December 23, 2015
Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman was No. 3 on Amazon's list of the best-selling books of 2015. By now we all know that Watchman was an early draft of what became the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. A year after its release, Mockingbird won a Pulitzer for being so influential. The book resonated with many and, even decades later, is still wildly popular as is the award-winning motion picture starring the impeccable Gregory Peck. But did you know that To Kill a Mockingbird was the direct result of a Christmas gift? Lee's short story Christmas to Me (written for McCalls magazine in 1961) tells the tale of the gift that changed her life forever: Several years ago, I was living in New York and working for an airline, so I never got home to Alabama for Christmas--if, indeed, I got the day off. To a displaced Southerner, Christmas in New York can be rather a melancholy occasion, not because the scene is strange to one far from home, but because it is familiar: New York shoppers evince the same singleness of purpose as slow moving Southerners; Salvation Army bands and Christmas carols are alike the world over: at that time of year, New York streets shine wet with the same gentle farmer's rain that soaks Alabama's winter fields. I missed Christmas away from home, I thought. What I really missed was a memory, an old memory of people long since gone, of my grandparents' house bursting with cousins, smilax, and holly. I missed the sound of hunting boots, the sudden open-door gusts of chilly air that cut through the aroma of pine needles and oyster dressing. I missed my brother's night-before-Christmas mask of rectitude and my father's bumblebee bass humming "Joy to the World." Read the rest of Lee's reminiscence on the best Christmas gift ever from the December 1961 issue of McCalls here.