There’s no way in the world it made sense.
Christmas was a week away. People were scattered and frenzied. The weather was crummy.
Yet, the idea had barged into author Lauretta Hannon’s mind and taken over her spirit. It settled in and wouldn’t leave.
I need to do something to help the people who survived the fires in Tennessee.
She never called them victims, not even in her thoughts. These people who lost their homes, belongings and, in some cases, loved ones, are survivors. She knows. They’re her people. The author of “The Cracker Queen: A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life,” she’s connected with folks who live in the ravaged parts of the Volunteer State. Her readers and fans from that area have become her friends.
“It’s very short notice, but I’m feeling the tug to do something for the folks of eastern Tennessee,” she said when she told me she was thinking of staging a public reading of “A Christmas Memory” and accepting donations to raise money for the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. This was a few days before the supposed event was to take place. She had no venue, no publicity committee, just a desire to help.
“You’re nuts, Lauretta,” I said in my inside voice.
“Great idea!” I said in my outside voice.
Dern if she didn’t pull it off. Our friend Jan Galt, director of operations at the Marietta Museum of History, arranged for Lauretta to use the museum’s meeting room for the occasion. Word spread like kudzu and the room was packed when I got there last Saturday.
“This has been gnawing at me, y’all,” Lauretta said before launching into the reading of one of Truman Capote’s most treasured works. The wildfires killed 14 people and destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 buildings; officials have arrested two juveniles.
Capote’s short story takes place in 1930s Alabama and begins when an eccentric lady of a certain age wakes up and declares, “It’s fruitcake weather!”
The story, which is autobiographical, is about a 7-year-old boy and his best friend, his 60ish distant cousin. Separated by decades in years, they are emotional and intellectual contemporaries who have little to give each other besides love and companionship, and that’s enough.
Capote’s piece is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Almost everyone in the room, Lauretta and me included, had handkerchiefs at the ready and they all got damp. Here’s a clip of the ending:
The hastily arranged event raised a good amount in donations: at least $1,500 came in that day. The Atlanta Writer’s Club contributed an additional $500 and and some folks decided to donate online to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
The foundation “has created the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Emergency Response Fund to support the affected communities and nonprofits that are helping victims address their ongoing needs,” its website notes. “Grants from the fund will be made to nonprofits providing assistance, both immediate and long term.”
Their website is cfmt.org, and if you’d like to send a check, mail it to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, and include Gatlinburg Emergency Fund in the memo line. The address is 3833 Cleghorn Ave., Nashville, TN 37215.