A Christmas Memory
By Truman Capote
If your children have never heard of this picture book gem from Truman Capote of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” fame, you and your young readers are both in for a real treat. Originally published in 1956 in “Mademoiselle” magazine, December 1956, it was reprinted in 1966 in book form.
And with the words, “It’s fruitcake weather”, young Buddy, for that is the alias that Mr. Capote uses in his very evocative memory book, he draws a very readable time capsule of Depression Era Alabama and his memories of Christmas past that highlight his relationship with his Aunt Sook. It is an autobiographical look at a snapshot in time of his life until he was ten.
Young Buddy has lived for as long as he can remember with an assortment of older relatives in a big, rambling house, but the only kindred spirit in the place is Sook. She is childlike, though that fact is never emphasized by Buddy nor seen as a negative. In fact, it is the very opposite. Sook and Buddy are two souls who are emotionally simpatico in that they understand what it is to be childlike; to still get excited by the wonders in nature, people and a joyful task they yearn to do together each year – the baking of their traditional Christmas fruitcakes. So small a thing? Maybe. But it is in the counting out of nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies saved for the purchase of ingredients, trundling out to a wood filled with old, gnarled pecan trees to gather a baby carriage full of them and ending with a visit to an American Indian nicknamed Haha, owner of a local cafe where they purchase $2.00 worth of whiskey to spice the cake up, that we are allowed the privilege of seeing two souls sharing a season. It is beautiful.
Some children may have a bit of trouble sitting for the telling of this lengthy Christmas tale that ends with separation, but I think we need to expose our young readers to picture books just like this one. Why? Because they can elongate the attention span that may have a tendency to be shortened by some books that don’t allow a story to patiently come to the child, develop and grow in a space of time that allows reflection and thought regarding characters and plot. Kids are much more perceptive and intuitive than we believe. And this is a book that allows children to savor a real give-and-take between two soul mates of very different generations, separated by age but not by much else.
Plus, Beth Peck’s soft watercolor drawings are so spot on perfect for Capote’s book that I think I’d recognize Buddy and Sook if I saw them walking down my street one day. I should only be so lucky!
There is also an amazing made for TV movie of “The Christmas Memory” that garnered an Emmy Award for actress Geraldine Page as Sook in 1966? She won another for a sequel to Buddy/ Capote’s Christmas picture book adaptation. It too became a made for TV movie and it’s called “The Thanksgiving Visitor.” Did you know there were bullies in school way back in the 1930’s, too?
Sweet and childlike, yet strangely worldly-wise, Sook has a surprising way of teaching Buddy how to treat a bully. Kindness seems to be the key to her approach where Buddy’s is tit for tat. Great lessons here for kids.
Here are links to both movies:
“A Christmas Memory” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0vjTfVyZco
“The Thanksgiving Visitor” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfkYVO9RgdU
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