Saturday, January 10, 2009


Truman Capote and Aunt Sook   (oddly enough, taken very near our home in Alabama)

I’ve just happened on a blog by another Mississippian---well, happened is probably not the proper word. I’ve been seeking out the Southern stuff, the grits-and-gravy stuff, the bits and pieces of past and future and now.

I’ve found peas and cornbread, with recipes for both. There are quiet young voices with much to say and the words to say it well; there are splashy wallpaper-backed sites with calligraphy and clickety spots and photos of places I’ll never visit. There are sites crammed with etsy sweetness and others of stark Winter fields, with magnolias and moldering buildings and recipes for everything from Grandma’s dressing to the involtini they had at their cooking class at that wonderful old farmhouse in Sicily.

I read down their links, to find more and more Southern blogs; one which says simply “Mississippi Writers” led me to the exact page on Faulkner I had bookmarked when I was trying in vain to scratch a memory of a story from the cobwebs of my brain. And never did.

And one blog featured Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” in a daily post, the stark words re-read this morning with my first coffee. I could feel those cold Christmas-morning planks of the bedroom floor, see the hard-won clumsy homemade gifts and tree decorations, smell the scents of Winter-long bacon grease and Vicks in that drafty grim house. The faded gray tones of the accompanying picture echo those in my own scrapbooks and albums. Little Truman squints and gives a tentative smile into the sun, as the limp skirt of his spare, gaunt kinswoman hangs beside the pants of his short white boysuit.

I know that woman---called “Aunt Sook,” though she was some distant cousin, as unwanted and unwelcome in the household as the quiet, brilliant little boy. You can see the arthritic clench of her hands which had just made thirty fruitcakes, chopping and stirring, sending them to the Roosevelts and other dignitaries, as well as neighbors and friends---she'd saved every coin and dollar she could spare for the year, hiding them in a purse under the floorboard under the chamberpot beneath her bed. Those hands had chopped down a Christmas tree, wrestling it home past bayou and brush, for that beloved child, and decorated it with bits and bobs of anything pretty she could scrounge.

I know that scraggy porch, the one “turned” post standing valiantly against the sag of time, the rattly boards of the steps, the GRAY of the whole thing---the house and the porch and the prospects and the people and the time. There are plants on the porch, and contrary to my Mammaw's first porch, the one of my childhood, with the big old creaky swing, there are no coffeecans in sight. I'd have expected at least one, holding a cutting of something-or-other, to coddle into flourishment in that ripe Alabama climate. Mammaw's coffeecans held mostly coleus---plural to her, I suppose, for if she gave you ONE, it was a colea. I never GOT the difference til I learned to read, and seed catalogs were some of my favorites.

We have pictures of that hollow-faced woman in our own handed-down flaps of Kodak-cardboard; the deep, wise eyes, the scrunched-back, sparse hair, the best-dress for the honor of the event, the still stare captured in its simple eloquence. She even LOOKS like my Mammaw and her sisters, though three of them, including Mammaw, were definitely not slim, spare ladies. They were bright, laughing women, whose conversation and dress and daily doings were not of the gray sort.

A friend asked recently about “all those people you write about” and wondered if she could see a bit of my Family Tree. Little did she realize that she was about to be inundated with the Family Forest---limb and twig and knot---lotsa knots. And warts.

Perhaps another day.


Jon said...

Racheld, I am glad you found my blog and read my post on "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote and clicked my link to read I have done each Christmas season for at least 30 years because it warms my heart and gets me into the true spirit of Christmas. Your own excellent writing in your recent posts has a theme, tone, and style that reminds me of the way in which Truman Capote wrote that famous little book and how he made Buddy and Sook "come alive". Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog and please drop by again. I certainly will return to your blog and finish reading ALL of your posts. You have a wonderful way with words, and I am impressed by your creative writing.
Jon at Mississippi Garden blog

racheld said...

Thank you, Jon---I'm glad you dropped in. I've been enjoying your wonderful photos for some time now.