December 20' 97
Blackie's Ball by James C. Hess
One of my fondest memories of Christmas is associated with my family's pet. We had a small black cocker spaniel that my brother named Blackie. He was truly a very special animal and possessed a super keen sense of smell. He also loved to chase balls, though they could not be too large due to his small size.
Back to his sense of smell for a moment. He would pick up our trail and follow my brothers or me to school. Eventually he would find one of our classrooms and jump up to the low window ledge, crawl through the window, and lie down by my desk or one of my brothers' desks, if he found one of them first. My mother would then get a [Might Be One Of Blackie's Cousins] telephone call from the principal's office.
Blackie loved to swim also, but that brings up a number of other great memories. Now, to the Christmas story. The first Christmas Blackie was with us, we were sitting in the living room opening gifts. After we finished opening all the gifts, Blackie began to bark (speak). We could not figure out why. He would bark and look at the Christmas tree and just not quit barking. Finally, Dad saw what Blackie wanted.
Dad had placed several red, meshed stockings full of candies, toys, and trinkets to give to children who came to our house. Inside one of the stockings was a small, white, rubber ball. Blackie could see it and wanted to play with it. Dad got the stocking off the tree, opened it, and took the ball out for our pet. Blackie had a fun Christmas day chasing the ball, and we enjoyed throwing it. He would bring it back to us as long as we would throw it.
For years after that, Dad would place stockings on our tree, and Blackie would eventually get his. This is a wonderful Christmas memory for me. We always looked forward to this event. Blackie was a wonderful pet and provided our entire family with some great memories.
You Owe Me A Christmas Tree
This is the newest of the Hess family Christmas memories. Sheila, loves to get her Christmas tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving. 1997, was to be no different, except for the circumstances surrounding the picking out of this year's special and very beautiful tree.
Sheila had been out the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving Day, and stopped at the nursery where she usually picks out her tree. A young man was there and proceeded to help Sheila. She was standing near some trees when the young helper decided to turn on a water faucet. Problem! He had forgotten where the water would eventually spurt out. Unfortunately, one of the sprayers was right in front of our "happy shopper," eye-level, and yes, pointed right at her. She got soaked!
As she hollered at the embarrassed tree salesman, who had run over and placed his hands over the sprayer, she said, "You owe me a tree!"
He finally got the water turned off. The owner of the nursery happened to come out and find the wet customer. The owner, a lady, said to the salesman, "Now, you know what she looks like when she gets out of the shower."
The salesman, for whom Sheila began to feel sorry, apologized. He told her he made $20.00 profit on each tree and would sell her any tree at cost. He would also deliver it free and place it in our tree stand.
Later that day as we drove to Mobile for Thanksgiving, and recounted this story, we all had a good laugh. Sheila said she was glad she did not have an important appointment right after picking out the tree because she had to go home and completely redo her hair.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving our tree was delivered. It may be the most beautiful one we have ever had. Sheila does not want to shower at the nursery again next year even for a beautiful bargain tree.
This will be a funny Christmas memory for us.
I remember saying to my daddy, "You Can't Catch Santa!"
I was about eight years old, and my middle sister about six years old. Our father was an auxiliary policeman at the time and, like a real policeman, had real handcuffs. He had been telling us that this was the year he was going to catch Santa.
His plan was to sneak up on Santa Claus and snap the handcuffs on him, and we'd see Santa when we got up. We were so worried! Not only were we worried he'd actually catch him, we worried about the other children who would be waiting for Santa to come to their house.
We had no fireplace, so that night we carefully placed the cookies and milk on the small stool beside the space heater. I remember not being able to go to sleep because I was listening so very closely for Santa. Maybe, I wanted to warn him. Anyway, I managed to fall asleep.
When we woke up, we ran to the den, anticipating seeing Santa Claus. My mother was standing in the den and told us to look. My daddy was handcuffed, hands behind his back, and tied up on the floor. He appeared to have been struggling for a while. We couldn't speak! Finally, my mother told us that Santa's helpers saw what was happening and came to the rescue. They tied up my daddy and Santa completed his job.
