Meet Me At The Butterfly Tree
A Fairhope Memoir
by Mary Lois Timbes and Robert E. Bell
nonfiction, 2001, 2005
My first book for the Southern Reading Challenge was written by a woman whose blog I enjoy, Mary Lois.
This is the kind of book every little town needs. It is about Fairhope, Alabama, and is history, memoir, and biography all in one. The book begins with letters between Mary Lois Timbes, and Robert E. Bell, who authored a fictional version of Fairhope called The Butterfly Tree. Each of them lived in the town for part of their lives, and the letters are reminiscences of people and places and activities. His last letter ends with the words, "Let's do work on a book," but sadly he died before this could happen. In addition to including his letters, Mary Lois has interspersed a few of his memories among the chapters of the book.
Fairhope was founded in the late nineteenth century as a Utopian community by the proponents of Henry George's Single Tax economic idea. Over time it developed into a place which welcomed intellectuals, artists, and folks that probably wouldn't 'fit' into a more traditional town. A visionary named Marietta Johnson, who had been a teacher in Minnesota, came to Fairhope and began a new kind of school, The Organic School, which was progressive and radical for its time. No dress code, no tests, learning through living. Now, this is commonplace, and familiar to most of us. In my little area there is a Montessori School, and a couple others which are located on farms, where children get to experience much that would not be taught in a public school setting. The author was lucky enough to have had her education at The Organic School, where children loved to go, and couldn't wait to get back to after vacations.
I understand how an influx of people can change a place. In the 1960s an alternative college was started in my part of the world, and many of those graduates stayed in the area, bringing a new energy, and art, and social activism. The people in Mary Lois' book are gone now, but their influence, their personalities, their work still resounds today in the town of Fairhope, Alabama. If you think you'd like to make a change in your life, and move to such a place, the author is selling her house. And if you can't move to Fairhope, you may read this fine book and learn about a fascinating, surprising, and wonderful place. I so enjoyed my visit there.