Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote

After a couple of decidedly untraditional stories, Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory", set in the depression-era rural south, had me sighing with relief at the end of the first paragraph.

"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."

This house is home to several members of a family, including an old woman and a young boy (our narrator) she calls Buddy. The two friends obviously have a very special bond.

"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.' "

The boy's memories of the season follow. On the first day of "fruitcake weather", the two gather 'windfall pecans'. The second day finds them buying the rest of the necessary ingredients, with money that has been carefully saved all year. On the third day, the baking commences.

The fruitcakes (as many as 31) are given to people that matter to the old woman and boy. Some are people the two barely know - like the bus driver that waves as he passes by every other day. One is even sent to President Roosevelt at the White House, and the old woman imagines him enjoying it on Christmas morning.

The boy shares the adventure of cutting down the Christmas tree:
" 'It should be, muses my friend, 'twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can't steal the star.' The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree's virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on."

The making and giving of homespun gifts is also described. The entire story is beautifully written and a joy to read.

Truman Capote wrote this autobiographical story in 1956. It was first published in Madamoiselle and, later, as a book. It was also made into a movie in 1997 starring Patty Duke and Piper Laurie.

An internet search turned up this You Tube video that has Capote reading the story himself. Enjoy!


  1. I think I would love to listen to him read his own story...sounds great to me!

  2. The book cover is beautiful and looks like the quintessential Christmas book cover. The story sounds wonderful, full of lovely memories. I haven't read a lot of Truman Capote but I have really enjoyed what I've read. I am putting this on my tbr list and will try to read it by New Years!

    Btw, I love your new header, it's such a beautiful picture!

  3. I read this book last year right before I started writing my own reviews.

    I will have to check out the youtube video of him reading his own works.

  4. What a beautiful book cover. I agree with Staci, I think this is one I'd love to listen to.

  5. Staci - It's definitely worth listening to... Capote has such a distinctive voice!

    Amy - After the last two weeks, this was a very refreshing change! In Cold Blood is the only Capote I've read, but I have Breakfast at Tiffany's waiting for me. Glad you like the new header - I want to take another on a sunny day, but there aren't very many this time of year!

    Molly - I just loved this! Definitely check the You Tube video narrated by Capote if you get a chance - it's very good.

    Dar - It's definitely worth a listen if you have time!

  6. 'Fruitcake weather', I love that!

  7. This sounds like a wonderful story. I've read only In Cold Blood by Capote, but I'd like to read more by him.

  8. Sounds a good read for Christmas.

  9. This is such a great story. My family has been listening to this for years, first on cassette tape, then on cd when it came out. There is also a Thanksgiving story with Buddy we listen to. They are a great tradition at our house.

  10. Darlene - Isn't 'fruitcake weather' a great expression? I loved it, too!

    Charley - In Cold Blood is the only other thing I've read by Capote, but plan to read Breakfast at Tiffany's in 2010. I think I'm becoming a fan! Thanks for stopping by.

    Zetor - This is just perfect reading for Christmas.

    ccqdesigns - I had no idea there was a Thanksgiving story, too! Thanks you so much for telling me. I loved this one and know I would enjoy another holiday story with Buddy.

  11. I love the winter lake!

    I have this set aside to read over the next couple of days.

  12. Claire - Hope you enjoy this story, too! In another month, the lake will be there are chunks of ice along the shore.

  13. I dearly love this story. You wrote such a beautiful review, both in your words and the set-up, with the colors and the photographs. Really wonderful, JoAnn. I didn't care for Breakfast at Tiffany's so will be very interested to see what you think. It does, though, contain one of my favorite lines about reading:

    "I'd been to a movie, come home and gone to bed with a bourban nightcap and the newest Simenon: so much my idea of comfort..."

  14. Nan - I'm so glad you liked the review! This was by far my favorite of the stories I read from the collection. Also loved Capote's In Cold Blood, but have heard mixed opinions of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Hope to get to it soon...


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