Hey, friends! It’s Rachel here. You may have seen me in the comments if you are a regular Book Clubber. I’ll be hosting the Christmas short story conversations this week and next.
I live on the coast of Kenya. We have seasons here, but they are not like seasons of higher latitudes – no cycle of winter, spring, summer, autumn. December is the end of the short rains, but not quite into the dry season. It could rain, but usually doesn’t. It’s hot and humid. Most Decembers of my childhood were spent in Texas, where the weather is absolutely unpredictable this time of year. You may find yourself in shorts or bundled up. Or you might be bundled up on Christmas Eve and in shorts on Christmas Day.
“A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote starts with 7-year old Buddy in the kitchen with his 60-something year old relative, whom he calls “my friend.” His friend looks out the window and exclaims that it’s fruitcake weather. This marks the beginning of the Christmas season for them.
Growing up in the United States, there were a few markers of the coming of Christmas for me. First was the arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. My grandmother would put up the Christmas tree for us to decorate. Every branch and sub-branch must have an ornament! Second was singing from the Christmas section of the hymnal during Sunday worship. Finally, we would get out of school for the holidays and start packing to visit grandparents.
It’s different in Kenya. The last day of school is almost 2 months before Christmas. You know Christmas is close because so many people take leave from work for the month of December. Don’t expect to do any official business this time of the year!
What marks the beginning of the Christmas season for you?
In our story, there are brief mentions of other relatives who live in the house, but Buddy and his friend make fruitcakes on their own. They save up coins they earned throughout the year to buy their fruitcake ingredients. They’re baking 30 cakes this year, which they will deliver to people in town and send to people farther away, including the president of the United States.
Christmas Eve comes, and Buddy and his friend spent all their money on the fruitcakes (and a bone for the dog), so their gifts for each other cannot be bought. They end up both making each other kites. So they spend Christmas Day flying their kites together. Buddy’s friend says:
“My, how foolish I am! … I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are”—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone—“just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”
I love these musings in light of celebrating Emmanuel. The Lord has indeed shown himself, in the natural world, the coming of his Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is already with us!
And that was the last Christmas Buddy spent with his friend. Everything they did was so ordinary. They didn’t save someone’s life, have a big adventure, receive the best Christmas gift imaginable.
It seems to me that parents in the social media age have a lot of (self-inflicted) pressure to make things magical for their kids. Not just magical, but increasingly more and more magical because you have to outdo the magic of last year. Yet, there was no magic in this Christmas memory. What imprinted in Buddy’s mind was when he did the same old thing with the person who loved him best.
In my family, the same old thing was my grandfather reading Luke 2 (I still “hear” it in his voice when I read it), Christmas carols around the piano in 4-part harmony, my sister asking to trade gifts when we received similar items but she somehow got the more girly one (and I was more than happy to take girly things off her hands).
What memories have stuck with you from Christmas in your childhood? What makes you keep remembering them? What do you like about this story? What bothers you? Share your thoughts in the comments
P.S. I think this is self-explanatory, but it’s best to be clear. Next week we’re reading “The House of Seven Santas.” The ebook is called A Little Book of Christmas, and it has four stories in it. We’re only reading “The House of Seven Santas.” (Go online to read it here, or on Kindle go here.)