One afternoon in 1996, Miss Welty decided to take a small group of us to supper at Bill’s, a favorite restaurant in her hometown of Jackson, Miss. Several times on the way in a neighbor’s car she talked about the delicious redfish at Bill’s. She may or may not have realized she had repeated herself. Acquaintances knew she sometimes forgot what she’d just said, but if she repeated, the repetition usually had a fresh slant, a new, telling detail.
When we walked into the restaurant, all tables were taken. But a party of seven seated in the back of the restaurant, not finished with their meal, saw who had arrived. They realized the situation: There was no seat for Miss Welty, author of The Optimist’s Daughter, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and canonical short stories like ”Why I Live at the P.O.” This was Mississippi. They abruptly abandoned their table.
We were seated, we ordered, and then we talked for a while. Miss Welty suddenly but quietly asked a friend across the table, ”Have we ordered?”
”Well, what did I order?”
”You ordered the redfish.”
Pause. ”Well, I’m not surprised.”
After the meal, when Miss Welty stood—with help—and started for the door, everyone in the place applauded. They sensed her place in Mississippi, and among readers everywhere. Those who have yet to read her have treasures awaiting.
(Welty died of pneumonia in Jackson.)