A final wrap-up of the holiday season would not be complete without a Christmas reading. I actually read this last week, but wanted to wrap up my holiday writings this week by reviewing this story. It is a retread for me, since I read it 20 years ago, but in looking for a short story that I liked and wanted to look at again, this was a nice revisit.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I first read “A Christmas Memory” in my tenth grade Literature class (1998, and the same class that introduced me to “There Will Come Soft Rains”), right around the holidays, and a year before reading “The Gift of the Magi” in my American Literature class. To date, it is the only Truman Capote story I have ever read.
Seven-year-old Buddy lives with relatives, but it is his older cousin (who nicknamed him “Buddy” after a childhood friend that died in the 1880s) that dotes on him the most, as she is the most childlike of the relatives in the home. The story tells of the winter that Buddy is seven years old, helping his “friend” make fruitcakes (it is fruitcake season, after all), and decorating the tree to look like a Baptist’s window, all in preparation for Christmas. The story is told from the point of view of Buddy as an adult, looking back on that very special time, before “Those Who Know Better” decided education in a military school was a better option.
We all have that one special Christmas memory, where we participated in a special tradition, received a gift we’d never forget, or just some aspect of the season brings back a good memory. I have many great memories of Christmases past. For the author, the whole final Christmas season, not just a small aspect of it, was his favorite Christmas memory.
Capote wrote “A Christmas Memory,” as printed in Mademoiselle in December 1956, reprinted in 1963 for The Selected Writings of Truman Capote, a standalone edition in 1966, and assorted other anthologies and editions since then. It has been adapted for screen and stage several times (my Literature book’s publication of the story had photos from the 1969 television adaptation), and a year before I read this, Hallmark Hall of Fame aired a movie version of the story. This story had two sequels, “The Thanksgiving Visitor” and “One Christmas,” published in 1967 and 1983, respectively.
The saddest part of the story is that the young man, who continued to correspond with his beloved cousin after going to military school, sees through her correspondence the decline of the woman due to old age, and eventually, dementia. The final line of the story tells of her passing, but she is definitely someone he will never forget, memorializing her in describing a lost pair of kites hurrying for the heavens.
But he’ll never forget making fruitcake or the special gift she gave him, especially her gift of love and friendship. And the kite.