Wednesday, December 25, 2019

'It Could All Be a Very Enjoyable Book'

Eudora Welty in Mississippi acknowledging a gift from William Maxwell and his family in New York City on Christmas Eve 1957:

“Your tray all spread came safely—and how to imagine a tray from your house not spread—so ready, like the table that appears on a wish in a fairy tale.”

Welty turns a thank-you note into a gift, an expression of gratitude embodied in her distinctive, careful, celebratory prose, suffused with her spirit.

“I sat to myself with one good friend who had the luck to be in the house—and only stopped her a minute because I saw what had become of the vari-colored yarn. It seems to me that whatever Emmie Maxwell [the novelist’s wife] picks up can’t leave her hand without the touch of imagination.”

With thanks out of the way, celebration begins:

“How luscious & Mediterranean the whole feast looked and tasted—the green & red of the pistachios, the shining dates (so huge! & so good), the yellow-pink almonds (toasted & salted of course!) & the bright little Peruginas, it was like an Impressionist still life, wicker & glass division walls & all, but with permission to eat it, which made it different from a Matisse. It was a perfectly lovely idea & I loved it for being early—when do you long for a magic tray more than when you ought to be out running those errands for others, à la the Christmas spirit? Pure creature comfort!”

This is the Christmas spirit distilled, purged of guilt and obligation, one friend understanding and honoring another. Thirty-six years later, on Dec. 19, 1993, Maxwell writes to Welty:

“My message to Santa Claus was please don’t give me anything, I have more than I know what to do with. But he is so busy and may well not get the message.

“Lately I have had the feeling that I have my whole life to consider and enjoy, especially the periods that were especially nice and that when I was younger I might have regretted because they didn’t go on longer. Now I think, Wasn’t that nice, Wasn’t I lucky. It could all be a very enjoyable book.”

[All quotes are from What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).]

1 comment:

Cal Gough said...


The book of Maxwell's and Welty's letters was one of my favorite reads the year I read it (a few years back), and most likely one of my favorite reads of my entire (adult) reading life. So thanks for reminding me of it, and for the excerpts.

I'm catching up, post-holidays, on your most recent blogposts and am looking forward to another year's worth of them. Thank you again for your persistent habit of writing about your reading. A belated happy new year to you.