30 December 1991
At long last I can sit down and write you a proper letter. I'm sure you'd prefer an improper one, but I'm just too tired. There has been something "on" or a "must do" every day since I've been home, and add Christmas, and I'm only now struggling to the surface. For two old maids, Alice & I have more children to shop for than any people I know. We seem to be Honorary Aunts to half of Monroeville.
Monroeville! I am thankful that you left the South to live in California. You'd hate Alabama now. It's another world, Bob, one we never made. Like so many Alabama towns, Monroeville has moved two miles away from itself. The new Monroeville is now seven times its former size and is populated by people from somewhere else, most of whom are Snopeses who went to Auburn. They do read, though: novels by Joan Collins's sister and for history, John Jakes. They have a concert series which is so ill-attended that they're discontinuing it. (Maybe it's because the few people who did go were intimidated by the Concert Chairman, a come-lately former choir-director turned fast-fried-chicken magnate who would rise and firmly shush the innocents daring to applaud between movements of a symphony. Yes, he wears a diamond ring.) The women seem to live--breathe, walk, dress--in a sort of Falcon's Nest (?) TV fantasy, play bridge as an excuse to indulge in life-destroying gossip, and scheme to get rid of the Methodist minister, who they consider not polished enough for Monroeville. They remind me of the Midwich Cuckoos--they are all alike. For a small town, that's scary.
Some vestiges of the old South remain, however: Myrtle French Greene called the other night, on her ass from depression. I felt alarmed until I realized that she's been on her ass from depression for as long as I've known her, forty-five years, and will remain prostrate until she dies in her nineties. I swear that she remembers & has kept up with the 800 Huntingdon College students of our day, because she gave me a run-down on most of them--who's dead, who's not--until I asked if she had any other news. She said no.
But there has been one bright & shining thing in my months here: The Butterfly Tree. Bob, it's as beautiful now as it was the day I read it long ago, and called Maurice in wonder and joy to find out more about his genius from Alabama. Time hasn't touched it and never will. If you never write another line, The Butterfly Tree stands as the testament of a great artist. For me, the novel is a glimpse of perfection.
It was on the southwest corner of the square in Monroeville about 28 years ago...let's pick up where we left off!