Home is Where the Heart Is
It’s such a rare thing these days: a quiet house, and time…an hour or so with no one around to break the silence of a winter day. For a few moments I savor this unexpected treat, and try to think what I will do with it: tidy the house, laundry? Perhaps start wrapping presents, or do some on-line shopping? Those are things I should do…but it suddenly occurs to me that there is something I must do; something I do every year in December, and which I have not yet found time for: read “A Christmas Memory”, a short story by Truman Capote.
Whenever someone asks me about favorite books, I always say that I have lots of favorite books, but my single favorite piece of writing is “A Christmas Memory”. There is no other that I turn to, again and again, as a ritual, and a touchstone. The reason I do is that reading it brings me back to myself. It brings up feelings I had forgotten I had, about home and family; and loneliness…about love, loss and longing. It uncovers the heart of the matter, which is that we really don’t need much to be happy. What we need is someone to love, and a purpose.
In the story, the main character, a little boy named Buddy, and his much older female cousin set out to gather the ingredients to make fruitcakes to give as presents for the holiday. But that is not their real purpose. Their real purpose is doing things that gladden the hearts of others and in the process, their own. They deeply love each other, these two, and are best friends…a 60-something woman and a 7 year old boy…an unlikely pair, and yet they become soul mates and partners in celebrating life. Because of the love they have for each other, they can be innocent; love is their protection.
They live in a house with others. Neglectful others, thoughtless others, insensitive others….but because they are together, it doesn’t much matter. Buddy and his friend share a love of life and an excitement for the future. They are not yet jaded by disappointment, and find pleasure in small things done in each others company. They appreciate the beauty and uniqueness in the world around them. When they find the perfect Christmas tree after trudging miles across snowy terrain, they are offered 50 cents for it when a passerby spies them hauling it home. When they refuse the sale, the woman says, “But you can get another one!”, and Buddy’s friend declares, “I doubt it. There’s never more than one of anything.” When love has made something ours, it can never be replaced.
When they are separated, at the end of the story, I always weep, for the separation means they have each lost not just a friend, but their true home, the one they have found in each other. As Buddy puts it, “I have a new home, too. But it doesn’t count. Home is where my friend is, and there I never go.” A feeling like homesickness, or melancholy, comes over me, and I think of those I am missing, people who used to be ‘home’ for me and now cannot be. Reading the story draws those feelings up to the surface and it feels like a cleansing, like a renewal and a release.
The story reminds me that it is no small thing to build a home, a place where hearts can be untroubled and love is the predominant feeling. And now the laundry and the tidying, the shopping and the wrapping only matter in terms of the purpose they serve.