The narrator of this Truman Capote story tells the reader to “imagine a morning in late November” more than twenty years ago. The scene is a kitchen of a rambling house in a small rural town in the 1930s. An elderly woman stands at the kitchen window and proclaims that “it’s fruitcake weather!” This is delightful news to her seven-year-old cousin and best friend, Buddy. “Fruitcake weather” signals the beginning of the holiday season for the unconventional cousins, who bake the loaves for the people in their lives who have been kind to them through the year. The two proceed with their tradition more or less oblivious to the other relatives who live in the house: “they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, [but] we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them.”
They begin the routine by gathering pecans for the fruitcakes. The unnamed woman and the little boy, accompanied by their dog Queenie, spend three hours filling an old baby carriage with the nuts that have fallen on the ground in the neighbor’s orchard. Then they return to the kitchen to shell the nuts by firelight and plan the next day’s work— buying the other ingredients for the fruitcakes. Later, they go up to the woman’s bedroom, where she keeps a change purse hidden under her bed. The purse is filled with the money they have accumulated all year from their various enterprises: selling fruit and flowers, and once even charging neighbors to see a deformed chicken. At this time the narrator, grown now and relating the story in flashback, reveals more facts about his cousin. She has never seen a movie or eaten in a restaurant, but she knows how to tame hummingbirds, tell chilling ghost stories, and create elixirs to cure a variety of ills.
The next day, they go on their shopping trip. During their most unusual errand they visit a man named Haha Jones, the local whiskey bootlegger. Jones is large and frightening-looking, but he is kind to the cousins, giving them a bottle of whiskey in exchange for the promise of a fruitcake. Over the next four days they bake thirty-one cakes, most of which they send to people they know only slightly or not at all; people who have passed through their town once, or famous people such as Resident Franklin D. Roosevelt. The woman, the narrator points out,’ ‘is shy with everyone except strangers.” After the cakes are baked and sent, they split the leftover whiskey and give a spoonful to the dog. A little drunk, they sing and dance around the kitchen, but soon two relatives come in and scold the woman for giving whiskey to the boy. Sobbing, she retreats to her room. Buddy comforts her by reminding her that they will cut down a Christmas tree the next day.
In the morning, they find the perfect Christmas tree, twice as tall as Buddy. They drag it home themselves along with other holiday greenery. They make decorations from colored paper and tinfoil to supplement the few store-bought ornaments they own and sprinkle the tree with shredded cotton. They finish their decorating tasks by creating holly wreaths for the house’s front windows. Gifts are created for the rest of the family; Buddy makes his cousin a kite, and he suspects she is making him one as well. His suspicions are confirmed on Christmas Eve when they are too excited to sleep and they reveal their presents to one another. After they open their presents on Christmas Day, they go out to fly the kites. They have such a good time that the old woman feels as if she has seen God.
The narrator reveals that this is the last Christmas he shared with his cousin. Buddy is sent to military school, and spends his summers at camp. For a while, his cousin writes him and continues her holiday fruitcake tradition, sending him ‘ ‘the best of the batch.” Eventually, though, she becomes mentally and physically frail, unable to keep up her routine. When she dies, Buddy knows before he is told: “A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received.” The story closes with him walking over the grounds of his school and looking at the sky: “As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.”
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2 – Truman Capote, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.