I wish I had made this family tree *before* I read the book! But, you’re welcome to use it
when you read Delta Wedding. I might not have the siblings in just the right order, but
it’s a general idea of this large southern family living in Mississippi in 1923. When nine
year old Laura (upper right) is invited to cousin Dabney’s wedding, she takes the train,
the Yellow Dog, to the Fairchilds, and is met at the station by a bunch of the cousins, and
cousin Orrin, who is 14, drives them home to the plantation.
Imagine being nine years old and going to visit the wonderful big old house of your
cousins—for a wedding! Dabney is seventeen and is marrying Troy, the overseer,
at the end of the week. Everyone thinks she’s marrying “beneath herself” but
because she seems so happy, few say anything. Well, I’ll except her father, Battle,
who is brokenhearted, and the “great-aunts” who say anything they please, and
even some of Dabney’s closer aunts make a sharp comment or two.
Here is a drawing of the Fairchild house, Shellmound. A “tall, white, wide frame
house with a porch all around, its bayed tower on one side, its tinted windows
open and its curtains stirring . . .”
Laura stands outside the house and remembers how it will be inside:
” . . .and in the parlor she knew was a clover-shaped footstool covered
with rose velvet where she would sit, and sliding doors to the music room
that she could open and shut. In the halls would be the rising smell of
girls’ fudge cooking, the sound of the phone by the roll-top desk going
unanswered. She could remember mostly the dining room, the paintings
by Great-Aunt Mashula that was dead, of full blown yellow roses . . .
the big table never quite cleared; the innumerable packs of old, old
playing cards. . . . thready pattern of red roses in the carpet on the
stairs, calls and answers going up and down . . .upstairs hall (where)
it was twilight all the time . . .the sleeping porches–”
This passage stirred such memories for me that I didn’t know if I
could manage to keep reading–and this only on page 8!
I would quote the whole page, happily, but wanted you to have at least
a taste of Eudora Welty’s writing–warm, engaging, willing you to sink
yourself into the scene, come to the lazy summer days of this wedding.
Dabney is the first of the children of Battle and Ellen Fairchild to be
married, but she’s not the eldest daughter. That is Shelley, who is
planning a trip to Europe with her Aunt Tempe in the fall. You might
know of families where the second daughter married first.
Dabney’s best friend, Mary Lamar Mackey is staying at the house, too,
and is in the music room playing the piano throughout most of the book,
practicing for the wedding, which will be held at Shellmound.
Life and people are spilling out of the pages of this book—not that it’s
a cliffhanger of a story—we are just making our way towards this
wedding at the end of the week. But on our way, we keep getting a
little more of the story of who is who in this family—who was always
the favorite (Denis) of the older generation, and I compare their
stories to the ones I heard growing up about our own family and the
aunts and uncles.
Ellen, the mother of the eight children–Dabney’s mother–carries the
story for us a good part of the way. She is one of three characters in
the novel who is not a *Fairchild* but married into the family. And
that’s an interesting angle on its own. She is expecting another child
in the fall.
Aunt Tempe is a strong character, too. She “had never put on her
grown up mind . . .as if her grown-up mind were a common old house
dress Aunt Tempe would never want to be caught in . . .You never
had to grow up if you were spoiled enough. It was comforting, if
things turned out not to be what you thought . . .”
Old Great Aunt Mac “gave a trifling hobble sometimes now when she
walked, but it seemed to be a flourish, just to look busy.”
And on the wedding day, “Mary Lamar Mackey wore the Nile-green
tulle that had the silver sash, and Aunt Tempe had on the Chinese
coat of yellow velvet with roses and violets printed on it . . .Shelley
wore the tea-rose silk dress with the gathered side panels, and
Dabney the white net with the gold kid gardenia on the chest.”
Welty nails every character so we won’t forget them soon. If the
reading flags a bit midway, let it. Pick it up again when you want
to be enveloped in this old time world–in a different time and place–
not necessarily where everything is fine, but maybe where everyone
I had two copies of Delta Wedding—my own in paper, on the right,
but I preferred reading a library edition—sometimes they are just