In her first book, If the Creek Don't Rise, Rita Williams tells tales of the subject of her memoir, her Aunt Daisy.
You open your memoir with Daisy saying, "Hush up. Hold your mud," but then you go right ahead and tell all. You never worried she'd be mad at you for writing this book?
Not only would she be mad, she probably would have tried to kill me! But you know what, I figure at the end of this, I'm gonna be dead anyway. What's important is what's left behind, and this record needs to be there when I'm long gone.
Daisy believed her harshness—and her harsh language— would toughen you up. Did it? Did you hate her, as you sometimes say?
Absolutely—because I wanted to be like the other kids. I wanted to go skiing. I wanted a cardigan set. This whole business of making me strong—in certain ways it did, and in other ways I'm deeply wounded. There's a problem with beatin' on kids to toughen them up. Sometimes they get hurt.
As we get older, we often find ourselves becoming the person who raised us. Do you see yourself becoming like your Aunt Daisy?
Oh, yeah, I really do. I know that I am very grounded in the earth. I'm very grounded in language. I remember one day when my aunt and I were standing at the edge of the creek and we looked down, and there were these new baby trout, and Daisy looked at them with such tenderness and said, "Aw, ain't they sweet"—who thinks of fish as sweet?
Why did she enjoy fishing so much?
Remember, Daisy starved as a child, so just having enough protein was a big deal, connected to absolute survival. It's like saying—"I got my supper and I didn't have to ask anyone for it." I feel like she wanted to be free of that welfare thing that so many of us got mired in, not having the skills to make our own way. Being a real hunter and being able to catch her own supper and her own breakfast, that was a big deal. Oh, Daisy was big on food. Growing it, processing it—that entire cycle represented a whole level of freedom we don't appreciate today when we run down to the Safeway and ask for trout with the heads chopped off and the guts gone.
What are you planning on doing, after the book's out and everyone's finished celebrating?
Well... I think I'm going to plant some tomatoes.