Capote’s “A Christmas Memory”

Just in case you need an extra warm fuzzy this holiday season, I’m offering one from Truman Capote in the form of an excerpt from his autobiographical short story, A Christmas Memory.  I will be carving out a little time myself on this eve of Christmas to take in this story of an unusual friendship between an eccentric older woman and a young boy in rural 1930s Alabama.  This marks my fourth annual reading of this volume of tales which also includes A Thanksgiving Visitor and One Christmas.  Somehow I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of reading them.

A young Truman Capote with "Miss Sook"

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 1880s, when she was still a child.  She is still a child.

“I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes.  “The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear.  And there were no birds singing; they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed.  Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy.  Help me find my hat.  We’ve thirty cakes to bake.”

It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather!  Fetch our buggy.  Help me find my hat.”


logoSo begins an adventure in friendship and fruitcake.

Have a warm and wonderful holiday!

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12 thoughts on “Capote’s “A Christmas Memory”

    • Every year, when I read this I think I should read more from Capote but I’ve yet to read any of his other work. I own In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s so I’m going to make an extra special effort to get to those in the coming year.
      I would love to visit his home someday.

      • In addition to the above-mentioned titles, I liked Other Voices, Other Rooms. That might have been Capote’s first work. The Collected Stories of Tennessee Williams provide a pretty harrowing ride. A lot of them are strange and interesting without a doubt. I think they are worth whatever time it takes to read them. Other great short-story writers that for all I know you may already like are Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver. And Hawthorne, Henry James, John Cheever as well as your friends Chekhov and D.H. Lawrence, among many others.

  1. Pingback: A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, & The Thanksgiving Visitor by Truman Capote | Maple & a Quill

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