On this Christmas morning, as I walked across frozen ground to refill the bird feeder, I was reminded of Truman Capote’s autobiographical short story, “A Christmas Memory,” and his elderly child-like cousin’s declaration of “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather.” This is the start of an annual Depression-era adventure in which the boy and his cousin count their change and set out to buy the ingredients for thirty-one fruitcakes – including moonshine whiskey from Mr. Haha Jones – with just shy of $13.
On this Christmas in central Alabama, we’re far beyond Sook Faulk’s frosty fruitcake weather as the past few days have stayed well below freezing. This is clearly not a big deal to our friends in Buffalo and locales north, suffering mightily under feet of snow, but some records were set here in Alabama and the thermometer crept only a couple of degrees above freezing on Christmas afternoon. That’s enough winter weather to last me for a good long while.
I re-read “A Christmas Memory” at the height of our current freeze and was struck again by the moving prose of a young Capote. My own memory was stirred to remember the Christmas of 2014 – the last Christmas my ailing father was able to spend at home.
On that Christmas Eve, Dad was resting in bed and Mother and I had finished most of our last-minute preparations for the next day. I retired to a bedroom and started reading “Á Christmas Memory.” When I came to the part where the narrator describes his cousin’s reaction to chocolate-covered cherries – “I could live on them, Buddy, Lord yes I could – and that’s not taking His name in vain” – I glanced at the clock, saw that it was 5:40, and threw on a coat, telling Mother that I had to go out for a last-minute errand.
Dad loved chocolate-covered cherries, the cheap kind that you always find on drug store shelves in the Christmas season. His love for the sweets was well-known and over the years friends would gift him a box at Christmastime. He appreciated the home-made chocolate-covered cherry mice that my sister-in-law and nephew would bring; I tried to up the ante with annual boxes of the fancier chocolate-covered cherries ordered from the Harry and David catalog, but it was clear that Dad preferred the gooier, less expensive Queen Anne brand from a drugstore shelf.
By 2014, many of those friends who could always be depended on to send over a box of chocolate-covered cherries were themselves ailing, or gone, and Sook’s declaration reminded me that there were no boxes for Dad on Christmas Day. I rushed into the closest pharmacy just minutes before its Christmas Eve closing time of 6:00 p.m., grabbed a box of chocolate-covered cherries, went back to the house, and placed the box under the tree.
Late in Truman Capote’s life, I attended a reading he gave at the University of Alabama. The selections were a sample of writings from his career, delivered in that simpering manner that was always his trademark. He ended with “A Christmas Memory.” Finally, gone were the affectations and snarling attitude Capote was famous for, replaced by a middle-aged man’s simple recitation of an authentic cherished memory. That performance has become a cherished memory for me, too.
A few days before Christmas this year, I stopped at a drugstore to pick up a prescription. As I was getting out of the car, Mother said, “If you see a box of chocolate-covered cherries, get them.”
“Why?” I asked. “You don’t eat them and neither do I.”
“Just for old times’ sake,” she said.
As we pulled away from the drugstore, Mother asked, “Do we have time to go by the cemetery?”
We headed a few miles to Elmwood and to my father’s grave, decorated already with Christmas greenery and a University of Alabama flag. As we sat in the car, Mother said, “Let’s put the chocolates at his grave.”