My earliest memories are of spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my Sanders grandparents who lived on a farm. My Grandmother and Granddaddy Sanders made Christmas very special for all of us even though this country was experiencing the lean times of the Depression. Granddaddy Sanders went out into the woods and cut down the tree every year and when it was put up in a corner of the keeping room, turned it over to the women folk to decorate.
There was no rural electricity in those days, so the ornaments and roping that was put on the tree were handmade, but beautiful. Grandaddy Sanders popped popper after popper full of popcorn which was threaded on twine and colored crepe paper was cut into long strips that were pasted together, then twisted so as to be used as roping. All during the year, tin foil from things such as chewing tobacco and chewing gum had been carefully saved to wrap sycamore balls and cover stars cut out of cardboard to hang on the tree. Pine cones were dipped in white wash or hung au natural. There was even a large cardboard star covered with tin foil for the top of the tree. When the decoration was completed, the tree shimmered in silvery beauty in the lamplight and light from the fire in the open fireplace. I look at all of the ornaments, electric lights and beautiful decorations that can be bought today and remember our homemade tree that to us outshone anything that can be created today.
I will never forget the wonderful odors of Christmas baking coming from the kitchens the weeks before Christmas. People had tin pie safes back then and all kinds of pies and cakes were baked and stored in them. The doors of these pie safes had designs in them from holes punched in order to furnish ventilation for the gastronomical delights stored inside. All of the children were under strict orders to never open those doors but we could put our noses up to those holes and breathe in the odors.
In those days, it was not illegal to lay in a big store of fireworks and the cost was reasonable. Therefore I remember that we always seemed to have plenty of sparklers, one and two inch firecrackers, long packages of Zebras and Roman Candles on hand. My brothers would slip into my Dad’s railroad tool house and load up on some of the fusees that when lit created a bright red light to warn trains of trouble ahead. One year my uncle Frank Miller Sanders bought some Dirt Devils, little round creations that exploded into many colors when tossed into an open fire. However they had to be used carefully for if they landed too close to the hearth, they tended to cause live coals to pop out onto the floor.
One Christmas when I was a teenager, I had asked for a pair of riding boots that year. We were spending Christmas at Grandmother and Granddaddy Sanders’ home that year and my mother decided to give me my boots on Christmas Eve. I was overjoyed and hurriedly started to put them on, but found that I could not do so. I struggled and struggled, but I just could not pull them up on my legs! Finally my mother greased the insides of them and although by then my feet were swollen, they slipped right on. I happily pranced around in them, but when I tried to take them off to go to bed, I found that I could not. I finally went to bed with them on and had to sleep with those boots on for several nights after that. I loved those boots and after they were broken in, enjoyed wearing them for a long time.
Christmas was a happy time in those days. The mothers went around humming Christmas carols with mysterious smiles on their faces. The men greeted each other with “Laid in your supply of Christmas whiskey yet?” Christmas Eve groups gathered to walk from house to house singing carols and enjoying the treats given them in appreciation.
The children were put to bed early where they lay with eyes shut tightly willing sleep to come so that Santa would not miss their house.
This was how it was when I was a child. Later I was a mother with children of my own. It was then that I was one of those who was humming carols with a mysterious smile on my face. Christmas Eve, my husband and I finally got them into bed and slipped into the living room to put their Santa Claus under the tree. My husband was busy taking things out of boxes and forgot to be as quiet as he could so the kids heard him and hopped up. Here they came running down the hall, but I was able to get the door closed before they came into the living room.
I will never forget the sight of my husband holding the door so that they could not come in and me frantically putting the boxes outside so that they would not see them. We could hear them saying to each other, “There is something going on in there! I hear somebody.” I finally finished putting the boxes on the front porch and changed places with my husband, me holding the door as he went outside to get rid of the boxes. I wonder if they recall that night?
Another Christmas we had bought them an electric train and my husband laid the track and set the train up on it. Then he could not resist hitting the switch and letting it go around the track. He had forgotten that every now and then it would blow its whistle and when it did, it woke the kids up! Here they came galloping into the living room and we told them that Santa Claus had just come. They started playing with their train set and burned the transformer out before dawn.
So many memories of Christmas past, memories that warm our souls and bring joy to our hearts. God bless you all and MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Bernice Couey Bishop Anderson is a Floyd County native and a freelance writer.