illustration of two red kites hanging upon a Christmas tree

A Christmas Memory

by Truman Capote

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In "A Christmas Memory," what obstacle must Buddy and his cousin overcome to make their gifts?

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The key obstacle Buddy and Sook, his cousin, have to overcome, is their lack of money. Both are dependents in a Southern household in the 1930s. Buddy is a young child of seven. Sook is a 60-something single woman with very little experience of the world.

To make their fruitcakes, they need the following:

Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pine-apple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings . . .

They also need money for postage so that they can mail the pies to far-away recipients, such as President Franklin Roosevelt.

The two kill flies, earning one penny for every 25 flies they kill. They gather wild pecans for the fruitcakes. They hoard the little bit of money, usually a dime at a time, that their relatives give them. They enter any contest they can find--once they won five dollars. They have rummage sales, and they sell homemade fruit jams. At one point, they operate a Fun and Freak Museum featuring Biddy, the three-legged hen, which earns them $20.00. Sadly, however, Biddy dies.

The goal of baking the fruitcakes bonds them. They show a great deal of energy and creativity in their pursuit of funds for the cakes. 



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This nostalgic memory of a childhood Christmas is remarkable for a number of reasons, but one is the context in which the memory is set. It is clear that Buddy and his cousin come from a poor background, which makes their feat of baking over thirty cakes impressive, to say the least. The story narrates the various challenges that they have to overcome in order to buy or obtain the ingredients that they need in order to bake the cakes, and the detail provided shows what obstacles they need to overcome. Consider, for example, the way that they save all year to get the ingredients that cannot be obtained in any other way:

But one way and another we do each year accumulate Christmas savings, a Fruitcake Fund. These moneys we keep hidden in a n ancient bead purse under a loose board under the floor under a chamber pot under my friend's bed. The purse is seldom removed from this safe location except to make a deposit, or, as happens every Saturday, a withdrawal...

The way that this money is carefully and painstakingly collected is made clear. Throughout the year, Buddy and his cousin have engaged in every kind of employment possible to earn a few more pennies, such as killing flies. It is clear that baking these cakes becomes a year-long endeavour, with many individual obstacles to overcome, but most of all, the poverty of Buddy and his cousin is the biggest challenge.

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