A Christmas Memory Summary
“A Christmas Memory” is a short story by Truman Capote in which the narrator, Buddy, looks back on a particularly beautiful Christmas he spent with his much older cousin.
Buddy and his cousin have a Christmas ritual in which they bake and then give away fruitcakes to people they barely know.
After giving away the fruitcakes, Buddy and his cousin drink the leftover whiskey.
- Buddy and his cousin chop down a Christmas tree and decorate it with their homemade decorations. They spend Christmas Day flying homemade kites.
- That was the last Christmas the two spent together.
Last Updated January 24, 2024.
"A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote is a semi-autobiographical short story, recalling a period in the 1930s when the young Capote lived with his elderly, eccentric cousin in rural Alabama. The story is a nostalgic and tender portrayal of a unique friendship and the simplicity of life and traditions in the rural South.
Capote opens the story by establishing the setting and characters. It starts on a November morning in the 1930s, in "the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town." The seven-year-old narrator, who is only called Buddy, is with his "sixty-something" old cousin, whom Buddy refers to throughout the story as his "friend." They live in the house with relatives who treat Buddy and his friend as outcasts. "[T]hey have power over us," Buddy says, "and frequently make us cry."
On this particular morning, Buddy's friend proclaims that it is "fruitcake weather." With that, they take a buggy, "a dilapidated baby carriage," and head into a garden to collect pecans. Their dog, Queenie, follows along. A few hours later, they return to the kitchen with their buggy full of pecans. They crack open the shells, and then they have dinner. During dinner, Buddy and his friend discuss their plans for the next day, which includes shopping for additional fruitcake ingredients, such as "cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla…rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey…."
The next day, to purchase the whiskey, Buddy and his friend visit the home of the distiller, Haha Jones. Buddy knocks on the door, and Haha answers. He is an intimidating figure with a reputation for somberness and violence. After Buddy explains that they need the whiskey to make fruitcakes, Haha gives them a bottle. Haha tells them that, instead of paying two dollars for the bottle, they could bring him back a fruitcake instead.
Over the next four days, Buddy and his friend bake thirty-one fruitcakes. Most of the fruitcakes are for strangers and mere acquaintances, such as "Abner Packer, the driver of the six o'clock bus from Mobile" and "the young Winstons, a California couple whose car…broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting…on the porch." Once the fruitcakes are all mailed off, Buddy and his friend drink the remainder of the whiskey. They loudly sing songs in the kitchen.
Two other relatives enter and scold Buddy's friend for giving whiskey to a child. Buddy's friend cries in bed that night, and he comforts her. He cheers her up by telling her to stop crying so she will have the energy to find a Christmas tree the following day.
In the morning, Buddy, his friend, and Queenie travel into the woods searching for a tree. They find an impressive one, which they chop down and carry home, frequently stopping to rest. Later, they retrieve a trunk of Christmas decorations from the attic. They also spend several days making their own additional decorations with scissors, crayons, and colored paper. As Christmas approaches, Buddy and his friend make scarves for the women in their family and homemade cough syrup for the men. For each other, they make kites.
On Christmas Eve, Buddy and his friend buy Queenie a bone at the butcher. That night, they are both too excited to sleep. They tell each other that they each made the other one a kite. At some point, their candle burns out, and they fall asleep, but soon enough, dawn arrives, and it is Christmas morning.
Buddy is disappointed with his gifts, which include "socks, a Sunday School shirt, some...
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handkerchiefs, a hand-me-down sweater, and a year's subscription to a religious magazine for children." After opening presents, Buddy's friend notes that the wind is blowing, and the two go out to a pasture and fly their kites. Buddy's friend meditates on how beautiful the moment is, saying that she "could leave the world with today in [her] eyes."
Buddy writes in a sort of epilogue that this is their last Christmas together. He is sent to military school. His friend writes him letters, telling him that Queenie has died after being kicked by a horse and also sending Buddy a fruitcake for the next few Novembers. Eventually, though, the fruitcakes and the letters stop, and Buddy gets word that his friend has died. The story ends with Buddy walking across a school campus and looking toward the sky, expecting to see "rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven."