A Season for Memory and Love

December 22, 2015

There’s a reason some people love this time of year; the same reason other folks hate it: family. Tradition dictates we spend part of our winter holidays with individuals tied to us by DNA or marriage and who you are determines whether you like or loathe the custom.  My husband says, there’s a reason family push our buttons faster than anyone else; they installed most of them.  Still, they are the people who define our earliest selves and even when they’re gone, their voices come back in our memories like the song of  The Grass Harp, Truman Capote’s novella about his Alabama childhood.  While it’s not the obvious choice for December, the Grass Harp is a tender remembrance of how love and family shape us all.

Collin Fenwick is the narrator of The Grass Harp, a boy (like the author) cast into the care of maiden aunts.  Aunt Verena is the financial provider, the richest soul in town and, as Truman says, the earning of her wealth had not made her an easy woman.  The other aunt, Dolly, is nature-focused and terrified of all humans in authority but self-sustaining because of her homemade dropsy cure, an old-fashioned name for swelling.  When Verena tries to browbeat the dropsy recipe from the gentle Dolly, a minor revolt occurs and Capote warms to his other theme: there are family we find, not through DNA but through soul.
Collin, Dolly and their friend Catherine Creek hide in a tree-house outside of town and make friends with two other misfits – Charlie Cool, the superannuated judge who has been bossed out of his job and home and Riley Henderson, a Huck Finn of sorts who worries because he cares for no one except his sisters.  These five and a family troupe of wandering evangelists quickly split the town between those who need to follow a different drummer and those who intend to call the tune.
Anyone whose memories of Truman Capote are confined to murder or his waspish love of gossip need to be reminded he was also be a tender, lyrical storyteller. It is through his eyes that we see that the the gentle Dolly is not be as cowardly nor Verena as unwavering as general gossip would have us believe and it is his voice that brings us back to the place that nurtured them both. 

“Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass that changes color with the seasons: go to see it in the fall, late September, when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices.

It is Dolly that reminds us that the sounds from the Indian grass are the voices of lost loved ones, telling the stories of their lives.  The people are gone but their voices continue to murmur in the whisper of the leaves and the grass, like they sing in the memories of those that love and remember them still. As long as we can hear them, they remain loved and immortal in memory even if in life, they could make us crazy.

So, if the weather permits it in this holiday season, find your own quiet moment outside town and listen to the wind blowing through the long grass.  May you hear the voices of those who defined you and those you found to love.  And may your voice be recalled someday as well in a symphony of grass and the wind.

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