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Constance Alexander: Celebrating the simple gifts of the holiday season with ‘A Christmas Memory’

The weather has turned cold. Mornings are quiet because the birds have gone south, and when church bells ring, the sound cuts through, loud and clear, in the still winter air.
For a seven-year-old boy named Buddy and his elderly cousin, Miss Sook Falk, that means fruitcake weather has arrived. They have thirty cakes to bake and send to friends from near and far; a tree to be chopped down, dragged home, and decorated on a Depression-era budget; and homemade presents to make, including kites that the two will fly on Christmas Day.

Truman Capote captured these recollections of growing up in rural Alabama in, “A Christmas Memory.” First published in 1956, the story’s timeless appeal is the reason it was chosen for the Calloway County Public Library’s second annual “Simple Gifts” program. A public reading of the story is scheduled for Monday, December 17, at 6:30 pm, for a gathering designed to inspire community fellowship and reflect on the spirit of Christmas.

Volunteers are needed to read the narrative sections of the story, with members of the Murray High School Speech Team reading the dialogue. There is no rehearsal required for volunteer readers.

Set in rural Alabama in the 1930s, “A Christmas Memory” is as rich with sweet surprises as an old-fashioned fruitcake. Buddy and the old lady, accompanied by a beloved orange and white rat terrier named Queenie, work from dawn to dusk every day to keep their annual ritual going. All year, they scrimp to add to their Fruitcake Fund, which is hidden, “in an ancient bead purse under a loose board under the floor under a chamber pot under the bed,” its contents accumulating except for Saturdays, when, “the boy is allowed ten cents to go to the picture show.”

The money is like buried treasure that makes dreams come true. There are, “Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man’s eyes.” Of course, there are dimes and nickels too, “but mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies.”

Because fruitcakes need a touch of whiskey, with Alabama laws at the time forbidding its sale, Buddy and the old lady visit Mr. Haha Jones, who owns a café of dubious reputation. When they confess that their mission is to buy a quart of Haha’s finest whiskey, the man says, “Which one of you is a drinkin’ man?”

When he hears their mission is to make fruitcakes, Haha snaps, “That’s no way to waste good whiskey.”
In the end, he gives back their hard-earned cash and says, “Tell you what…just send me one of them fruitcakes instead.”

“A Christmas Memory” is filled with poignant moments, like the scene on Christmas morning when Buddy and Sook go outside to fly the kites they have made for each other. “There, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, they unreel their kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind. Satisfied, sun-warmed, they sprawl in the grass and watch their kites cavort.”

The morning is so splendid, the emotions it evokes so complete, Sook says, “I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”

For the reading on December 17, volunteers are asked to sign up in advance by contacting Mrs. Sandy Linn at the library, 270-753-2288.
Review copies of “A Christmas Memory” are available for checkout at the Circulation Desk of the Calloway County Public Library at 710 Main Street in Murray. For more information call 270-753-2288. The website is www.callowaycountylibrary.org.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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