Giving: A Christmas Memory

Giving: A Christmas Memory

Tammy Everts
Dec 18, 2008

Maxwell has put out a call for stories from our readers, asking for inspiring anecdotes about the spirit of giving that transcend mere shopping. This made us think about one of our all-time favorite stories, a little-known short story by Truman Capote that, no matter how many times we read it, always makes us smile and cry...

Capote is an amazing storyteller, and never are his gifts more apparent than when he writes about his own childhood. In "A Christmas Memory", he recalls himself at seven years old, parentless in a house full of forbidding relatives. His only ally is an elderly, eccentric cousin who is more like a child than an adult. Every summer, Capote and this cousin work to earn enough money to buy fruitcake ingredients, in order to bake dozens of cakes for holiday giving:

The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves.

Who are they for?
Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o'clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we've ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you's on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder's penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.

This picture of a lonely, isolated pair of people reaching out to the world with their gifts is moving in its own right, but you really have to read the story in its entirety. (Fortunately, it's available online here.)

Do you have a story of giving you want to share? Submit your own here.

Photo: "Ancestral Memory" by Marshall Astor via Flickr Creative Commons

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