December 18 '99
Christmas Traditions Mine His Ours
This writer's wife, a capable writer in her own right, contributes the following Christmas memory. It spans more than thirty years.. Think about how Christmas and its traditions have changed for you and your family as you enjoy Barbara's reflections.
Mine: Christmas of 1967, was the first experience I had celebrating with a family other than my own immediate family. Following my wedding in August of 1967, I found myself sharing holidays with a new set of parents and siblings. This is a situation most newlyweds find themselves facing.
Growing up, Christmas Eve at my house was a special time because Daddy would always allow us to pick one gift from under the tree to open on Christmas Eve. This was a tradition that started after we were older and the excitement of Santa had somewhat faded. Because of this tradition, Wayne and I spent the night of Christmas Eve with my parents. Christmas morning we opened other presents at my parents' house, loaded our car and headed for Pontotoc to spend Christmas Day with Wayne's parents.
His: The Carter household had a special Christmas morning tradition, a breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, sausage, cheese biscuits, jam, jelly, homemade preserves and/or Golden Eagle Syrup, coffee and orange juice. Mrs. Carter would make her biscuits by her regular recipe, and just as they would begin to cook from the top and were still sticky in the middle, she would pull them open and insert a slice of very sharp "hoop" cheese. These would then be returned to the oven to continue cooking. Um, um, good!
As the years passed, we did not always make it to Pontotoc in time for Christmas breakfast, but as soon as we arrived, we would all gather in the living room to pass out gifts. After gifts were opened and the piles of wrapping paper cleaned up, the women folk would return to the kitchen. Dinner on any day, but especially holidays, at the Carter household had to be served at 12:00 noon, promptly, so lots had to be done between breakfast and the noon meal.
Mrs. Carter had already worked all day the day before and most of the week before, preparing all of the traditional foods for her family. The house would be filled with the scents and aromas of dressing, candied sweet potatoes, rolls, etc. Her dressing was always the same, which was wonderful.
In the back bedroom, which in most Decembers was as cold as the refrigerator, she would have stored all the sweets, which she had baked during the days preceding the holidays. The cakes prepared might depend on which family members would be present, for each one had a favorite. Wayne's favorite cake was fresh grated coconut with divinity icing, James' favorite was German chocolate, Fred's was an old fashioned amalgamation cake, Sara Sue's, too, was the amalgamation. Mr. Carter liked a seven layer (very thin layers) orange cake, but as I recall no one had any trouble eating any of the ones Mrs. Carter chose to make for the holiday. Besides the cakes, we also could sample divinity (if the weather had been fair), Martha Washington candy, and maybe fudge or Jubilee Jumbles, a cake like cookie with chopped walnuts and caramel icing.
Mrs. Carter, as you have probably guessed, was a wonderful cook. She loved to prepare food and enjoyed serving her family those scrumptious meals. We still joke about her statement before almost every meal, "Well, I hope you can eat it."
Following a day of eating, napping, visiting, and munching, we would once again load our car and head North, back to Ripley, to my parents' house. Christmas meals there were not as scheduled as at the Carter's house, since my daddy was a hunter. On many Christmas mornings he would leave early and hunt until the middle of the afternoon. Therefore, Christmas dinner at the Crouch house most likely would be late afternoon to early evening. Stuffed from eating all day, Wayne and I would return and nibble some more festive foods with my folks.
Christmas, 1968, was somewhat of a change in tradition, since my daddy died July 2 of that year. No matter how hard we tried, the holiday just wasn't the same. I don't remember too much about that Christmas, for, besides the empty seat for my dad, Wayne's family had experienced a tragic death on his mom's side of the family during the month of December. Two years later, Wayne and I found ourselves living in Pontotoc at Christmastime. That was the year that Christmas traditions really started for us.
We did make it to Wayne's mom's house for Christmas breakfast that year. After helping prepare the noon meal, we hit the road for Ripley and my mother's house in the mid-afternoon.
Ours: After Rayanne was born in 1971 and Jason in 1973, I remember thinking, "All these traditions are nice, but when will my children get to experience traditions at our house?"
I was beginning to want to make our own memories for them.
In 1978, Wayne's father died, and again there was an empty seat at the table of our extended family. I don't remember if it was that year or a few years later, when Mrs. Carter began spending the night with us on Christmas Eve, where we would prepare the "traditional Christmas breakfast", and then move to her house for the noon meal. Somewhere along the way, my mother joined us on Christmas Eve, and came to Mrs. Carter's for Christmas dinner.
