is a great storyteller, goes the old Irish proverb. Unfortunately, Eugene Walter's time on this planet ended too
soon. Mobile, Alabama's beloved novelist, poet, artist, and social
commentator left us during the spring of 1998 at the age of 76.
was not Irish, but he certainly cherished his European ties. His
grandfather was Bavarian. His grandmother French-Swiss. Another
grandfather hailed from Norway. And, of course, Eugene spent thirty years
in Paris and Rome. But European tendencies aside, Eugene was pure Mobilian
at heart, a bona fide son of the South.
would argue that Eugene was a great storyteller. He spun a tale with the
best, enlivening social gatherings, amusing counts and countesses, and
entertaining guests in his "no-cat room". But throughout the
years, the story of Eugene's personal life remained, for the most part, a
mystery. Certain friends knew certain things, but no one knew enough to
put all the pieces together.
the spring of 2000, Carolyn Haines and Rebecca Barrett took a step in that
direction by publishing a book titled Moments with Eugene—a collection
of stories about Eugene, as told by numerous friends and acquaintances.
But the sum of all parts still failed to capture many aspects of Eugene's
life—missing parts that only Eugene could explain (if only he were still
Katherine Clark—professor of literature at New Orleans' Dillard
University and author of Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story.
met Eugene in 1987 (soon after he returned to Mobile from Rome). Intrigued
by Eugene's colorful tales and his eccentric lifestyle, she asked Eugene
if he would participate in an oral biography. Eugene agreed. During the
summer of 1991, Katherine met with Eugene daily, recording his
observations, thoughts, and adventures on tape. Ten years later, those
tapes are now presented to us in book form—Milking the Moon.
Milking the Moon's creation, some were concerned that Katherine
might present a subjective rendition of Eugene Walter as viewed through
her eyes. Fortunately, that does not seem to have happened. Katherine has
given us a brief twelve-page introduction that sums up her perceptions,
but the rest of the book is pure
Eugene—in his own
words. "In putting together the final manuscript," says
Katherine, "I have strenuously avoided any editorial meddling." Judging
by the rich use of Eugene's language, I believe she did just that. Only
Eugene Walter could have created the rich, colorful, literary, sometimes
baudy passages contained in Milking the Moon.
did Eugene's narratives tell us all about his curiously exceptional life?
Have all the blanks now been filled in? Of course not! Eugene wouldn't let
us off the hook that easily. "People who stand upright in the usual
way approach life in the usual way," said Eugene. "But I'm more
likely to be found upside down, swinging from the chandelier." Upside down or not, revolving bits and pieces of Eugene's life
now make better sense—thanks to Eugene's stories of life in Mobile, life
in the Arctic Circle, life in New York, Paris, Rome, and his triumphant,
albeit sometimes saddened, return to Mobile.
is the tale of someone who simply followed his heart and lived in the
moment and was rewarded with a transcendendent life of art and
culture," says Katherine. "Knowing that the journey was all,
Eugene relished every detour and seized every opportunity for being
sidetracked along the way."
true. And it's those odd little detours that make Milking the Moon
such a delightful read for Mobilians, Mobilians-at-large, and Mobilians-at-heart.