December 22, 2015
Last night I teared up when I read A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote to my kids. God, I love this story. Why does my family roll their eyes and shake their heads when I cry? They think I’m weird. I think they’re weird for not crying. The images are so poignant, the writing so beautiful. I try to explain that mine are not the tragic kind of tears. The story does not necessarily end badly. Buddy, the boy, gets older and leaves home and his cousin stays where she is. As old people do she gets older. But when he was young she gave him love and fun and Christmas. Capote gives us more than a glimpse into a nostalgic window. He invites us into the very room to sit unobtrusively at a table in the corner while he serves up a delicious slice of the past.
I didn’t want to cry. I tried not to. I was afraid if I did this story would be added to the list of Christmas books my kids deem “sad” and don’t like me to read. I steeled myself for the speech where Buddy’s cousin talks about how things are perfect right here and now and her being so perfectly happy that ‘I could leave this world with today in my eyes.” I made it through that. But I had forgotten about the image at the very end of the two kites flying up to heaven. That got me. Oh well. I dabbed my eyes with the collar of my turtleneck.
But the books that make me cry are my favorites, you see. Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden is another one. I love this story. Again, the writing is wonderful and augmented by Barbara Cooney’s warm illustrations. Toys talk and scheme, wishes are taken seriously and physically felt. A little orphan girl finds a home and a childless couple finds a family. Heartwarming, that’s what it is, not sad. Unfortunately, this is also on the banned list.
Hey, I love The Grinch as much as anybody. Rudolph? The Night Before Christmas? Sign me up. The Little Fir Tree? -Waaaiit a minute. Talk about depressing. A little evergreen aspires to be a beautiful Christmas tree only to be left dried up and forsaken in the attic after the holidays. It is then cut up and burned. As he goes up in flames he has the presence of mind to regret all his former hopes. Now THAT story is a bummer. Heartwarming? Not by a long shot.
And for the love of God, don’t even get me started on The Little Match Girl. I’m not going there either-and not because it or The Little Fir Tree makes me cry. It doesn’t. Those particular stories simply trigger seasonal depression; a state of dry-eyed, weary holiday hopelessness that I suspect Northern Europe-dwelling Hans Christian Andersen was mired in when he penned them. (Dude needed a full-spectrum sun lamp.) The feelings these stories provoke are much different than those that produce a couple happy tears. My family could have it worse- I could add these to the rotation.
My kids just need to learn to differentiate between different kinds of tears. "Poignant" does not necessarily mean "sad". Which is why I’m making them listen to me read these great stories again next year. And the year after that. Yes, even if I have to occasionally pause and wipe my eyes while I do it.
And maybe when they’re all grown up and have children of their own they’ll look back on the memory of their dear mother taking the time to read good stories to them. Maybe they'll even get a little misty-eyed themselves. And when that happens I'll look lovingly over the top off my glasses at my beloved family and say
HA! Gotcha! Full circle!