Mrs. Carter taught me how to make dressing. "The secret to good dressing is lots of good rich broth from a fat hen, lots of butter, and plenty of eggs. Don't forget to add two or three left over biscuits to the mixture, just to make it stick together good. Mix it all up the day before and store it in the refrigerator overnight and add more broth just before baking."
She also taught me how to make her special congealed salad, the one Blanche Benjamin gave her the recipe for the year there was a scare on cranberry sauce, and it was all pulled from the grocery shelves. She gave me her recipe for fresh grated coconut cake with divinity icing (since it was Wayne's favorite), but I never learned to make one like hers. Fortunately, Wayne did.
Since Mrs. Carter's death in 1989, I have tried to carry on some of the Carter traditions, especially on the foods. We¾ our immediate family, my mother, Sara Sue and her children, Aunt Jo who is Mrs. Carter's sister, Cheryl, my niece, and sometimes, Bridget, my great-niece¾ gather at our house for Christmas Dinner, served promptly at 12:00 noon on Christmas Day.
Usually, someone will comment, "Well, I hope you can eat it," and we usually do.
Wayne still will not agree to the practice of opening a gift on Christmas Eve, but we have, for approximately 20 years, opened our house on Christmas Eve to friends and family as a gift to those we love.
Sarah's Tree Thing By Sarah Carter Brown
Yes, I really do have a tree in every room. One year, a fellow teacher whirled around and asked why anyone would want to put a tree in every room. I replied, "Why not?"
I started putting a tree in each room when Felicia was two years old. It was an outgrowth that year of baking memory cookies with the children. Each tree had a different theme: gingerbread boys for Brett, gingerbread girls for Fifi (Felicia), mallards for Jerry, stained glass window cookies for me, and since I found the idea of cookies on the bathroom tree repulsive, I used Christmas soaps. Even the laundry room tree had red and green clothespins.
With the passage of time, I've stopped using cookies for decorations, but I still have a theme for each room. Gingerbread boys have been replaced with compact discs and computer wiring. Gingerbread girls have given way to pink and silver ornaments with iridescent bows. The kitchen tree is a small one with tiny nutcrackers and cookie cutters. The tree in the living room is Felicia's, but she has allowed me to use angels interspersed with ornaments she has selected. The tree in the dining room is simple, but directed to the color scheme of the room. I never could improve upon the clothespin idea for the laundry room except to use the pins to clip on bows. The master bathroom has a countertop tree with gold poinsettias and silver beads. Felicia's tiny bathroom has a tiny tree with battery operated lights. The tree in my bedroom now has all the ornaments I have collected over the last twenty-five years, along with several from the trees of my childhood. The first Christmas after moving back to Pontotoc, I thought the old ornaments would dredge up painful memories of too many Christmases past. Instead, I found them comforting, because in the darkest of times Christmas still brought me joy.
It is not a lot of trouble, since I've mastered the fine art of slipping plastic bags over the small trees, lights, decorations, and all. Then, it is just a matter of getting them stored in the attic until the next year when I take off the bag, rearrange a few ornaments, and plug in the lights.
Why do I insist on all the hoopla? Dickens says it best in A Christmas Carol:
...I have always thought of Christmas time ... as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys....though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!
And God bless us, everyone!
Shoe-Tang Party Youngs Celebrate Sixty Years
The name alone is an attention-getter. I had never heard the expression, until I was invited to the sixtieth wedding anniversary celebration of Cordis and Cubell Young. However, the invitation sent from Joe and Belinda Young clearly stated "Shoe-Tang Party" across the top of the letter.
A few days later, when I visited the Youngs at their Laundry, I asked Miss Cubell what sort of party her kids were planning for her and Mr. Cordis. She pretended not to know, only saying she thought it had something to do with a type of dance. I explained to Mrs. Young that Barbara and I would try to attend, if the Open House we'd planned for the same day, did not run into overtime, but that we would not be staying for the dinner, due to our having a weekend family to feed at our house.
On November 27th, shortly after 6:30 p.m., Barbara and I were inside the Pontotoc County Extension Building, signing the guest register for the Young's Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary. A large crowd of folks were gathered around tables, visiting with each other, with everyone waiting on somebody to ring the dinner bell.
