Sunday, October 15, 2006

Me, the U-U's, and Fair Hope

October 15

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.


Bert Bananas said...

"...Raised by a pious Mormon family in Utah, ... How she came to be a Unitarian, I don't know exactly..."

I would like to suggest that you ask her daughter, your friend, about this. I think it would be a fascinating thing to find out!

Judging by my approximation of her age, she probably grow up in Utah under the 'pious' practice of polygamy. I'm guessing that she might have found fault with an unwritten, but firmly practiced plank of Mormondom (then), "Men have orgasms and women have babies."

Basically my query is, how did she overcome the inculcations of her youth?

Finding Fair Hope said...

Being at heart a scientist, she probably had doubts about the faith of her fathers' all along. I always assumed so anyway. My friend Linda lives in an obscure town in a state miles away, but brother Richard may know.

I'll see what I can find out and let you know. The Unitarians loved my speech, by the way, and some of them shared other information about her.

Bert Bananas said...

" Being at heart a scientist, she probably had doubts about the faith of her fathers' all along."

I doubt that you mean that anyone with a bent towards asking questions and seeking answers automatically doubts the faith of his fathers. Were this the case how would organized religion exist?

Robin said...

miss FF you are all over the internet. I googled Verda Horne to find out more about her, my curiousity getting to me, anyway you are mentioned in several articles. Congrats on your speech..

Finding Fair Hope said...

I am all over the Internet? How can that be? Wonder what I did...I guess I'll google myself and Verda Horne too. Verda is on my website anyway. Everybody visit it -- it's linked to this one.

Thank you, Robin!

Anna said...

I found your blog by googling Verda's name--it is so inspiring to read what you have written about her! I am her granddaughter, Karen's daughter.

In response to some of the comments asking how Verda came to Unitarianism after being raised as a Mormon, I think you are right that her willingness to question was what made this possible.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Anna, I think your mother has a copy of the book I wrote about growing up in Fairhope, Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. At least I'm sure your aunt Linda has it.

The chapter on Verda has some information you will find interesting! If they don't have a copy, email me at and I'll send you a copy.

Helen said...

Hi, this is Helen, I am also Verda's grand daughter (little sister of Anna). Verda died right before I was born, but reading what you had written about her allowed her to come alive for me in a whole new way - to see the impact that she had had on the lives of others was very moving. I have to admit, I cried. Thank you so much for your work.

Finding Fair Hope said...

I'm glad you found this piece, Helen, and hope you will come back from time to time to read of life in Fairhope today. Visit my website, too, for another mention of your extraordinary grandmother. And don't forget, it's all in my book Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree.

Hope I meet you and see Karen again soon. There is an Organic School reunion scheduled for next October.

sweetpottoo said...

Ouch! An obscure town? Great Barrington, Massachusetts produced William Edward Burghardt DuBois, among others. Now Linda Horne Small has moved to the yet more obscure town of St. George, Maine - the setting for Sarah Orne Jewett's "Country of the Pointed Firs".

I'm Linda's daughter Elissa, procrastinating from my Masters in Public Health. Bert Bananas, my question is: How do any of us "overcome the inculcations" of our youth?

Finding Fair Hope said...

Sorry, Elissa, which this was first posted months ago I had NO idea how many Horne offspring would visit...probably not all have been heard from even yet.

The reference to the obscure town far away was simply a hedge because I couldn't remember the address. I thought it was Housatonic, which is probably a lot bigger than Fairhope will ever be.

Fairhope, as unique as it may have been (at one time) remains quite proud to be obscure. This too shall change.

Keep in touch!