Welty’s “First Love” and Natchez

The Wide Net by Eudora Welty

My first edition copy of Wide Net by Eudora Welty. “First Love” is one of my favorite stories from that collection.

Last week we began a discussion about Eudora Welty on my Facebook page, which I carried with me into the weekend. After recommending one of Welty’s stories from a collection of short stories published in 1943 titled, The Wide Net, I decided I needed to read the story again. The story, “First Love,” is set in Natchez, Mississippi:

“Whatever happened, it happened in extraordinary times, in a season of dreams, and in Natchez it was the bitterest winter of them all.”

I’m not sure I completely understood this story when I first read it, and maybe not even now. The first line seems to say that the writer isn’t exactly sure what happened either, acknowledging with some level of grace that reality can be ambiguous, which makes me feel better about my inability to interpret her meaning.

I reread “First Love” this weekend and two thoughts struck me. First, it had been so long since I’d read this story that I’d forgotten it was set in Natchez. Second, as I was working on my current manuscript, I realized there’s a fairly big scene that I’ve also cast in Natchez, with the Mississippi River as one of the main characters. This realization made me think about how we synthesize things we encounter, sometimes without even realizing it. They sort of sink into our subconscious to be called forth, often when we least expect it.

Also, the passages about the Natchez Trace reminded me of other parts of my story. The Trace is an historical 444-mile path from Natchez to Nashville linking the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. Native Americans used this trail for centuries. I have an extreme fondness for the Trace but I decided not to use that path for my character’s epic walk from East Texas to North Georgia, although her Cherokee heritage might have embraced that path if I’d plotted her course differently.

All in all, it’s funny how much you can get out of rereading one of your favorite stories. They impact you more than you know. After reflecting on Eudora Welty’s gift and my love of the Deep South, which she writes about with such reverence, I couldn’t help but feel homesick.