It’s Fruitcake Weather! {Book Club}

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.) 

15 Comments

  1. Patty December 3, 2018

    My best Christmas memories: Going to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve. My grandmother did not have much money but she loved to bake. Each Christmas she would bake each child and grandchild their favorite dessert. She had 4 daughters and a son. She had 8 granddaughters and 3 grandsons. Each of us received our favorite dessert and we didn’t have to share with anyone. One year my cousin, Peggy, came back for Christmas with her husband. They were stationed in Virginia and didn’t get to come home often. My grandmother made her an extra pecan pie that year to take back. However, Peggy decided she just needed a bite. By the time she reached Norfolk (8 hour drive), she had consumed the whole pie. Even though she felt horrible after that adventure, she still eats pecan pie. No one makes them quite like my grandmother did but I have been told mine are pretty good.

    1. Rachel Kahindi December 5, 2018

      What a great tradition! I love that. I’m cracking up about your cousin unintentionally eating an entire pie! I can see myself doing that, too.

  2. Lisa O'Brien December 4, 2018

    Oh my! This story is so sweet! The line that grabbed my heart and tempted tears to fall was this one: “If only I could, Buddy. It’s bad enough in life to do without something you want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want them to have.” How true….Does your heart ever ache over what you long to do for someone else, but you just seem to be helpless in your efforts or ability? So, we do what we can and make a paper kite, hoping it delivers the sentiment of our heart’s desire.
    Christmas for me is a season of doing the same ol’ things. That’s my memories anyway. But living in Uganda there is little that replicates those memories. So, little by little I try to create some of our own repetitive holiday traditions, hoping eventually it will have some semblance of what is in my mind’s (heart’s?) eye. Regardless, I want my boys to have a sense of that special, repetitive, simple, wonder that is the Christmas season….even if it doesn’t at all involve snow, has a limited selection of Christmas music and movies, and we lack variety in our Christmas cookie options.

    1. Abigail December 4, 2018

      Thanks for mentioning that part, Lisa. It is so true and bittersweet.

    2. Rachel Kahindi December 5, 2018

      I agree. It’s hard watching those we love having to do without.

      I’ve had a lot of fun trying out new family traditions that work in this context, in this climate. I may miss what I experienced as a child, but they don’t because this is their childhood, and these will be their memories – ninjabreadman cookies, Elf, Home Alone, Advent calendar, fried chicken. But I wouldn’t be surprised if their best memories come from something that was totally unintentional. 🙂

  3. Abigail December 4, 2018

    That IS such a sweet story, and bittersweet. Growing up one Christmas tradition was making Christmas cookies and decorating them with my brothers and sisters at my grandma’s house, driving there with my parents singing, “Over the mountains and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go”. A few years ago in China, I asked for her recipe, and made the cookies together with a bunch of local university students, watching the Nativity Story together. After moving here 14 years ago now, we used to decorate a Christmas tree as a team, and make a big deal of the holidays since we were missing our families, and the Christmas celebration atmosphere. Last year my then-fiance helped me decorate some already bought sugar cookies. Just last night we lit the first advent candle, a new tradition for each of us. Just last night my husband and our last-minute houseguest were in awe of the Christmas tree lights without any other lights on. It makes it feel so cozy and warm.

    1. Rachel Kahindi December 5, 2018

      Great memories! Little things like these can be so meaningful.

  4. lindsey December 4, 2018

    What I remember most about our Christmas times together…. is we all just love to be together, continuously…. I have sweet memories with my mom running the dogs, and hiking, and last year we watched endless hallmark christmas movies together, my dad included, he has no shame:) But I realized, that what makes it special is not necessarily what we do, just ordinary things like cooking and cleaning, its that we do those things together. I am excited to carry that along with my family here in Africa. We starte lighting advent candles every night and reading jothams journey. And yesterday we talked about making gingerbread cookies, and snowman made from marshmallows) I guess we are now in a season of forming our own Christmas traditions together… it will be sad to be away from my mom and dad and brothers, and grammy for our first Christmas away from home… though. It has given us space to form our own tradition but I think we will really miss family…

    1. Rachel Kahindi December 5, 2018

      I so agree! What makes it special is that we do those things together. Yes.

  5. Amy Young December 4, 2018

    Rachel, thanks for kicking off the discussion on this sweet story. I thought I recalled it being autobiographical so I looked to satisfy my curiosity and lo and behold it is “mostly autobiographical.” For some reason, that makes my heart warm all the more — thinking of seven-year-old Truman hanging out with his Friend and making fruitcakes. I’m sad they didn’t have more time together and appreciated that you pointed out how ordinary their Christmas was.

    While I was doing my “research” (Ha!) I found this version on Youtube. If any of you are needing a little “Hallmark” type of movie to watch this month, this is only 48 minutes :).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS0uurW6ZQM

    1. Bayta Schwarz December 4, 2018

      Thanks so much for posting that link! Loved watching this!

    2. Rachel Kahindi December 5, 2018

      Ah! It *seemed* autobiographical. How cool.

      Thanks for the video! I can’t wait to watch it.

  6. Sarah Hilkemann December 4, 2018

    Love this, Rachel! 🙂 It is funny, after spending 5 years in the tropics, and the 5 years before that in Texas where I saw snow maybe 3 or 4 times, I thought this time it would really *feel* like Christmas. There’s a bunch of snow outside, I’m with my family, bundled up and drinking hot chocolate, and singing along as Christmas music plays daily. But it has me stopping and wondering what I’m longing for, if I really was missing something the last few years and what I’m asking the Father for this Christmas season.

    I saw that there are several movie versions of this story on Amazon! 😀 (But Amy beat me to the punch there)

    1. Rachel Kahindi December 5, 2018

      That’s probably a good meditation for all of us – what am I really missing?

    2. Lindsey December 5, 2018

      Sarah,
      I love what you are saying… here…. i am wondering if our hearts aren’t truly settled within us. I am wondering if Perhaps we are people that struggle with contentment, with fulfilling our own version of the good life. Maybe the Lord needs to do some work in our hearts that leads us to be people of peace, of contentment, whatever situation we find ourselves in this Christmas… or maybe there is some holy discontentment that is real and true. Like, we are longing and groaning with the rest of the world for our Savior to return, for things to be set right? For things to be made new…. perhaps the true longings of our hearts can never be satisfied here? i am asking God for peace this season… for true joy and contentment….

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