We were so happy my daddy hadn't caught Santa!
It may have been Christmas in '48 that was perhaps the most memorable of my childhood. I would have been six years old that Christmas, and that age is ripe for experiencing the magic of the season. I well remember the house we lived in, for we lived there about three years, one of the longest residencies in any house of my years from birth through age twelve.
The city was Iuka, MS. Our home was a simple white frame house with a big wooden porch. It was just a short walk from our house to the expansive city park that had all sorts of terrible tasting mineral water that people from all over would drive to Iuka just to drink.
"It's healthy," they said.
I have no recollection of our house having a backyard, though I am sure we had one. The front yard had a concrete sidewalk and a concrete walkway leading from the sidewalk to our porch. In one corner of our front yard stood a giant oak tree whose shade provided a cool playground area for a large number of boys in the "hood". Girls my age were pretty scarce in our neighborhood, and I do not remember the names of any.
Shortly before Christmas Day, I remember my mother taking me to the "ten cent store" and asking me what toys I would like for Santa to bring on Christmas Eve. I only remember asking for a large tractor-trailer truck that had a door in the rear that could be opened to store the cargo. Mom had a way of guiding me toward the more affordable toys.
She would admonish me, "Now you shouldn't ask Santa for a pair of sidewalk roller skates, you might break your arm, and we would have to pay a big doctor's bill. Wouldn't you rather have a nice toy truck, a model like the ones that bring groceries to Daddy's store?"
I never did get the roller skates, but from age four until around age twelve they were on my list every year. Maybe that's not so bad, because I never got a broken arm either. I never got a bicycle either. It was probably Fred's fault, since he wrecked both his bicycle and my tricycle while we were living in Iuka. Likely, Mom figured another bike would get torn up, too.
On Christmas morning, I awoke to find the truck I had told Mom to ask Santa to bring. Maybe, she didn't tell Santa. Santa's Elves were always watching. I'll bet they told Santa what I wanted. I am certain there were a few other toys that morning, but I do not remember them. My brother, Fred, and I always had a stocking that Santa filled with fruit and candy. Santa was big on peppermint candy. He would leave our whole family a big stick of peppermint that must have weighed 3 or 4 pounds. That big stick of candy would stick around a long time. It was so big Mom or Dad would break off pieces with the handle of a table knife. We often ate large chunks of the peppermint candy with saltine crackers and washed it down with ice water.
The item I most remember is one that I did not ask for. As I recall, Mom said that Santa left it for both Fred and me. However, as much as Dad played with it, you would have thought Santa left it for him. If you haven't guessed it yet, it was a toy train. I didn't get to help with the assembly, I was too small. Dad and Fred put the train-track together shaping it in a big figure eight. We hooked up the electric transformer and switch. Then we put all the cars (boxcars, flatcars, cattlecars, tanker, caboose) and the locomotive on the track. Soon Fred discovered you could rev up the moter by holding the locomotive's wheels just above the track causing them to spark as they began to turn. The train also made sparks fly when it was rolling down the track or jumping off the tracks at high speeds. Whenever electric sparking occurs in our atmosphere, it breaks some of the atoms of oxygen away from their bond to hydrogen to combine with naturally occurring oxygen, O2, to form ozone which is O3. That Christmas was our ozone Christmas. The smell of the air in the house hung heavily with the odor of ozone well into the evening hours of Christmas day, and, as time permitted, on the days that followed.
The other smell I can remember from that Christmas was the one of parched peanuts. Both Mom and Dad were adept at parching raw peanuts. We had a large cylindrical heater that stood in the living room and was vented with a pipe that ran to a flue or chimney. Fred and I got burned by the pipe or the outside of the heater more than once as we played and tumbled about the living room.
The heater was a coal-burner, not a wood-burner. I remember that it was called a "Warm Morning Heater." It could and often would get red hot on a cold, winter's day...in a deep and dark December. (Whoops, a little Simon and Garfunkel sort of slipped in there.) The flat top of the heater could be used as a stove top. Raw peanuts were first shelled, then placed in a lightly greased black skillet and set atop the heater. The cooking process was something like a slow burn. The husks of the peanuts would be black when the peanuts were ready to eat. Before serving, a little salt was sprinkled on the parched peanuts. If you think roasted peanuts like those you buy at a ball game are good, try parching some in a black skillet on your stove or range.
