A Christmas Letter to Lee Smith re: My Favorite Christmas Book Which She Happened to Write


December 8, 2011

To Ms. Lee Smith,

First may I say Merry Christmas to You and Yours. Second may I apologize, for this letter has been a long time coming, too long some would say.

You see I have been reading your books for many years and feel like we are close although I have only met you in person on two occasions. To hear Mama tell it we are practically kin, on account of our families were in the same business all those years ago, there in those beautiful Southwest Virginia mountains. And then you attended Hollins College, as Mama did, but I did not, a decision about which I was sure back then although now I think perhaps I was mistaken. You were from Grundy, I believe; I was a Wise girl.

(I especially like it that you choose to have “our” Piggly Wiggly show up in most all your books, a recurrence about which I am most pleased.)

There are many things about which I would like to write and tell you (like the fact that the first book I ever loved was The Last Day The Dogbushes Bloomed, which I read ON MY OWN when I was a girl who worked at the Wise Library one summer and I didn’t even know it was you who wrote it) but I will save all that for another letter. For now I will leave it at this: I am writing to tell you that I am re-reading your book, The Christmas Letters, because it is a very good Christmas story that is not at all sappy and if it is, it is sappy in a good way.

I have read it before and as a general rule do not re-read books because there are so many goods books in the world who could have the time? And so I tried to find another Christmas book, it being December. But every one reads like a Lifetime Television for Women movie, in which there is always a single girl and a lonely boy, and a well-meaning (quirky) friend, and a school Christmas play. Sometimes there is also a choir, which can be a children’s choir, or a choir of men who are down-and-out but who have really good voices, come to find out.

Anyway, what I want to do is this: Sit by my fireplace with a cup of hot tea and the quiet of the snow outside (I must confess that is not likely as I live in South Carolina now) and to read something with a genuine heart during this season of Christmas when my own heart is longing for it. And I think your story of Birdie Picket, and Mary, and Melanie, and them being women connected by experience, as well as family, and how you tied it all together with those recipes (mostly old-timey), is just exactly perfect.

With wishes for a very good holiday there in North Carolina (or wherever you might be now, and I hope it is somewhere writing a book like On Agate Hill which is my very favorite, except for Oral History. Or maybe Fair and Tender Ladies, it is so hard to decide),

Catherine Carter Rigg Monetti
daughter of Eliza Rose Sutton Rigg
of the Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly stores in Wise, Virginia

ps: I have decided to make Mary Pickett’s Award Winning Carrot Cake for dessert on Christmas Day. I think my Eliza (the one who is my daughter, not my mother) will really like the cream cheese frosting, with all that “confectionary” sugar, as she calls it.

pss: Now that I think of it, my mother Eliza would like it too, except for the carrots.

proof we are connected


This post first appeared on The Daily Grace in December of 2011. Since that time I have had the great honor of studying with Lee Smith at the Key West Literary Seminar Writers’ Workshop. Life is so good!

Day 26: On Dreams. And Courage.

It surprises me, I have to say, how aware of it I feel sitting here by the pool in this most lovely courtyard in Key West. I am alone, you see, traveling alone, something that is not necessarily new to me. And still the solo nature of it all has heightened every sense I have. The wind, tropical but January-cool, carries the sound of the leaves all around that blow and wave and rub. Each is a different green, and the late morning sun shifts the colors moment to moment, the canopy above me a changing show of dance and light. The Hemingway cats, six-toed and fat, stretch and meow and saunter. And in a marvelous twist on all that is represented by this island’s hedonistic brand, in the distance I hear church bells ringing.


Why is this? I wonder. What is it about spending (nearly) a week alone that turns up the volume?

I know, of course. I’m making good on a promise to live more courageously, to be more adventurous, to go more boldly. And while the story I repeat to myself is that it’s solo travel, the honest truth is I am here to realize a life-long dream of studying fiction writing with my favorite of favorite authors, Lee Smith at the renowned Key West Literary Seminar Writers’ Workshop.

(It took a shot of bourbon for me to apply for this coveted spot and another when I received word I was in.)

I take my first dive this afternoon. And for the next four days, I’ll push every writer comfort zone boundary I’ve developed–and more than one solo traveler fear. I’ll do so with this familiar mantra in my head:

You don’t serve the world by playing small.*


Live courageously. Be more adventurous. Go boldly.

Mantra, please serve me well!


*from one of my favorite writings/prayers/meditations by Marianne Williamson

30 Days of Joy