The adult narrator of this story nostalgically remembers the last Christmas that he enjoyed as a seven-year-old boy with his “sixty-something” cousin, who called him Buddy in memory of a boy who had once been her best friend. Buddy lives with this cousin and other relatives in a spreading old house in a country town (which probably represents Monroeville, Alabama, where Truman Capote lived with his four unmarried adult cousins until he was about ten).
As they have done each year, Buddy and his favorite cousin inaugurate this Christmas season with a late November fruitcake baking, which entails gathering wind-fallen pecans and a visit to the dilapidated shack of Mr. Haha Jones to buy whiskey. They finance this operation with money that they have accumulated through the year in their Fruitcake Fund. After four days of baking, their fruitcakes are ready for delivery to friends—“persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all,” who include President Roosevelt and the bus driver Abner Packer.
At this particular Christmas, the delivery of the fruitcakes is followed by a celebratory sharing of the last two inches of whiskey in the bottle used for the fruitcakes. Buddy, his cousin, and her dog Queenie all get slightly tipsy, moving two other relatives to scold Buddy’s cousin for corrupting a child. The next morning’s adventure heals all, however, as Buddy and his cousin search deep into the woods for their Christmas decorations. They gather wreaths, chop down a tree, laboriously drag everything home, and dress the tree with homemade decorations. They then wrap gifts, secretly making one another kites. On Christmas morning they wake early and make enough noise to rouse the others. After the presents are opened, Buddy and his cousin go to the pasture below the house to fly their new kites.
This is the last Christmas they spend together. The next year, Buddy is sent to a military school and then to a new home. Years later he receives news that his cousin has died—an event that he feels intuitively before the news arrives. As he grows older and feels winter coming on, he often thinks of “a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.”