Among the first persons I saw were the Youngs' two sons and their wives, Derwood and Brenda and Joe and Belinda. There were many persons who were strangers to me, but I did recognize perhaps twenty people.
Mrs. Cubell Young was a Roye before she married Cordis Young. I knew she was related to at least three of my classmates with whom I had attended high school. Had I not known that some of the Royes would be at the anniversary celebration, I don't think I would have recognized Bobby "Cob" Roye. He probably would not have recognized me either, but as I shook his hand I identified myself as one of his high school classmates who had not seen him in roughly forty years. I learned that, like me, he is still married to his first wife, but, unlike me, he has had two heart attacks in the past twelve years.
I asked Bobby if Johnny Seale (one of Bobby's cousins and also one of our classmates) might be present and learned that he was not there. Bobby shared that Johnny was so peculiar that he probably wouldn't show up, and I was left to wonder how many blessings we miss by not making ourselves available to be blessed. I'm not faulting Johnny anymore than I am myself, because I find myself getting more sedentary with each passing year.
Barbara and I spent a few minutes circulating among the guests, speaking to those that we knew, asking about some we did not know, and studying vintage photographs of some very younger looking Young folks. I pointed to one picture of Derwood and Joe when they were in their teens and commented to Barbara that I never remembered Derwood looking so handsome as a teenager. With the hairstyle he sported, he might have passed himself off as a brother of Elvis Presley.
Just prior to everyone lining up for the meal, Belinda Young read a lengthy poem she had written for the occasion. Her poem contained highlights of the major events in the lives of her in-laws. I felt it a fitting tribute to a couple of outstanding individuals who have made a life of loving not only one another, but of loving family members and friends, as well.
Barbara and I did not stay for the dinner or the actual Shoe-Tang party, but I received a brief report from Larry Young, a nephew of Mr. Cordis and Miss Cubell. Larry told that after dinner, the dancing began with the honored couple leading others to the dance floor where the enthusiastic celebration continued.
"They did some square dancing and Aunt Cubell even called several numbers," Larry explained.
The following weekend, I asked Mrs. Young about her square dance calling and she explained that her brother was once the caller, but he had died. Since no one else would do it, she took over the chore, but did not perform as a freestanding caller, rather as a dancing caller. She stated she could not call a dance if she wasn't dancing. That's just the opposite of how I would do it, but then I can't square dance, and I suppose I could not do both at the same time, as it would be too much like talking on a car phone while driving.
Bodock Beau Santa's Redneck Helper
Beau received the following Bubba Claus 'bit' from Lisa B. Rolik. It seems Santa had to secure an assistant from the South Pole to help him make deliveries in the southern states of the U.S.A. Bubba Claus is quite different from Santa as you will discover in reading the announcement by Santa himself:
1. Instead of milk and cookies, Bubba Claus prefers that children leave RC cola and pork rinds or a moon pie on the fireplace. Bubba doesn't smoke a pipe, he dips a little snuff, so please have an empty spit can handy.
2. Bubba Claus' sleigh is pulled by floppy-eared, flyin' coon dogs instead of reindeer. I made the mistake of loaning him a couple of reindeer one time, and Dasher's head now overlooks Bubba's fireplace.
3. You won't hear "On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner, and Blitzen" when Bubba Claus arrives. Instead, you'll hear, "On Earnhardt, on Wallace, on Elliott, and Petty."
4. "Ho, ho, ho!" has been replaced by "Yee Haw!" And you also are likely to hear Bubba's elves respond, "I her'd dat!"
5. As required by Southern transportation laws, Bubba Claus' sleigh does have a Yosemite Sam safety triangle on the back with the words "Back off."
6. The usual Christmas movie classics such as "Miracle on 34th Street" and "It's a Wonderful Life" will not be shown in your area. Instead, you'll see "Boss Hogg Saves Christmas" and "Smokey and the Bandit IV" featuring Burt Reynolds as Bubba Claus and dozens of state patrol cars crashing into each other.
7. Bubba Claus doesn't wear a belt. If I were you, I'd make sure the kids turn the other way when he bends over to put presents under the tree.
8. And finally, lovely Christmas songs have been sung about me like "Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer," but this year songs about Bubba Claus will be played on all the AM radio stations in the South. Those song titles will include "Bubba Claus Shot the Jukebox" and "Grandma Got Run'd Over by a Reindeer."