When most people think of Truman Capote, they recall his true crime novel, the first of the genre, "In Cold Blood" or maybe "Breakfast At Tiffany's" but this time of year, I think about what I consider to be his most moving, poignant work, "A Christmas Memory."
The short story with that title was first published in Mademoiselle Magazine in 1956.
In 1997, Hallmark released "A Christmas Memory" as one of their Christmas movies. It's not the first film version but it's the best, starring Patty Duke.
I enjoy reading the story and watching the movie.
Capote's autobiographical story begins in November with 7-year old Buddy and his cousin, in her sixties, Sook. The opening is best experienced with Capone's unique and lyrical language:
"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!" - from "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote.
In the story, Capote brings to life his childhood, spent with cousins in a small Southern town and his distant cousin, Sook. Although he lives with four elderly cousins, left there by an absent mother, Buddy is closest with Sook. She is his friend, playmate and co-conspirator.
Each year, they save their pennies to buy supplies to bake fruitcakes which they distribute far and wide for free. They plan to send one to President Franklin Roosevelt in The White House. During the multiple day baking event, they finish off the remaining whiskey, a key ingredient in the cakes, whic leads to a heartbreaking decision.
On Christmas Day, they exchange kites but the other gifts they receive from the rest of the family are sparse and basic.
Buddy's other cousins decide to send him away to military school, an event mirrored in Capote's life.
Capote's skill with words brings the small unnamed town of the 1930's to life with sharp reality and poignant emotion. It's a classic Christmas tale, one that ranks with other favorites including Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi".
It's fruitcake weather, Buddy, and all that the statement implies.
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy writes a weekly column, From A Writer's View, for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is community editor for both newspapers.