‘Oldest Living Confederate Widow: Her Confession’ on stage Sept. 29

Published 11:06 am Friday, August 31, 2012

Dedicated to Temp Holding
Two boys, 13 years old, walk off to war together in 1862, hand in hand. Only one, Willie Marsden, comes back.

Temp Holding, shown here at 16, died in February 2012 at the age of 57. Her sister, Jane Holding, said mental illness kept Temp emotionally at age 16 throughout her life. Jane will perform a one-woman play based on the award-winning novel “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” by Allan Gurganus, on Sept. 29 at the Tryon Fine Arts Center. (photo submitted by Jeff Byrd)

Throughout his long life, Will Marsden’s imagination remains captured and arrested by the wartime trauma of his early youth.
The story of traumatized youth is one of the central themes of Allan Gurganus’ 1989 novel “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” Jane Holding of Chapel Hill, N.C. and the author are bringing their play based on the award-winning novel to the Tryon Fine Arts Center on Sept. 29. It will be the 25th or so performance of the one-woman play, which has been seen across the Carolinas.
Holding will dedicate the performance, a benefit for CooperRiis Healing Community in Mill Spring, to her sister, Tempie Ann Bell Holding. ‘Temp’ Holding’s imagination was also captured young, by mental illness.
Tempie Ann Holding lived for some years in the Tryon community until her death last February at the age of 57.
“Temp was a friendly sight around Tryon,” Holding said in an interview this week. “A lot of people knew her.”
She came to Polk County in 2003, finally rescued from herself by her sister and brothers. They brought her to Mill Spring and CooperRiis, where she lived for several years before moving to LaurelHurst in Columbus.
Temp’s story is the stuff of novels.
In Gurganus’ novel, the oldest living Confederate widow, Lucille Marsden, remembers her husband’s lost friend, “an overly excellent,” “high spirited,” “angel-faced” boy shot by a sniper while cooling off in a Virginia pond.
“War,” the widow says, “looks over all the soldiers’ pictures in advance. It takes the very best.”
“My sister’s illness took the classic form,” Jane Holding said. “Like in the book where Allan writes about the war picking out the best faces, schizophrenia picks out gifted, promising young people just on the end of the diving boards of their lives. It’s then that they have their first break.”
“My sister’s development was arrested at 17 or 18,” Holding said, “leaving us with a sense of her forever unfulfilled potential.”
In her first 17 years, Tempie Ann Holding was, her sister recalled, “a very precocious and original poet, one of the best dancers of her generation, president of the student body at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, a very beautiful young woman. Five foot two, eyes of blue.”
She had her first psychotic break – a loss of contact with reality – in the first few months of her senior year. She never finished high school.
“Schizophrenia threw Temp’s life onto another track,” Jane Holding said. And with it, a big part of her family’s life as well. For 40 years.

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