questions about Friendship Cemetery. Every day tourists and locals want to know more than a small brochure can convey. 


Just as I began to wonder how to get a guide book for the cemetery, my wishes were answered. Sylvia Higginbotham bounced in as if summoned by a genie. 


You know her from her books about the South, like "Mama Said ...", and "Southern Women." 


"I''d love to do a book about Friendship Cemetery!" she exclaimed when I told her that there was a need for one. 


And that, I suppose, is typical of the kismet of Columbus. The right people just seem to show up when you need them. (Note to Sylvia: I will not let you forget this project.) 


Patty Davis dropped by looking for T-shirts from the "Mississippi Kid" benefit. I made a few phone calls and tracked them down for her. "As a child, I wanted to be a detective," I told her, "... or a fairy." 


We see so few job openings for fairies these days. But, in a way, following the trail of concert organizers and movers-and-shakers was a bit like detective work, and a bit like magic. 


This house has a quirkiness that could have been penned by Tennessee Williams. It is unpredictable, so different in the morning than in the afternoon. 


Each pilgrim and traveler brings new energy and leaves me with some knowledge, or a smile. They become a part of the house''s persona. The Tennessee Williams Home is a vessel for ghosts, real and imagined. 


In the late afternoon, the sun shoots paths of light across the worn wooden floors. The house creaks just a little. I think it is saying, "Do not forget who I am. I am grand and wonderful and have nurtured a great mind." 


Outside, the birds chirp loudly. They seem to understand and to respond. "This house is one of our treasures. Please visit. It is not for tourists alone." 


(Note to Miss Virginia: Feel better soon. You are missed.) 


Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at [email protected]

Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.