I'm gathering my wits to make a little talk to the Unitarian Fellowship. I want to tell them about the history of the U-U's (Unitarians) in town, and especially about Verda Horne, their leader. As I wrote in Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, she was "a scientist, a writer, a leader and a teacher. In addition to her specialties in botany, zoology, physics, anthropology, history and literature, she had an interest in philosophy, poetry, the arts, gardening, and being a mother."
She was mother to three: Linda, in my class and still a treasured friend; Karen, in my brother's class, and his first date; and Richard, just a year or two younger and now a blazing Liberal lawyer in Mobile.
I used to attend her talks at the early Unitarian fellowship in the old wooden building on the bluff that is long gone. The fellowship probably numbered about 15 people, and on any given Sunday there would be some eight or ten who would come to hear Verda speak. She was able to give scientific findings a spiritual slant, and we always started the program with a recitation of the Organic School prayer:
Give us thy harmony, oh Lord,
That we may understand,
The beauty of the sky
The rhythm of the soft wind's lullaby.
The sun, the shadows, the woods in the spring,
And thy great love,
That dwells in everything.
She said that she chose that because, in Fairhope, it was one thing you could be sure a majority of people would know by heart.
One of her favorite talks was about Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book Gift from the Sea. Not only was the book new at that time, but it had much power for women and for scientists, and probably especially for women scientists and writers. The book meant a lot to Verda, and later in life came to mean a great deal to me as well. I never forgot her talks about it.
She gathered a following of poets, young people, and visitors from everywhere. Her house, piled high with books and magazines, was a haven for intellectuals and students.
Raised by a pious Mormon family in Utah, she had come to Alabama with a degree from the University of Minnesota. She arrived on a reseach project to study blue crabs. She met Rix Horne there, married him and stayed. How she came to be a Unitarian, I don't know exactly, but she was very good friends with Robert Weston, the Unitarian minister from Louisville, who helped her in the early days of the Fairhope fellowship, while also working to start a similar one in Mobile. With Verda in charge, the Mobile U-U's usually came to Fairhope to hear her.
Dr. Weston had a son named Dick, who is now a minister, too. He was just a bit older than I and a good friend of my sister's and Frank Laraway's, now a pillar at the local U-U's, who will introduce me this morning.
Which means it's time for me to get ready and go. I hope I keep my head on straight and have only good things to say about Fairhope, then and now. I know there'll be good things if I concentrate on Verda. Wish I could channel her.