“A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote

This short story comes from my paperback copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories. (Yes, I promise the cover image at right is of a book that includes stories, too.) It was just too easy to read this short, sweet, sad tale before bed one night, just before leaving on our trip.

Our first-person narrator is a child of seven, and this is the story of his relationship with his best friend, an unnamed distant cousin, aged sixty-something. She calls him Buddy, after an earlier best friend who died when they were children. Buddy and his friend live together, along with other family members who do not view them as favorably as they do one another. Along with the little dog, Queenie, Buddy and friend are one another’s world. They make fruitcakes together every fall for friends far and wide. There is an inevitable sad ending to this story which you can read into the disparate ages of these two friends if you so choose.

It’s brief and simple in terms of plot, but that is so often true of some of the best pieces of writing. And this piece is lovely. I only knew Capote through In Cold Blood, prior to this; and while that is very different kind of work, I get the same simple evocation of place, of sights and smells and feelings. I think I can best share the beauty of this story by giving you a few short passages.

Meet the friend:

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.

After saving up to buy ingredients to make their fruitcakes:

Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man’s eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. But mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies.

On declining an offer to sell the Christmas tree they have just harvested:

“Goodness, woman, you can get another one.” In answer, my friend gently reflects: “I doubt it. There’s never two of anything.”

And the sad ending comes too soon.

I hope these passages shared with you better than I feel able to do, the quiet, loving, reflective mood. It is somber from the beginning, but also loving and solemnly celebratory of the beloved friend. Does that make sense? This story is a masterpiece in understated, simple evocation of emotion and mood.

Rating: 6 coins.

3 Responses

  1. That is my favorite Christmas story! I read it every year without fail… truly a masterpiece. Thanks for sharing.

  2. […] which includes Breakfast at Tiffany’s and three short stories (the third is “A Christmas Memory“). I am rewarding myself with just a little bit of a break from […]

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