I love magnolia trees–the thick, shiny leaves of the towering trees seem more perfect than the waxed leaves in a store display, and the delicate white petals of the flower have a tantalizing fragrance I’ve never found anywhere else. But what I love most about the magnolia is that it’s synonymous with the deep south (even though it does grow in other places), an area that holds an intrigue for me that goes far beyond Gone With the Wind.
Writers find their inspiration in many ways and I find mine in places. Suffice it to say I’m a setting-driven author, so before I can write anything I have to visualize the backdrop it all happens against and around and inside. Setting is to me a lot more than mountain or prairie, swamp or desert, magnolia or cactus. It’s part of the emotional landscape that makes up story–mine and everyone else’s.
But getting back to me and Steel Magnolias–the movie.
I’d no doubt heard about the movie when it was released, way back in 1989, especially as I like Sally Field, who played the main character, M’Lynn Eatenton. In fact, the supporting cast had a full slate of remarkable women: Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, and Julia Roberts. This star-studded cast also pointed to one obvious conclusion–the movie was a chick flick and I don’t “do” chick flicks.
So, even though Steel Magnolias was the one movie that anyone could see on satellite t.v. each and every week of the year for the past decade or two, I didn’t watch it, until…
I got homesick for Louisiana. No, I’ve never lived there, I just love it there (and Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi). And usually, I indulge in my love-affair with the south at least every spring. This year, though, I just had too many commitments to consider a getaway.
Eventually, the longing just got too strong and when I flipped by Steel Magnolias on the movie list yet again, I hit the record button. Of course I had to wait for a long, quiet evening on my own as nobody else in my house watches chick flicks either, but one did arrive. The credits started to roll, and Natchitoches, Louisiana filled my high definition, four-color, 70 inch t.v. screen (we do love t.v.).
There I was, transported brick-by-brick back to my very first press-trip, where I discovered travel writing could be a part of my “dream” career. That trip was May 7 – 12, 2002, two days after my husband fell down a flight of basement stairs and broke his hip. As I told him then, nothing and nobody was about to stop me from exploring Louisiana!
The movie opens on Front Street, in Natchitoches, Louisiana, just as my travel writing career did. When that camera panned over the bricks and onto Cane River Lake, I was once again that naive young writer–once again in awe of the 100 women of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches who laid down on the bricks to prevent Governor Earl Long from ripping them up to “modernize” the town back in 1958.
I’m sure the writer of Steel Magnolias, Robert Harling, a Natchitoches resident who based the original play on the tragic loss of his sister, was inspired by that same spirit of determination. And from Front Street, through the laughter and tears of Steel Magnolias (and, I might add, the memories of laughter and tears I experienced there–but that’s a different story), I was transported from my living room to Louisiana for my annual visit.
Photos by Linda Aksomitis.