If you’re like me and associate Truman Capote primarily with In Cold Blood, you might be pleasantly surprised to find something totally different in his “tiny gem of a short story,” A Christmas Memory. It fits the bill if you are looking for something meaningful yet humorous, and something nostalgic but not excessively sentimental.
The story is largely autobiographical, a classic memoir of Capote’s childhood in rural Alabama in the early 1930’s. Until he was ten, Capote lived with distant relatives and this is his recollection (written in the present tense) of the time spent with a favorite cousin, Miss Sook Faulk, when he was about seven. Sook is a simple, older woman (perhaps mid-sixties) and is herself much like a child. Together they make fruitcakes — some for friends and neighbors, some to be shipped away. They count the money they have saved over the year (somewhere between $12.73 and $13.00) and decide they have enough to purchase all the ingredients, including a quart of “sinful” whiskey. Afterwards, they get a little tipsy on the leftover moonshine. They also chop down their own Christmas tree and end up making kites for each other as presents. The kleenex part comes at the end when Buddy is sent away to military school, never to see Sook again.
The Davenport Library also has a DVD version of this story, starring Patty Duke as Sook. Unchararcteristically, the movie actually has more character development than what is actually revealed in the sparse print version. However, the same message still comes through in both — that friendship and caring for each other, no matter the gap in years — never goes out of style.