“A Christmas Memory” is a short story by Truman Capote, written in 1956 and published originally in Mademoiselle magazine. Since then it has been much-anthologized, and adapted for TV, records, and the stage. The best version is a TV production for ABC Stage 67, starring Geraldine Page and narrated by Capote, which was later made into a movie.
Capote was a beautiful writer, and this little fictional memoir, probably a touch autobiographical, shows him at his most limpid and evocative. The narrator, Buddy, is remembering one particular Christmas season, when he was seven years old. He and his best friend and distant cousin, a sixty-some-year-old woman he never names, are making fruitcakes, as they do every year, to send to friends and to anyone else to whom it strikes their fancy to send one.
“Caarackle! A cheery crunch, scraps of miniature thunder sound as the shells collapse and the golden mound of sweet oily ivory meat mounts in the milk-glass bowl,” Capote writes.
The two friends are both poor but they manage to scrape together a Fruitcake Fund every year. This year they have saved $13, which they will have to stretch to make 30 cakes. They set out to buy whiskey from a Mr. Haha Jones, who is not ha-ha funny but ha-ha forbidding, but they get him to laugh and to contribute a bottle to their cause in exchange for one cake.
The making of the fruitcakes, a four-day affair, is lovingly described. To celebrate when they are done, the two drink the rest of the whiskey and get drunk, arousing the ire of a couple of relatives in the house. The woman cries, but Buddy consoles her, and the next morning they journey to a spot she remembers from her childhood, the best place to find pretty Christmas trees.
“Morning. Frozen time lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods,” Capote as Buddy describes it.
They drag the tree home, past admiring passersby. After decorating it, they make gifts for the family. They make each other kites, as they have for several years.
On Christmas, Buddy is disappointed by his presents, but his friend makes him forget it by taking him out to a pasture to fly the kites. In a lovely passage, Buddy’s friend rhapsodizes about the beauty of the day. “As for me,” she says, “I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”
Eventually, of course, she does leave the world, and when the news comes, some 20 years later, after his friend has got dementia and no longer knows him, he knows it before he hears it – it “merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing me from an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string.”