A beloved Christmas tradition continues this Sunday at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home.
For 28 years, Dr. Robert Strozier, one of the six founding members of the home, read Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.”
Strozier, a longtime English professor at Armstrong, sadly passed away in April. But the tradition he created lives on with a rechristening of the event as a memorial event.
Foundation manager Cody Shelley says that 2017 was the last year Strozier was well enough to read the story.
“Last year, instead of a reading, we just had a holiday afternoon open house with treats,” she remembers. “He wasn’t able to join us and it didn’t feel right to have someone else do it. This year, as a way to honor him, we have christened our annual reading as the Robert Strozier Christmas Memorial Reading.”
Local author Laura C. Lawton was chosen as the inaugural reader.
“We came up with a list of folks that are literary or involved in the literary community, and we were really looking for someone that had a good voice,” says Shelley. “She’s got that Southern twang—it’s going to be a perfect fit.”
Part of what made Strozier’s readings so memorable, Shelley recounts, was his Southern twang and his passion for the story.
“A Christmas Memory” was a favorite of the six founders, and while Shelley jokes that Flannery herself was not the biggest Capote fan, the story is moving, and even more so when read aloud.
Without giving anything away, the story follows a child and an older relative at Christmas.
“It’s a story that, without being schmaltzy or maudlin, really makes you feel that melancholic holiday feeling so many of us get fore things that have gone by,” Shelley says. “It is beautifully written, and of all the stories in my life I’ve heard read aloud, it translates better than just about any. No matter how many times I hear it or read it, it always makes me tear up.”
In a sweet twist, the 30th anniversary of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Foundation is a year of creating new traditions, especially as Shelley notes that only one of the six founders, Gillian Brown, is still living.
“It’s a good time for us to transition to a new tradition in his honor,” says Shelley. “We wouldn’t want to cease having ‘A Christmas Memory’ as part of our tradition, but in carrying on the tradition, I think we’re really carrying the torch for the founders and the people that started this project and kept it going for so many years.”
Another major perk of the reading is that it asserts the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home as a spot for the community.
“The home on a day-to-day basis functions mostly as a tourist destination. The people that come for tours are almost exclusively visitors to Savannah,” says Shelley.
“Doing lectures, doing readings, the Flannery birthday party—this is how we have this continuing connection with the community. Welcoming people in from our neighborhood and from Savannah to this space to enjoy it like we get to, to share it like visitors get to, and have something to connect with.”
On Sunday, the community will come together again for what’s usually a standing-room-only event. Shelley notes that about 40 guests can fit in the parlor, but that people will flank the stairs and sit on the floor to hear the reading.
In addition to the reading, Joni Saxton-Giusti from The Book Lady will be onsite with copies of “A Christmas Memory” for sale, and the home will be decorated in all its holiday splendor.
“We’re so glad to be doing it,” says Shelley, “and happy as a group to have found a way to memorialize Dr. Strozier and continue his intention and his legacy in a way that honors him.”