Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Favorite Short Stories - A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

I read "A Christmas Memory" first in junior high. 

It was assigned reading in our textbook. I didn't know who Truman Capote was yet. My Weekly Reader neglected coverage of the Black and White Ball and didn't review In Cold Blood. 

It was just another story in the reader back then, but Capote writes in that little tale of an elderly cousin who was a friend to him in his childhood. 

As I was growing up, my grandmother, my mother's mother, lived with my family. She was my babysitter when I was little since my mom was a high school teacher.

The relationship between Buddy, the narrator, and his cousin reminded me of my relationship with my grandmother. 

She was as much a friend as a guardian. She worked hard to keep me from killing myself, but she didn't worry much if the afternoon movie was playing Them or The Incredible Shrinking Man

She told me stories of her youth, an early bad marriage, an early widowhood in a second, happier union. She was an ally against my mom who'd inherited a strict approach from a Baptist minister grandfather even though we were Methodists.

My grandmother cooked though she didn't have the inclination toward fruitcakes exhibited by Buddy's cousin. I don't remember a signature dish.

I do recall her liking Delaware Punch, a soft drink. It's all but gone I read the other day. I haven't seen a bottle in years. But at a little grocery store back in the day, we'd slide bottles out from the case-style soft drink machines where the bottles dangled inside and cool air rushed up when you looked in.

The family lore held, since she'd lost a son to a heart attack two months before I was born, that taking care of me revitalized my grandmother.   

She took me to kindergarten on Fridays until I went every day the following year. We took a cab driven by a guy who looked to me like The Skipper from Gilligan's Island. She dressed up for those occasions, wore a hat and waited for me at the bottom of a flight of stairs outside the classroom. 

My grandmother was still alive, still living with us when I read A Christmas Memory for the first time. She'd live three, maybe four years longer. Happily at that time in my life years didn't tick past like seconds and certainly not like the blur 2020 has proved to be.

But even then, in reading, I could see that the world was finite. The story offered a bit of a bittersweet portent, especially when it reached this passage:

"...more and more thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: "Oh my, it's fruitcake weather."

I guess in some ways, the tale prepared me even as it celebrated the relationship of Buddy and his cousin. My grandmother passed away the day after I finished my first year in high school. I always suspected she held on to let me finish final exams.

I picked up the boxed 1966 edition of the story for probably a dollar years later at a library book sale. I keep it around for Christmas re-reads. It triggers good memories. 

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