Everyone who contributed a Christmas memory this year received a full color copy of RRN. This may or may not become a Christmas tradition. Most articles were mailed, but a few were hand-delivered. Having interviewed Mrs. Curtis Young for an article published December 6, I delivered her copy to the laundry mat on that same date. Perhaps, you remember the cold air on that first Saturday of December. I can recall it quite well. As I quickly washed my car, I had to be careful not to slip on the icy perimeter of the car wash area. The ground had frozen the night before and the concrete in the shade was still cold enough to freeze water. Barbara and I were on our way to Tupelo to do some Christmas shopping and had dropped by to see the Youngs and get the car washed.
As we entered the laundry, we both noticed Mrs. Young had a large adhesive patch on the side of her forehead near her left eye.
Before either Barbara or I had the opportunity to ask what had happened, Mrs. Young laughingly stated, "You ought'a see the other feller!"
Mrs. Young went on to explain that she had fallen the prior day as she walked across the highway to check for mail in their mailbox.
"I can't tell you what happened. I started across the road, and the next thing I knew I was sprawled out in the street, trying to get up," she said. "I scraped up my hands, too. I broke my glasses when I fell; these are my newest ones which I don't like as well."
"Did you crawl over to the mailbox to pull yourself up?" I teased.
"No I got up by myself and was half-way back up here when Curtis and a woman came out to check on me. I don't know what they were doing, but they came out together," Mrs. Young stated with a grin.
"Why, when I looked out the window, cars were backed up in both lanes," Mr.Young joked. "So, I decided to go out and see what the hold-up was."
"Well, it's good that you were able to get up on your own," I remarked to Mrs. Young. "Mama couldn't get up out of the floor without having a bed, chair, couch, or something to pull up to. She, too, had to walk a pretty good distance to her mailbox. Long before she died, I told her I was going to set a fence post about half-way to the mailbox from the house, in the event she ever fell while walking to check the mail, she would not have so far to crawl in order to pull herself up."
Barbara had been studying the skin color under Mrs. Young's left eye when she stated, "Mrs. Young, you are going to have a pretty bad looking eye tomorrow, it is beginning to turn colors, already."
"Yeah, it'll look pretty for church tomorrow morning," I jabbed.
"Ain't going to church," Mrs. Young tersely replied.
Sensing I had milked her injury for about all the fun she wanted, we began to discuss other matters.
Soon afterwards, I asked for some change for my greenback dollar and stated that I really needed to rinse the dirt off my car before we went to Tupelo. As I started out the door, she told me she had enjoyed the Golden Eagle syrup story that I sent her and was anxious to read what I had written after interviewing her.
"I'm not going to read it until I get up to the house," she stated, meaning she wanted to read it in unhurried fashion after closing the laundry.
I proceeded to take care of the car washing chore, leaving Barbara inside to visit a few more minutes before we left for Tupelo.
Beau has a preacher-friend who lives in Forest, MS. It seems that as a young lad his preacher-friend had asked for a bicycle for Christmas. The boy's father had arranged for Santa to deliver the bicycle early. All the Dad would have to do is assemble the bicycle, and Santa would put it under the tree.
The dutiful Dad, after completing his assignment could not resist test-riding the finished product. Needless to say, it was an embarrassing moment for the father when the son happened upon his dad riding the new bicycle.
Sometimes even awkward moments make fond Christmas memories.
As a RRN subscriber, you are invited to a come and go style Christmas Open House at the home of
Barbara & Wayne Carter
181 W. 8th Street Pontotoc, MS
December 24, 1997, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Yeah, it's a bad time, especially when you are getting ready for Christmas, but it's our tradition to have folks stop by on Christmas Eve, enjoy a few refreshents, and visit for a spell. It sort of gets us ready to more fully appreciate Christmas Day. There is a small group of regulars who faithfully visit; so come on down, you won't be the only ones there.
Barbara & Wayne Carter