On the surface, Horton Foote’s memoir Farewell: A Memoir of a Texas Childhood appears as a pleasant reminiscence of his childhood in small-town Texas in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His parents were loving and he was born into a large and supportive extended family of great storytellers. Life in Wharton seemed simple and serene. But the deeper and darker issues of racism, religious intolerance, alcoholism, failure, and despair also emerge through Foote’s deft story- telling.
Relying entirely on memory, he recreates scenes from his childhood through family dialogues in which he rarely strays from his perceptive and tender-hearted child’s-eye view. The octogenarian Foote seldom analyzes or passes judgment upon the flaws and prejudices of the world that unfolded before him. However, there is little doubt that these observations shaped his sensibilities as an adult and as a writer. Several letters and clippings quoted in their entirety further illuminate the memoir. For example, the poignant letter of a slave to her daughter begging her to buy her mother’s freedom has singular meaning for Foote. The slave was one of many owned by his great-great grandfather, a deeply religious pillar of the community. Foote struggles to understand how an apparently spiritual man could be so insensitive as to buy and sell other human beings.
While Foote’s memoir is unhurried, his meticulously documented genealogy of each of his kinsmen is often confusing and further slows down the narrative. Despite this distraction, Farewell: A Memoir of a Texas Childhood is an engaging and fascinating glimpse at the early life and times of one of America’s most distinguished dramatists.