I have read nearly every word published by Truman Capote (novels, short stories, essays) as well as biographies, Dear Genius: A Memoir of My Life With Truman Capote (McGraw-Hill, 1987) by Jack Dunphy and his posthumous letters and novel Summer Crossing (Penguin Random House, 2005).
Twenty plus years after my breathless teenage discovery, I still find Truman Capote’s writings akin to sipping a fine wine although he would himself have likely preferred the analogy of a mountain stream.
By 2004 I was already a devotee of his work, having read his classic “non-fiction novel” In Cold Blood (Random House, 1965) and 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Random House) although these are my least favorites of his oeuvre.
In December of that year, my father wanted to visit the Amish “snow-bird” settlement in Pinecraft, Florida for a vacation and suggested a road trip. I was agreeable, having just ended a tumultuous relationship and just beginning visiting local open mic nights to read my juvenile poetry. At my very first poetry reading at The Meta Cafe I was dazzled by the featured poet who was kind enough to compliment my poem and pose for a photo with me after – world slam champion Buddy Wakefield!
Fueled by cheap coffee and nicotine I drove non-stop from our Amish farm in southwestern Michigan to mid-Alabama before napping at a rest area. I would mistakenly sign the guestbook at the Monroeville Courthouse Museum Dec. 14th, not 13th in my sleep deprivation state.
The Monroeville Courthouse was replicated in the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird based on the classic 1960 novel by Harper Lee: Capote’s childhood chum and fellow Monroeville resident.
Monroeville on December 13th, 2004 was crisp and cool as we rolled into the small town, stopping at a gas station. As I got out of the car I was alarmed to see a man pumping my gas! As it happened, he turned out to be the gas station employee (in a state where your gas was pumped for you) and Harper Lee’s mechanic. He didn’t know much about Capote but Dad enjoyed a long visit with him regardless.
He directed us to the Faulk house remains, as Capote’s childhood home was known. Only the stone foundation was standing, small pink flowers blooming in the crevices. Dad snapped my photo by the historical marker before we went to the courthouse and walked around the town.
I had given my Amish father Capote’s 1951 novella The Grass Harp (Random House) which he had enjoyed – most Amish men would not have read secular literature but my father enjoyed reading and he got a good chuckle from The Grass Harp about ‘an orphaned boy and two elderly ladies who observe life from a Chinaberry tree’.
The elderly ladies are modeled after Capote’s relatives who raised him in Monroeville although he also lived in New Orleans.
My personal favorite books by Capote are Local Color and his short stories, collected in the omnibus edition A Capote Reader. Shut A Final Door is darkly comedic. His last short story collection, Music For Chameleons, includes the gems A Beautiful Child, a portrait of actress Marilyn Monroe and A Day’s Work in which he follows a cleaning lady around for a day: hilarity ensues!
From A Christmas Memory:
As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.
FYI: Capote also wrote much of the campy noir film Beat the Devil.
It is in his descriptions of places that the poet in him does some very fine work.
Take A Ride Through Spain.
As for our own ride through Alabama, it continued uneventfully and the following day we made it to Jacksonville to see a friend of mine and then onward to Sarasota.
My father has since passed away and I think of our literary road trip with fondness, especially Dad and Harper Lee’s mechanic talking up a storm.
Capote’s small hometown was not so different from my own in Michigan and gave me a new appreciation for his canon.
Thinking back now fifteen years ago to the stone foundation of the house, the pale flowers, the cold air, and the stately courthouse. I too could leave the world with today in my eyes.
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Photos Courtesy of the author.