A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

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I’m not one to re-read books. One of the reasons for this is that I always have so many books in my TBR pile, that I must keep moving forward. However, there is one particular book, which is more of a short story really, that I re-read every year around Christmas. What is even more special, perhaps, is that every year I have the pleasure of reading it aloud to my grandmother, Mary. Each year we enjoy it more so, even though we could recite many of the passages by heart. For over 15 years, we have been reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is our own Christmas tradition, a Christmas memory I hope to pass down to my children and to their children as well someday.

When people think of Capote’s work, most likely they think of In Cold Blood, a famous story with a very graphic murder scene. However, A Christmas Memory, is a personal memoir based upon Truman Capote’s young life. A Christmas Memory is about as different as can be genre-wise from In Cold Blood. The story tells of a young boy named Buddy and the time he spent with a beloved, much older relative before he was sent away to boy’s school as a teenager. (The far left book cover photo above shows a young Truman Capote and his older relative and friend.)

The story is set in Alabama during the Great Depression. Buddy, age 7, and the older Miss Sook, who was in her 60’s but had a child-like mind, lived in a house with other distant relatives who didn’t approve of them or pay much attention to them. Though they had the essentials (food, water, shelter, and clothing), Buddy and Miss Sook lived a no-frills, but enjoyable lifestyle, delighting in simple pleasures such as collecting ingredients and then making fruitcakes in the winter, playing with their old dog, Queenie, and even killing flies in return for pennies from the other relatives in the house. Perhaps their favorite time of the year and fondest memories are during “fruitcake weather” when they focus all their time, energy, and scant funds to making fruitcakes to send to friends, acquaintances, and even some people they have never met. My personal favorite is Mr. Ha-Ha Jones, who donates some liquor in exchange for “one of them fruitcakes.” Another poignant memory is making gifts for one another every Christmas, where they always realize that their friendship with one another is better than any gift money could buy. The story is pretty short, but it is filled with descriptive details which allow readers to close their eyes and easily imagine the scenes throughout. This is one of the reasons it is such a great read-aloud book. The writing is beautiful, raw, and it flows seamlessly from one scene to the next. If you haven’t ever read this story, I would highly recommend it. There is actually a movie out now, but the book is so much better! Read it before you watch the film.

The first time I had ever heard of A Christmas Memory was back in high school. Our English teacher read it aloud to our class, and I am so thankful that she did. Something about the story really resonated with me. I was at a used bookstore a few months later and happened to find a copy of it. My grandma and I have always talked about books and both love literature, so I shared it with her one year and we have read it every Christmas season since then! Reading this with my grandma every year is something we look forward to and enjoy so, so much. In recent years, other family members have listened in a few times, including my oldest son who is now 7 years old, Buddy’s age during the time of the story.

My grandma has always encouraged me to write, even from when I was little writing her poems and notes (which she has no doubt kept safely preserved in a box all these years). I’ve always had a special, close friendship with my grandma and she is so dear to me. And literature and the written word have always been a big part of our bond. For both of these, I am truly thankful. Below is a picture of my grandma with each of my sons when they were very young.

Is there a book or story that holds a special place in your heart? One that you have read multiple times? Please let me know in the comments!

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Black Rabbit Hall will be published February 9, 2016. This is a beautiful book with a fabulous, intriguing cover.

Black Rabbit Hall is a wonderful debut novel for Eve Chase. Fans of Kate Morton would likely be fans of Black Rabbit Hall, with its mysterious corridors and hidden family secrets. Part of the story takes place in the 1960’s when Amber Alton is a teenager spending summers at Black Rabbit Hall, her family’s old estate home in Cornwall, outside of London. Amber, her twin brother Toby, younger brother Barney, and younger sister Kitty pay no attention to time while at Black Rabbit Hall, especially since none of the clocks read the same. All they know is that they are happy and well-loved by their mother and father, and Peggy, the live-in housekeeper/nanny/cook. Not much happens at Black Rabbit Hall, which is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of London. Then, unfathomable tragedy occurs and everything about their carefree days changes drastically.

Other portions of the novel follow Lorna, a thirty-two year old school teacher who is engaged to marry Jon. Lorna and her late mother, who has just recently died in a freak accident have visited Black Rabbit Hall in the past, though Lorna doesn’t remember much about when or why. There are pictures of them at the front gate when Lorna was a child. Lorna feels drawn to the crumbling estate and wishes to be married on the property, despite her fiance’s wishes and best intentions. The more time Lorna spends at Black Rabbit Hall, the stronger the connection becomes.

Though there are flowers growing up from the floorboards, bitter drafts from creaky windows, and rooms filled with vintage pieces of the Alton’s lives, Lorna is determined to stay in the house and find out what happened to the first Mrs. Alton and the four children from the photographs. The current, elderly but stately, Mrs. Alton inhabits a small wing of the estate, along with her servant and caregiver, Dill. There are vivid descriptions of the house, the beach, and the nearby woods where young Toby spends his days, building a tree house and hiding out from his stepmother. Eve Chase does a wonderful job of creating characters who really come to life in the novel. I was humbled and saddened by the hardships that Amber and her siblings had to endure at such a young age. The writing is beautiful and the story seamless, even though the plot switches back and forth between 3 decades.

This is not a ghost story, so do not be turned away if, like me, you do not like supernatural or fantasy fiction. It is, however, a story about family, love, and long buried secrets which most always are unearthed. While reading the final paragraph describing the arrival of one of the Alton siblings, I had chills and tears streaming down my face. Now that means this a beautiful story. Not many books cause me to have chills.

So, what are you waiting for? Read it!