The NC Arts website invites visitors to write tributes to the late great Reynolds Price. Here’s my contribution to the cause:
Completing an assignment for my MFA, I wrote a paper about creating the child’s world in fiction. One of the elements I identified was small treasures, those amulets that add special magic to a child-narrated story. I’d seen such devices used in many such stories: the knothole in To Kill a Mockingbird, Bird’s secret trove in Connie May Fowler’s Before Women Had Wings and in the lucky rabbit’s foot in Kaye Gibbons derived the title, Charms for the Easy Life. As literary wormholes, these small treasures can thread themes, episodes or characters through a story.
Such was the case in Reynolds Price’s Kate Vaiden. Early in the novel, Frances takes Kate into the yard to show her how to make a Buried Garden or Penny Show, a hole in which she places fresh flowers and covers with a pane of glass. The image was so whimsical and charming I feel sure that Price encountered a “Penny Show” in his own childhood, for what adult could concoct such a genuine detail? The image has stuck with me as has the many works of this fabulous North Carolina writer.