What does the narrator of "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote mean by saying that his more than "sixty-year-old" friend "is still a child"? Are there places where she exhibits a superior wisdom...

What does the narrator of "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote mean by saying that his more than "sixty-year-old" friend "is still a child"? Are there places where she exhibits a superior wisdom to that of the adults in the story?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator of Truman Capote's short story "A Christmas Memory" is a seven-year-old boy named Buddy. His best friend is his cousin, an unnamed woman who is, as your questions suggests, sixty-something years old but is "still a child."

In many pbvious ways, his friend is, indeed, still quite childlike. For example, 

In addition to never having seen a movie, she has never: eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry.

She needs help finding her hat (though of course this could be true of anyone at any age) and has no money except what she and Buddy earn in some rather eccentric ways, such as entering contests and  creating a "Fun and Freak Museum," consisting of borrowed vacation slides and a three-legged chicken that everyone desperately wanted to see. She also flies kites, is superstitious, and is painfully shy around strangers.

On the other hand, this friend is a woman who has managed to live more than sixty years, and she has garnered (collected or gathered) some wisdom, as well. She does know the difference between being laughed at and laughed with, and she would never be as cruel as two "scolding relatives" who laugh at her. She works hard and does things that "exhilarat[e] her imagination and fue[l] the blaze of her heart." She is quite in touch with her spiritual side and would rather hear a story than watch a movie, indicating her appreciation for the higher sensibilities. One of the things she teaches Buddy is to be sure to appreciate everything he sees or gets, because "there are never two of anything."

We learn that she is brave enough to kill a rattlesnake with a hoe, is patient enough to tame hummingbirds, and is skilled in the use of medicinal plants. Buddy says "knows she the recipe for every sort of oldtime Indian cure, including a magical wart remover" (which of course is something quite important to a young, active boy).

While this may not seem like a very extraordinary list of things, they are what set Buddy's friend apart from the other people in their lives. Buddy says:

Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them.

We come to understand that she is Buddy's friend not because she of her child-like simplicity but because she appreciates the simplicities of youth. She is a perfectly mature woman who enjoys living in ways that are child-like and simple, a sharp contrast between her and the dour, imposing relatives who live in the building. Their perpetual condemnation, no doubt, simply spurs her to enjoy doing the things she loves with even more pleasure and abandon. Being child-like is not the same as being childish.

Though she is "still a child" in many ways, Buddy's friend displays much more wisdom and maturity than many of the other people her age in this story, and she is the perfect companion for a quick-minded and active young boy. Buddy appreciates that, and when she dies, he loses what he calls "an irreplaceable part of myself."

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A Christmas Memory

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