A Christmas Memory...Or Two

The seeds of Shine Memoirs were planted many years ago when I had my first memoir piece published in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper with others from my grade school. Those few paragraphs now trigger happy sensory memories from my childhood Christmases in South Dakota: frozen hands from skating at McKennan Park, watching our breath as we sang carols, gingerly placing our delicate angel on the top of the tree, the taste of my grandmother's caramels and my mom's candy cane sugar cookies, the scent of cloves stuck in oranges, the purring of a kitten Santa brought one year and the gasp of realization that particular holiday my parents wrapped up a bib [typo above] and a rattle to tell my brother and I we had a new sibling on the way.

To be transported by words to another child's Christmas from an author with a considerably better literary pedigree than my grade-school self, I also wanted to share an excerpt from Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory.  Re-reading this story each year is one of my cherished holiday traditions and it never fails to delight me.

"Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar. 

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "Oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!" 

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other's best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880's, when she was still a child. She is still a child. 

"I knew it before I got out of bed," she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. "The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they've gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We've thirty cakes to bake." 

It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: "It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat." 

                                                   ~ Truman Capote, opening paragraphs from A Christmas Memory

For those who associate Capote only with Breakfast at Tiffany's or In Cold Blood, you may be surprised to learn that he also wrote this heartwarming biographical sketch.  You can read the full story in many holiday anthologies, but a favorite of mine is Caroline Kennedy's A Family Christmas.  You can also listen to Truman himself narrate it on this television version from 1966.  May it kickstart some happy childhood Christmas memories for you. 


  1. Sarah, You were a very good writer even back then. I enjoy reading your blog. I wish you and your new family a very merry Christmas. I'm glad to see you're doing well.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and happy holidays to you and yours!

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