A Southern Christmas Memory
by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming-of-winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.
A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable – not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. ‘Oh my,’ she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, ‘It’s fruitcake weather!’”
—Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory
In the late fall of 1966, I accidentally tuned into the ABC premier television production of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, starring the incomparable Geraldine Page. I was unfamiliar with this story and knew nothing of Truman Capote’s work, including that he had written a novella that was made into the well-known film by the same name, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But the captivating television rendition of A Christmas Memory was a lovingly created interpretation of Capote’s beautifully written autobiographical story of his tender friendship with a distant cousin in Depression-era Alabama, which I found enchanting. It was made even more special by the writer serving as narrator, and by the brilliance of Geraldine Page’s performance, for which she won an Emmy.
The original short story is an affectionate account of the holidays during the author’s four or five-year residence in Monroeville, Alabama, living with the harsh relatives, with whom his Mother had left him. A distant cousin in the same house, whom he called “Sook,” became his confidant and closest friend, and the story gives the reader a glimpse into the intimate friendship that they shared. Truman Capote was only four years old when he went to live with his Alabama relatives, and “Sook” was, in many ways, much the same age. The story of their bond is also a story of the beauty of simplicity and the importance of heartfelt but humble generosity.
Truman Capote’s delightfully crafted narrative is an insightful look into poor country life in the South during the Depression, while simultaneously shedding light on the early impressions that fueled the author’s contradictory and often tumultuous existence. But what it quickly became for me is an example of why giving and sharing—even in the most modest way—with those special people in our lives, and others is what sustains the magic of Christmas. I was bewitched by this quintessentially Southern Christmas story, and reading or hearing it read each year reminds me of the need to participate in that magic.
We at PorchScene hope you’re busy creating your own special Christmas and Holiday Memories!
Kitchen image with Geraldine Page is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to elderrantings.blogspot.com