A Christmas Memory (1966)

AChristmasMemorySuggested by Glenn Waterworks Fairman • A young boy spends Christmas with his aunts in the rural south during the Depression. Unable to afford to buy Christmas presents for each other, Sook and Buddy make each other presents and spread the joy of fruitcake.
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13 Responses to A Christmas Memory (1966)

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I also found a color version of it here. In either case, the video quality isn’t all that good.

    This is a nice little Christmas memory from Truman Capote. I wonder how much the hard edges have been softened by time and the retelling. But such is the writer’s privilege to put a gloss on events that might have been far more painful than portrayed.

    Be that as it may, this is a story of Buddy, who I imagine is about ten, and his favorite elderly aunt. They both consider each other good friends. And they both live amongst a couple less friendly family members.

    We were just talking about fruitcake here at StubbornThings. We’re still trying to find someone who actually likes it. And I felt more than a twinge of guilt for not liking it. The first part of this short film story consists of Buddy and his aunt making fruit cake. They save up their money during the proceeding year — mostly in pennies and dimes — in order to buy the ingredients needed (all but the nuts which they harmlessly poach off a neighbor’s property).

    They earn the money by entering every contest they can, selling what they can, and being all-around entrepreneurs (including selling tickets to see their three-legged chicken). Watching this video could be dangerous to today’s crowd for you see it’s not the amount of “stuff” you sprinkle over Christmas. It’s the quality that you put into it. And often that quality consists of doing the simplest of things…including making fruitcake…or decorating a tree with home-made ornaments.

    No doubt, in a Fairmanesque reflection, the glitzy ornaments, lights, and uber-abundance that we smother ourselves in this time of year is an attempt to hide the fact that we’re not feeling all that shiny inside. Dammit, if we can’t share a tender moment with a loving aunt we can sure as heck buy the equivalent on plastic.

    So who’d have thought a tender Christmas moment would come from Truman Capote? He doesn’t make for the best narrator. I kept pining for the sweet, if dull, Virginia chords of Earl Hamner.

    I’ve never considered Capote a conservative bastion. And It’s hard to know how much anti-bible-thumping Truman might be doing because we have the nasty religious aunts who scold the good aunt for allowing young Buddy a small glass of bootleg whiskey. Okay. We get it, Truman.

    And yet he doesn’t squeeze religion, or a mention of Christ, for that matter, from the story. A kind reading of this story would be that the actions and attitudes of Buddy and his aunt evince the Christmas Spirit, unlike the dour aunts who apparently know only how to bible-thump and scold. This dichotomy as a theme was certainly emerging in that day and age where holding to standards was considered dowdy and harsh and just letting it all hang out kumbaya-style was the way to go. And, if we’re honest, we’ll admit what the playing out of this other extreme has ill-produced.

    But it’s his story. It’s the warm liberal myth in many ways. I would almost prefer the story of the harsh aunt who saved little Buddy from becoming an alcoholic by *not* glamorizing the consumption of alcohol. To mix both of these elements — both standards and kind sentiment — are too much for this age now, and certainly probably too much to pack into this short video story. But one can always hope.

    Still, it’s a charming story that shows that Christmas and living well have less to do with how much money you have and more to do with your attitude toward what you have and what you can do with what you have. One of the warmest parts of this story is the telling of who would receive as a present these Christmas fruitcakes. Both the aunt and Buddy preferred to give them to people they barely knew, perhaps meeting them just once during the previous year. And it seems they always sent one to the Roosevelts at the White House and wondered if those cakes every graced the first lady’s table.

    The days of gathering joy from flying a simple kite are perhaps blowing away with the winds of Social Justice Grievance and lives packed too full of chintzy shiny things. Kids now typically have their minds being absorbed for hours on end in video games, and often extremely violent and vulgar video games at that. So to see the joy of someone enchanted by flying a home-made kite with their friend is an image on a string that is a favorite…and is being lost. But we can thank Truman for holding onto some of those memories by the tale.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Perhaps homemade fruitcake is good. As for drinking in small quantities, I think there’s a lot to be said for getting used to it in very small quantities. It’s better than being eager to try the “forbidden fruit” (juice of the juniper berry, perhaps) and going on a bender as a result. (William Hogarth, call your office.) In fact, my parents encouraged us that way — and in my case, ended up with a teetotaler.

  2. Glenn Fairman says:

    “Buddy” was a lonely boy, and he became a lonely man. As for the myths and hopes that dance about in my head, they are near all that I have left……

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I don’t know much about Truman Capote. But I suspect there are a lot of lonely people out there. The loneliest may be those who try to connect via a rat-a-tat-tat 30 character (or less) limit.

      Glenn, I was on Facebook the other day just taking a look around. I hadn’t been on it in probably nine months other than a quick look at someone’s link that happen to end at Facebook. Well, thank goodness letter writers still exist. I don’t particularly like what I see there. Sound bytes and “likes” is no way for a man to exist.

      I’m not sure what myths and hopes remain in my head, dancing or otherwise. Oh, I don’t want to sound a down note. I’m fine. But I admit my experience online, and elsewhere, the past few years has shot more than one illusion all to hell. I’m not sure what there is to hold onto. But I do know that part of our journey is figuring it out. I know it’s not text messaging, video games, or “likes” on Facebook.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    We were just talking about fruitcake here at StubbornThings. We’re still trying to find someone who actually likes it.


    Good with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Their pumpkin cake and their cheesecake look really good. And their pumpkin cheesecake. And the fruitcake is surely pretty. But I’m not gonna eat it unless you go first.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Although I haven’t had one lately, I have been eating Collin Street fruitcake since I was a child. Many Texans, my father included, have given these gut busters as Christmas presents to various business associates for many decades. The people in his NYC office got them regularly.

        They have a store on I-45 in Corsicana, a little more than an hour south of Dallas. I have stopped there on my way to or from Houston. They have many delicious items. I love their peach pies.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I see their deluxe fruitcakes advertised on a number of the websites I visit. But I don’t buy on-line because I don’t want to risk having a credit card hacked.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Well, Mr. Kung, you talk a pretty sweet fruitcake game. But the proof is in the pudding…or cake, whatever. My offer stands: Anyone who wants to send me a fruitcake (a couple of slices will do) can do so and I will give a full, fair, and factual review of said cake.

          But don’t bother with the peach pies. I can’t imagine a peach pie not being good. It would take special skill to ruin a peach pie.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            I can’t imagine a peach pie not being good. It would take special skill to ruin a peach pie.

            We have found accord with one another.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One of the amazing things that I forgot to mention about this movie is that in one of the scenes it shows some red (in the color version) paper bells hanging from the ceiling. These bells are a spittin’ image of the ones I have hanging in my office right now which are likely from the 60’s. These are by all measure cheap paper bells. They fold flat. It’s sort of a honeycomb of a structure when they are distended. Thus these cheap bells which we’ve had in the family for years are given just a little more gloss of the Christmas Spirit.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      They are still popular. We used to have some in Hongkong. If I recall correctly, there are also paper Christmas trees and other designs.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Ha! Wouldn’t doubt for a moment that they may have been made in Hong Kong. But they are cheap and festive. What’s not to like?

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