Montmorenci author Kathy Widener has two books in print about her family's lives in rural South Carolina and is waiting the publication of the third about her life growing up in nearby Lexington County.
Widener will sign copies of the books, “Where Memories Live” and “The Return Home,” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at a public reception at the Aiken Center for the Arts at 122 Laurens St. SW. Attendees also can preorder her third book, “Southern Child: A Memoir,” at the reception.
Widener also will speak at the Aiken County Historical Society meeting at 3 p.m. May 26 at the Aiken County Historical Museum at 433 Newberry St. SW.
Below, Widener shares her inspiration and some of her journey as a writer:
"When I graduated from Pelion School 50 years ago, I had no intention to write. I started writing for a purpose and would like to talk a little about my life and my inspiration for publishing two historical novels.
I was born in Batesburg, South Carolina, the third of four children of Robert Gantt and Sallie Hartley Gantt. Country kids by definition.
Our house was built of pine and unpainted with a clapboard exterior and tin roof. The house was built around 1912 by my Granddaddy, Kelly Gantt, and his brothers. It set on large pine pillars, leveled to perfection by granddaddy. It still stands today, the home of my brother, Steve.
The road I lived on during my childhood was dirt. It still is today, but now has a name, Swamp Rabbit Road. 'As the crow flies,' the old house stands about a mile from the North Edisto river. The road, called Swamp Rabbit after the railroad line by that name passed through Rayflin where my great grandparents, “Kel’”and Peninnah Woodward Gantt lived. Our house stands on the northern section of Kel Gantt’s farm, once over 500 acres. A lot of changes have taken place since my Granddaddy Kelly built his house in 1912. A hundred and six years have passed since the old house was built.
The railroad track was dismantled in 1933; my great grandparents’ house at Rayflin destroyed by fire in 1983. All that remains is a partial bedroom; a mound of river rocks where the old chimney stood; a smokehouse, which is surrounded by a jungle of briars, brambles, small trees; and Great granddaddy Kel’s corncrib barely discernible across the road. Time destroys not only fields, terraces, buildings, fences and farm implements, it also destroys memories.
One month after graduating from Pelion, I married my high school sweetheart and became a stay-at-home mom to our three children. During that time, I also developed an absolutely fanatical interest in genealogical research. I visited cemeteries, courthouses, archives and libraries.
I interviewed older people in the family who had information about my family lines. All of the older people have passed away now, but I have many notebooks full of tidbits of family knowledge gleaned from these interviews. Much information also came from correspondence with people all across the United States. All this I complied and documented before the internet.
My biggest inspiration for writing was my Uncle Leon Gantt. He was a phenomenal story teller and loved to talk about his life. His memory was absolutely amazing.
Telling a story to him was an art; names of characters, date and time of event, usually the weather were included. His recall of events was almost uncanny, and he relished telling his stories.
My siblings and I loved to hear about his life. He talked about his childhood: the Steadman tornado of 1924, the Great Depression, making moonshine in the 1920s and '30s and his service in World War II.
'Where Memories Live,' published in early December 2017, tells Uncle Leon's story from 1910 to 1923. The second novel, “The Return Home,” was published mid-October 2018 and covers 1923 to 1950.
I wanted to write a narrative, not just a family history with names birth and death dates. I wanted it to be a story that could be enjoyed and envisioned.
After publishing my first two books, I thought why not write a trilogy? My siblings and I lived basically the same life as my Granddaddy Kelly and Uncle Leon. For my entire childhood, I lived in the same old clapboard house, no indoor plumbing and no heat except burning wood.
My third book is 'Southern Child: A Memoir,' and it is about my memories of those years.
My siblings have different memories, but these are mine alone. The only difference between our lives and our predecessors: We made no moonshine.
A line from one of my favorite songs, 'Three Crosses' performed by Randy Travis sums up the importance of our memories: 'It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go.'"