During the 1950s, young Jessica � Southern born but ""being Yankee raised"" -- spends Christmas in the small town of Galilee, Georgia, in the company of her Great-Aunt Kate, two other aunts, and a cousin. During this relatively brief visit, Jessica is subjected to full ""Southernization"" by the entire family.
As one means of teaching Jessica ""who she is,"" they tell her the family story of the J.P. Stevens Percale sheet, a singular present that has circulated back and forth between Great-Aunt Kate and her late husband's Aunt Frances in Dallas for over forty years. The story of how that tradition began and why it continued for so long provides Jessica with her greatest lesson in the crash-course of Southern culture and manners. Conversely, she is also initiated into the brutal burden of Southern history.
Of all the family, only Aunt Cana, an African-American woman who has ""been with"" the family for as long as anyone can remember (and whose church-going, God-fearing Mama named her in honor of Christ's miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee), knows the real secret behind the story of the cyclic gift. Of all the women who try to influence Jessica, Cana is the one who finally leads the child into an acceptance and then a somewhat reluctant celebration of Family -- ""no matter how crazy it is!""
A light-hearted story on the surface, Gifts also portrays the full range of that era's Southern history and culture: rigid racial and social stratification, a veritable worship of the past, an eternal honoring of Ancestors, an iron-clad adherence to good manners, and most of all, the restructuring of memory � the art of making a good story even better.
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Untreed Reads Publishing, LLC
December 23, 2011
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