Friday, January 21, 2011

Cold Sassy Tree

Published in 1984, Cold Sassy Tree narrates life in a sleepy southern town in the slow beginning of the twentieth century. Filled with quirky characters, it still somehow resonates the warmth of memories and family and home and the smell of apple pie.

For me it represents the memory of the man's voice on the radio, his perfect diction caressing every word as if it were a treasure. The book reminds me of the Saturday nights when my family gathered around to listen to the NPR broadcast each week, anticipating what would come next in the unusual story. I remember my dad tuning the radio and then scolding me for being a chatterbox instead of simply listening, drinking in the words of the story. Later in the week, my mom and I would talk about the tale, curious as to what would happen next in that magical hour on Saturday night.

For as long as I can remember I have loved being read to. The sound of my mother's voice reading aloud whatever she happened to be reading at the time punctuates some of my earliest memories. The flow of words, the rhythm, the ebb and flow of consonants and vowels always enchanted me. I love the way they run together into colors and then landscapes and personalities and then into adventures and love and heartache, painting pictures of shipwrecks or gardens or families who never grow old. Of course at an early age I gobbled up printed words as well, but nothing could replace a story brought to life by a talented reader.

Recently I finished The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. The book, although filled with a language as rich as New York Cheesecake, nevertheless was really brought to life for me by the narrator, Caroline Lee. Subtly, she performed the class-defined accent of every British character and her native Australian accent flavored every syllable in between.

There's something magical about a storyteller, a weaver of tales. To discover this enchanted world was a gift I was given as a small child, listening to my mother read. And one pearl that stands out in the necklace of my childhood memories is Saturday nights with my family around the radio, listening to Cold Sassy Tree.

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