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Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home to present annual holiday reading

  • Robert I. Strozier
 

Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home to present annual holiday reading

06 Dec 2016

The annual reading of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home is a beloved local holiday tradition.

Robert I. Strozier, Armstrong State University English professor emeritus, will present the reading on Dec. 11. The event is free and open to the public.

“This is our 27th annual reading of a ‘A Christmas Memory,’” says the home’s administrator, Cody Shelley. “This is a tradition that goes all the way to the founding of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home.”

“I’ve been doing this reading since the 1990s,” Strozier says. “It’s always been one of my favorite stories. I read it and followed it in school.”

At the time of the first reading, Capote was best known for his true crime book, “In Cold Blood.”

“People couldn’t believe this is the same guy who wrote ‘A Christmas Memory,’” Strozier says. “He had that kind of incredible range as an artist. He was not limited.

“It’s not a monumental piece like Dickens’ story, ‘A Christmas Carol.’ But it is representative of the culture and the time.

“When I first read it, Capote was virtually my age,” Strozier says. “I was born in 1929, he was born in 1923, so we’re almost the same generation.”

Strozier helped found the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home. In 1989, the house was purchased by Armstrong State University President Robert Burnett and professors Hugh Brown and Strozier.

That led to the founding of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Foundation. The foundation furnished the house to look as it would have when O’Connor and her parents lived there.

“We appealed to the community,” Strozier says. “We talked to the O’Connor family and raised a bunch of money and were able to make a down payment on the house.

“We were able to buy the house from the O’Connor family,” Strozier says. “We began giving talks in the house.”

The reading of “A Christmas Memory” has always been popular.

“It’s usually packed,” Strozier says. “We’ve had 50 to 80 people.

“This story is reflective of our Southern culture, where Charles Dickens reflects world culture. The story is very Southern, and it was written during the Depression years.

“We were children growing up in the Great Depression,” Strozier says. “I was born in the year the Great Depression began.”

The story does have some similarities to a Dickens story.

“It’s about a helpless boy who is taking care of elderly folk and he makes the most of the time in his life by enjoying what he loves to do,” Strozier says. “It’s a very poignant, loving tale. You have to like it.”

Capote’s story was “absolutely autobiographical,” Strozier says.

“The boy in the story has been abandoned by his family, with his mother living in New York and his father living in New Orleans,” Strozier says. “He never sees them when he’s growing up.

“When Capote was about 7 or 8 years old, his mother ran off with her lover and moved to New York. His father lived in the bordello section of New Orleans.

“Capote lived with three or four elderly women in Alabama and Louisiana,” Strozier says. “He never saw his parents.”

The story is a familiar one to people who lived during the Depression, Strozier says. Both he and his wife, Helen, lived with their parents, but had numerous elderly relatives they visited often.

“The story is very poignant from the point of our experience,” Strozier says. “It’s easy to fall into that story in that respect.

“It’s a very Southern story. The language is very Southern.

“We have to remember Southern literature practically didn’t exist in the 19th century, except for oral tradition,” he says. “This story is good for that reason.”

Much of the language in the story echoes that of a storyteller, Strozier says.

“That’s what makes it powerful,” he says. “When someone is telling a good story, we sit down and listen to it.”

The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home today is a historic house museum. O’Connor lived in the house until just before her 13th birthday, when she and her parents moved to Milledgeville in 1940 to live on Andalusia Farm.

Her father had been diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus in 1937 and he died in 1941. O’Connor and her mother continued to live in Milledgeville.

Later in life, O’Connor was diagnosed with the same form of lupus that killed her father. She returned to Andalusia and died in 1964 at the age of 39.

O’Connor used to tell her friends to pile into the bathtub so she could read to them. While the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home would be the perfect setting for a reading of the author’s stories, it will never happen.

“For copyright reasons, we can’t read Flannery’s stories at the home,” Shelley says. “’A Christmas Memory’ is a fabulous Christmas story.”

A high-quality recording will be made of this year’s reading, Shelley says.

“Dr. Strozier has an amazing voice,” she says. “He has a wonderful Southern accent that is perfect for this reading and we are grateful every time he does it.”

The entire neighborhood surrounding the house, which stands at 207 E. Charlton St., was familiar to O’Connor.

“She was born a block away in the original St. Joseph’s Hospital,” Shelley says. “We have the reading in the parlor just where they celebrated Christmas.

“I just got the Christmas tree up and it’s so beautiful. I’m thrilled to have everyone come here.

“It’s a small space,” she says. “We have the doors open at 3:15 p.m. and squeeze in as many as we can. We try not to turn anyone away.”

While the reading is free, guests can help the foundation by making a purchase in the home’s gift shop.

“We’re definitely pushing ‘shop local,’” Shelley says. “We have Flannery’s books, T-shirts and other items so you can stock up on Flannery swag while you’re here.”

IF YOU GO

What: Annual holiday reading of ‘A Christmas Memory’

When: 4 p.m. Dec. 11

Where: Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, 207 E. Charlton St.

Cost: Free

Info: 912-233-6014

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