I was fortunate to grow up around books and writers

May 11, 2024

“My parents had The Haunted Bookshop in downtown Mobile. The second story was my playroom. It was hot and as dusty as the dickens. Besides, everything was happening downstairs. We never knew who would come in. We had book parties for all kinds of people. Grownups usually took me seriously and had conversations with me. I was fortunate to grow up around books and writers.

Eugene Walter worked at the book shop for a little while. He got hold of a gallon of red paint and put bloody handprints on a door in the store. Saying that was the room where Miss. Louella Dillypot was murdered. She was a figment of Eugene’s imagination–he said she was minced exceedingly fine. My father once heard Eugene talking with a lady. She asked, ‘How much is this book?’ Eugene said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. What do you think you ought to pay for it?’ Daddy said, ‘that won’t do.’ Eugene later left Mobile, living and writing in Paris and Rome.

Daddy coached a lot of writers. He didn’t work with Nelle–Harper Lee–on the Mockingbird book, but immediately saw that it was remarkable. Nelle came to speak at the Mobile Library. She had been squired around the city all day, and her feet were tired. She started off by announcing that she was removing her low-heeled black pumps, and she did.  There was considerable tut-tutting in the audience about that. She also recommended a new book that had just come out from one of her New York friends: Catch 22.

Nelle loved The Haunted Book Shop. She also entertained me for a week in New York when I was going off to Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She put us up at the Roosevelt, introducing me to the joys of two a.m. hamburgers ordered from room service. She insisted we stand for hours on a New York sidewalk waiting for John F. Kennedy to ride by in his limousine as he went to speak at the United Nations. We went into a bookshop; Nelle paid for a book with a check. The man waiting on us said, “Nelle Harper Lee. Wasn’t there somebody named something like that who wrote a book about a Mockingbird?’ Nelle said, ‘Yes, that was my sister.’

I was nineteen when I met P.D. East. He came to the bookstore. I shortchanged him–not on purpose. He was trying to get copies of his book Magnolia Jungle, which was out of print. He was forty-four and had moved to Fairhope to get out of Mississippi. I thought he was interesting. We dated through the summer and got married. I quit college. I don’t regret that. We bought this house in Fairhope close to the bay. We loved each other but didn’t have much time left. P.D. died about four years later.

After P.D. passed away, I finished my degree and went to work in Women’s News for the Mobile Press-Register. We wrote a hell of a lot about Mardi Gras costumes.  It doesn’t get better than writing feature stories. One week I would be writing about brain surgery–the next week about making an omelet or piloting a boat around the world. I talked with folks from writers John Grisham and Alex Haley to designer Bob Mackie and won a statewide prize for medical reporting. I’ve used up a lot of newsprint, met interesting people, and got paid to do it.

I went from Women’s News to the city desk. My specialty was obits. Those were a chance for the community to say a last goodbye. It was rewarding because often the families felt that, for the first time, their person had been appreciated. There’s satisfaction in shaping a well-crafted story, no matter what it’s about.

I also married Bill Cowan. We met at a party for the Fairhope Library and were together for a long time. He was a superb artist and a voracious reader. He passed away, but this house is still filled with art and books.

I worked at the Press-Register for almost forty years; my dearest friends came from those days. I retired in 2010. I was writing the same stories over and over, so it was time to quit.  My life was always filled with stories. Maybe I kept some from getting lost.”


(Cammie’s father opened The Haunted Book Shop in the early forties with his partner, Adelaide Trigg. Cammie’s mother kept the store going by herself until the late eighties.

Parts of Cammie’s story of her New York trip came from a letter she wrote to Wayne Flynt. It’s in his book Mockingbird Songs/My Friendship with Harper Lee.)


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 More Southern Souls