One of the benefits of starting my library and archives life as a shelver in the Humanities Library at MIT was exposure to some great writers. As an employee I took advantage of my borrowing privileges and went on a literary journey that set the foundation for my passion for reading to this day. One of the authors I discovered was Truman Capote and his short story, A Christmas Memory, is an annual “must read” for me at this time of year.
A very autobiographical tale set in the American South of the 1930s tells the story of a boy named Buddy living with poor relatives, including an eccentric cousin, Sook, who is his best friend. Buddy and Sook collect pecans and buy whiskey with pennies saved to bake fruitcakes to send to people they have met, or not, including Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. In the days leading up to Christmas they make decorations and craft gifts for each other in secret. On Christmas morning they discover they have each made kites and head for a meadow to test their gifts. This is the scene which has stuck with me over the years.
“Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel Satsumas and watch our kites cavort… ‘My, how foolish I am!’ my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. ‘You know what I’ve always thought?’ she asks in a tone of discovery, and not smiling at me but at a point beyond. ‘I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are’—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass..—‘just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.’”
May your holidays be filled with joy and reflections of clouds and kites and sun-warmed grass and loved ones.