Nearly a decade after the 1956 publication of his short story “A Christmas Memory,” Truman Capote revisits the lives of Buddy and Miss Sook, reopens the sprawling Victorian home with its stodgy relatives and its warm kitchen lit by the familiar black stove. Only this time, Buddy and his aging friend aren’t concerned with baking fruitcakes, but with appeasing a brute who threatens to ruin Buddy’s Thanksgiving. Miss Sook seeks peace, while Buddy plots revenge.
A Thanksgiving Visitor
In “A Thanksgiving Visitor,” Buddy and Miss Sook’s friendship is tested as Buddy struggles under the weight of expectations to behave like a “normal” boy and endures punishment from class bully Odd Henderson for being a sissy. When Miss Sook schemes to bring the boys together over Thanksgiving dinner, Buddy feels he’s losing his only friend while he’s plotting revenge against his worst enemy.
Odd Henderson comes from a family of ne’er-do-wells who have been hit hard by the Depression, and Buddy in turn is hit hard by Odd. On the way to school, in the playground, and even in his dreams exists this unrelenting menace. Although Buddy isn’t Odd’s only victim, he is a specially chosen one.
Rich Boy vs. Poor Boy?
Buddy enjoys a comfortable lifestyle at his elderly cousins’ home. He feasts on belly-swelling breakfasts in a warm kitchen while Odd noshes on raw turnips or spare handfuls of nuts to stave off hunger. But it’s ignorance that separates the boys, not social status. Odd doesn’t torment Buddy because he lives in a grand house and has shoes on his feet, but because he’s a “sissy.”
“I’m just straightening you out,” he admits during one beating. Buddy hates Odd even more because he is the combination of everyone who reminds him that he’s not a normal boy. He can’t change who he is, and he doesn’t understand why he should have to.
Buddy feels a sting of betrayal when Miss Sook refuses to take his side. Though inexperienced by his own standards – she’s never seen a movie, eaten in a restaurant, or read anything but the Bible – he always thought Miss Sook understood one thing exceptionally well: Buddy. Yet, she understands even more than that.
Miss Sook sees what poverty does to people, how it crushes their spirit yet enhances their pride. Her heart aches at the sight of Odd Henderson’s family living in a barren, drafty shack with a leaky roof. His once beautiful mother was now a dim shadow of her former self, worn down by years of struggle and abuse. Molly Henderson’s son was not the abrasive thug Buddy describes, but a tireless worker who never complains and tames his rambunctious siblings by singing songs. Someone like that couldn’t be all bad, Miss Sook insists.
Buddy is determined to prove her wrong.
Buddy orchestrates a revenge plot against Odd to not only to show he’s a bully, but to prove himself as a man, a hero, and an overall superior person. He wants to show his whole family, especially Miss Sook, that he’s the person they all think he should be.
Although Buddy is stunned when Odd actually accepts Miss Sook’s invitation for Thanksgiving dinner, and even more aghast when his wealthy family members invite the boy into their fold, making room for him on the piano bench and encouraging him to sing, it serves as a perfect setting for his revenge.
Buddy seeks respite from the festivities in a quiet space attached to the bathroom. This is where he spies Odd swiping Miss Sook’s prized brooch from her treasure box, providing him a legitimate excuse for ousting the thief from the dinner table. But when Buddy proclaims his news to everyone, he is horrified when honest Miss Sook lies for Odd, and Odd in turn fesses up and quietly leaves. Buddy is now the object of his own revenge, and he flees the ire of his family to wallow in self pity.
Miss Sook tries to explain to Buddy that his plan went awry, because it was indeed a plan.
Odd didn’t show up to dinner with swinging fists or foul words; he didn’t even look for Buddy, yet Buddy jumped on the first opportunity he had to humiliate Odd. He was never given a chance to explain his motive, if he had one, for stealing the brooch. No one even knew if he intended to keep it.
“There is only one unpardonable sin – deliberate cruelty,” Miss Sook tells him. “All else can be forgiven.”
Perhaps “A Thanksgiving Visitor” is a letter of apology to Odd Henderson for a deliberate cruelty that wasn’t fully understood until adulthood, a chance for two boys to finally accept their differences and reconcile.