Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Pecan Nuts and a Christmas Memory

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 23, 2011

“Pecan Thieves in Georgia Enjoying a Windfall, at $1.50 a Pound” – screamed the article in NY Times. Till I read the complete article, I did not know that pecan nuts were grown on a commercial scale in the US in the state of Georgia. I first heard of pecan nuts in Truman Capote’s brilliant short story titled “A Christmas Memory”:

Three hours later we are back in the kitchen hulling a heaping buggyload of windfall pecans. Our backs hurt from gathering them: how hard they were to find (the main crop having been shaken off the trees and sold by the orchard owner’s, who are not us) among the concealing leaves, the frosted deceiving grass. Caarackle! A cheery crunch, scraps of miniature thunder sound as the shells collapse and the golden mound of sweet oily ivory meat mounts in the milk glass bowl.

 “A Christmas Memory” is a strange and touching tale of two cousins – one a young lad of seven years and another an old lady of sixty years who despite their isolation, rejection and poverty go about celebrating the festival of Christmas with gusto and cheer away from the indifferent eyes of the world around them. Capote evokes the festive air of Christmas and the atmosphere of a cold country in a manner that is deeply touching and a great joy to read. I may not be wrong if I were to say that in this one story he transcends the work of Dickens in ‘A Christmas Carol” . The roar of the late November stove set to bake cakes, the baking of thirty delicious cakes full of pecan nuts, the yearlong effort to make and save money to buy the ingredients for the cakes, the procurement of whiskey for cakes in difficult times of prohibition from a scary, scarred and murderous looking bar owner (Ha! Ha! Jones – what a name!), the make-do gifts which they give each other on the eve of the festival hiding their disappointment of not being able to afford simple but heartfelt desires, the efforts in cutting, lugging and decorating the Christmas tree, the hustle and bustle to the run up of the actual day of Christmas, the love and bonding of two lonely relatives in the face of neglect and their eventual separation draws tears to one’s eyes.

The story is full of beautiful sentences and conversations which demonstrate Capote’s exquisite and effortless mastery over words. The description of the Christmas tree and the envy it evokes in a small town environs is by far the best that I’ve read:

“… we set about choosing a tree. “It should be,” muses my friend, “twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can’t steal the star.” The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long treck out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree’s virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on. Many compliments accompany our sunset return along the red clay road to town; but my friend is sly and noncommittal when passers-by praise the treasure perched on our buggy: what a fine tree and where did it come from? “Yonderways,” she murmurs vaguely. Once a car stops and the rich mill owner’s lazy wife leans out and whines: “Giveya two-bits cash for that ol tree.” Ordinarily my friend is afraid of saying no; but on this occasion she promptly shakes her head: “We wouldn’t take a dollar.” The mill owner’s wife persists. “A dollar, my foot! Fifty cents. That’s my last offer. Goodness, woman, you can get another one.” In answer my friend gently reflects: “I doubt it. There’s never two of anything.”

It is hard to believe that a pen which produced novels like “In Cold Blood” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” could produce a tale of enormous warmth, affection and human generosity. It is an effortlessly fantastic, memorable and moving tale that reinforces the spirit of Christmas in whoever has the good fortune to read it.

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