Sook is my fave character in these Capote stories, but she only makes a brief appearance in this one, to right a materialistic, narrow-minded wrong. “One Christmas” is Buddy’s moment to shine; I love this kid.
This is the third in Capote’s autobiographical holiday stories, following “The Thanksgiving Guest” and “A Christmas Memory”. It again features him as a young lad, living with his best friend and elderly cousin Sook, and an assortment of other extended family who ain’t nearly as much fun. He’s living with them because his mum and dad are not so great at being mum and dad. Mum’s in New York; dad’s in New Orleans. You’ll know from “A Christmas Memory” that this is a great time of year for Buddy, as he and Sook have important plans and things they must get done during the holidays: fruitcake making, tree selecting, bootleg-whiskey buying, and so forth.
Tragedy strikes: Buddy instead has to spend Christmas in New Orleans with his dad, whom he doesn’t even know. That’s the thing about being a kid: you get no say in anything. His dad is a very popular man-about-town, with a fancy-pants house, but Buddy is miserable. He has to wear shoes, for example. This is torturous for a kid from a small, Southern town where shoes are only for church. He’s dragged all over New Orleans and fussed on by strangers and has to watch his dad smooch on older, rich ladies. He figures out that dad is basically a drunken gigolo. His dad gives him piles and piles of presents – but they’re all bullshit: sweaters, socks, etc.. (Why do people even bother wrapping gifts like that up for a kid? Just hand him the damn socks, because he will be crushed if he has to unwrap them – having already imagined all the amazing things the socks should have been. NEWS FLASH FOR ADULTS: Clothing is not a present to a kid. Ever.) His dad is trying really hard, but he’s blowing it. He’s trying to reap what he never sowed.
But this is the young Truman Capote, and he’s smart as hell. He ends up turning the tables on his pathetic father, in that way kids sometimes do with adults, that innocent truth-saying that melts away artifice and shifts power. If you were ever the kid who was shuttled between parents or relatives – even if they weren’t pathetic, drunken gigolos – you will appreciate the little guy’s ordeal. In the end, of course, the visit isn’t the worst thing ever. You lament the loss of a precious Sook-centric Christmas, knowing they don’t have many left together, but sometimes a bit of healing is more important than a bit of fun.
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