Truman Capote is probably recalled by most people today for his flamboyance, his odd speaking voice, and his dissolute lifestyle in the 1960s and 70s. Others may think of him as one of the founders of the narrative nonfiction movement with the success of In Cold Blood, published in serial form in the New Yorker in 1965 and then in book form in 1966. Students of Southern literature may think of Capote for his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms. All of these are vital pieces of who Capote was. But I have always thought of Capote as the author of one of the most charming and moving Christmas stories that I have ever read, A Christmas Memory.
In this brief story, Capote recounts one Christmas time in his youth in the early 1930s. He is seven years old, already an outsider, even from his family. After his parents divorced, Capote was sent to live with his mother’s people in Alabama. Here, he struck up a friendship with a sixty-some year-old cousin, Sook Faulk, who was the only person in the family who seems to have really cared for him. Over the course of the story, which begins with the cousin waking one November morning to announce that “It’s fruitcake weather,” Capote describes the preparations and gathering of ingredients for the pair’s annual baking of Christmas fruitcakes. It seems a slight subject on which to hang a tale, but Capote is a wonderful storyteller, and knows how to put together a sentence. There are memorable characters throughout the piece, including Mr. Haha Jones, the local bootlegger, from whom the pair manage to get the whiskey needed to soak the cakes.
It is a bittersweet tale, and there is an elegaic tone that runs throughout the story. The changes that would come to the South and to Capote himself are just around the corner, and in both cases, you get the sense that these are changes for the worse. Nonetheless, ever since I came across the piece on my parent’s bookshelves thirty five or so years ago, I have had a warm affection for Truman Capote and for his recollections of Christmas time.