Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.
A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable-not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “It’s fruitcake weather!”
The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together–well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880’s, when she was still a child. She is still a child.
So begins the semi-autobiographical short story, A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote.
I first read this book some years ago and I have joyfully returned to its pages again and again each Christmas. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry and brings home all that is special about giving gifts from the heart.
Giving fruitcake to folks they know, and folks they don’t, like President Franklin Roosevelt, brings about interesting situations to Buddy and his elderly cousin, who is also his best friend. First they must obtain the whisky that goes on the delectable cakes and something, of course, must be done with the little bit of whisky left over.
This unlikely duo finds ways all year-long to earn money to buy the fruitcake ingredients, and they do it all in a house filled with stern aunts and a faithful dog, Queenie. It is the story of loss and the story of love in a small southern town of long ago that will stick with you long after it ends.
This is a story to read over again, and, if an audience can be found, to read aloud, and it is a Christmas tradition more potent than the fruitcake’s special ingredients. First written for Mademoiselle Magazine and published in their December, 1956 issue, it was later published as a book. There are several editions of A Christmas Memory, including the one shown here. I do think you would like it, dear reader.