“A Christmas Memory”, “One Christmas”, and “The Thanksgiving Visitor” by Truman Capote. New York: Modern Library, 2007, 107 pages, $15.95.
This slim little volume contains three autobiographical holiday stories set during the Great Depression that are loosely based on the childhood of Southern author Truman Capote. They take place mostly in rural Alabama, where Capote was sent to live with elderly maternal relatives after the messy separation and divorce of his estranged parents. Capote was born in 1924 and lived until 1984 at about the age of 60. Capote considered all three of these short stories to be among the best of his output along with the 1958 novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” that inspired the movie of the same name.
In “A Christmas Memory”, young Buddy (Capote’s persona) is best friends with an eccentric old- maid cousin who shares a rather Spartan Christmas with a childlike innocence born of mental slowness. She and Buddy hoard pennies to bake and send homemade fruitcake to sympathetic neighbors and minor celebrities and manage to get tipsy on the excess alcohol used to flavor the fruitcakes. Christmas is a dour and staid affair for the other household members, but Buddy and his elderly Cousin Miss Sook still find the magic of Christmas despite austerity and naysaying grownups.
As an adult, Buddy remembers this Christmas alongside Miss Sook with fondness as one spent in the sympathetic company of a friend with shared enthusiasms, no matter how small her world. As Capote notes, despite her advanced age, his favorite cousin had never “eaten in a restaurant, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, traveled more than 5 miles from home, wished someone harm, or told a lie on purpose.” Her world was an entirely domestic one, spent serving the family and cooking huge meals for field hands employed to work the family’s agricultural fields.
“The Thanksgiving Visitor” also features Miss Sook in a prominent role. She asks Buddy’s nemesis, the grade-school class bully Odd Henderson to Thanksgiving dinner in order to smooth relations for Buddy at school and to help Odd’s downtrodden mother who has many children and few resources. Buddy embarrasses his schoolmate at Thanksgiving dinner by calling attention to minor pilfering that Odd has accomplished while a houseguest. Miss Sook tells a white lie for the invited guest and teaches Buddy a lesson in hospitality and graciousness.
“One Christmas” is the story of a trip that 6-year old Buddy takes on the bus from Alabama to New Orleans to see his biological father. His father is a stranger to him because of strained family relations and Buddy finds that he and his father have differing emotional expectations. They come to an uneasy truce during the holidays, but each suffers from unfulfilled familial yearnings.
Each of the three stories in this collection are a nostalgic homage to holidays of a simpler age. Along with Earl Hamner’s book “The Homecoming”, the model for the Walton’s television Christmas special, they represent southern Christmas through the prism of a sentimental bygone era unimpeded by modern commercialism.
By Lisa Kobrin, Reference Librarian, May Memorial Library