11/21/12 - a thanksgiving visitor

In today's selection -- a memory of a Thanksgiving dinner, deep in the Great Depression on an isolated farm in Alabama. The memory is from Truman Capote of his second-grade year, when his relatives, though poor, opened their house to far-flung neighbors who lived in "lonesome places hard to get away from." For Capote these were lonely years too, except for his friendship with his ancient and slightly addled cousin Miss Sook -- his divorced parents had abandoned him to those relatives.

"A lively day, that Thanksgiving. Lively with on-and-off showers and abrupt sky clearings accompanied by thrusts of raw sun and sudden bandit winds snatching autumn's leftover leaves.

"The noises of the house were lovely, too: pots and pans and Uncle B.'s unused and rusty voice as he stood in the hall in his creaking Sunday suit, greeting our guests as they arrived. A few came by horseback or mule-drawn wagon, the majority in shined-up farm trucks and rackety flivvers. Mr. and Mrs. Conklin and their four beautiful daughters drove up in a mint-green 1932 Chevrolet (Mr. Conklin was well off; he owned several fishing smackers that operated out of Mobile), an object which aroused warm curiosity among the men present; they studied and poked it and all but took it apart.

"The first guests to arrive were Mrs. Mary Taylor Wheelwright, escorted by her custodians, a grandson and his wife. She was a pretty little thing, Mrs. Wheel­wright; she wore her age as lightly as the tiny red bon­net that, like the cherry on a vanilla sundae, sat perkily atop her milky hair. 'Darlin' Bobby,' she said, hugging Uncle B., 'I realize we're an itty-bit early, but you know me, always punctual to a fault.' Which was an apology deserved, for it was not yet nine o'clock and guests weren't expected much before noon.

"However, everybody arrived earlier than we in­tended -- except the Perk McCloud family, who suf­fered two blowouts in the space of thirty miles and arrived in such a stomping temper, particularly Mr. McCloud, that we feared for the china. Most of these people lived year-round in lonesome places hard to get away from: isolated farms, whistle-stops and cross­roads, empty river hamlets or lumber-camp communi­ties deep in the pine forests; so of course it was eagerness that caused them to be early, primed for an affectionate and memorable gathering.

And so it was. Some while ago, I had a letter from one of the Conklin sisters, now the wife of a naval cap­tain and living in San Diego; she wrote: 'I think of you often around this time of year, I suppose because of what happened at one of our Alabama Thanksgivings. It was a few years before Miss Sook died -- would it be 1933? Golly, I'll never forget that day."

"By noon, not another soul could be accommodated in the parlor, a hive humming with women's tattle and womanly aromas: Mrs. Wheelwright smelled of lilac water and Annabel Conklin like geraniums after rain. The odor of tobacco fanned out across the porch, where most of the men had clustered, despite the wa­vering weather, the alternations between sprinkles of rain and sunlit wind squalls."


Truman Capote


A Christmas Memory: One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor


Random House


Copyright 1967 by Truman Capote renewed 1995 by Alan U. Schwartz


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