Transcribed by Mary Knight
December 15, 1949 - Reprinted December 30, 1976
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††††††† As the Christmas holidays are only about two weeks away, it might be of interest to our younger readers to give some account of the observance of Christmas in the days long gone by.† We can go back in memory to a little more than 50 years ago, and we have also talked with many who were living much further back.† Some of the things we may relate have perhaps been given in our writings.† We hope that we may be pardoned for repeating things already printed.
††††††† In our early life Christmas meant much more to the average person than it means today.† It was generally observed for an entire week, with nothing at all done except those things that had to be done about the home and barn.† A few weeks before Christmas our father would say to the writer and his brother, "Now boys, if you have any money this Christmas, you will have to earn it."† He generally recomended that we trap for fur-bearing animals and sell their pelts, and this we generally did.† He would let his sons have some steel traps and sometimes make us some "triggers" for dead falls.† A deadfall was a large, heavy flat stone, one side of which would be raised up by the trapper, who then placed under the one side a set of "triggers."† These triggers were made of three parts, one, the top, which rested under the bottom of the uplifed stone, and this top part in turn rested upon an upright part or trigger which rested on the hard ground or a small flat stone.† A notch in the top piece fitted over the top of the bottom piece.† Then the "long trigger" carried the bait, which was generally part of a rabbit.† This bait was on the end of the long trigger and far back under the uplifted stone.† At the outer or front end of the long trigger, there was a notch, which fitted over the bottom end of the top piece and across the side of the upright part that stood on the ground or a small flat stone.† When the hungry varmint went under the uplifted stone and took hold of the bait, the twisting of the long trigger to one side or the other pulled it from its position on the two other triggers at the front of the big rock, the result being that the heavy stone came down on the victim, or rather varmint.† Generally a row of small stones was placed all around the place where the big rock would come down when the deadfall was "thrown."† This prevented the fur-bearing animal from pulling out from under the death trap.† It was a primitive way of taking the possum and pole cat, which were most generally the victims of these traps, although we have known of a few cons (sic) and foxes being caught the same way.
††††††† After our father had given us our first set of triggers, we soon learned how to make them for our own use.† Sometimes we had many deadfalls, perhaps 50 "set" at a time.† Our first bait, as set out above, was given to us by our father who was a crack shot with a rifle and who could kill rabbits even as they ran with this old fashioned, muzzle loading rifle.† Generally he found the rabbits "sitting" and shot them through their heads with the bullet from his trusty rifle.† He was affraid for his boys to carry a gun for a long time, but we were finally permitted to carry a gun and managed to kill our own bait.† No boys except those who had as little money as country boys of 45 or 50 years ago had, can apprciate the excitement of going to a trap or a deadfall and finding there a fine black pole cat, as we called the skunk at that day.† We do not have a thrill once a year that equaled the thrill of finding varmints, either dead under the deadfall, or still alive in the steel trap.† We preferred finding them in the deadfall rather than in the steel traps, particularly the skunk which died under the deadfall and gave off no odor.† In the steel trap, the skunk became a terrible "sprayer" of an odor that outlasted any perfume we ever saw.† Maybe some of our readers have heard the story lately that has been going the rounds, concerning the old mother polecat and her flock of little ones.† The story is that they meet a bear in a rather narrow path and that the bear wanted all the road and so did the mother skunk and all her brood.† Neither side wanted to budge until finally the mother pole cat said, "Children. let us spray!"† And then Mr. Bear gave up all the road, and this is a wise step for hunters to take also.
††††††† At that day and time a find black pole cat pelt would bring about $2.00, which was worth then as much as $10.00 is today.† A large possum "hide" as we called it, would being from 50 cents to 75 cents and a few times we recall they sold for as much as a dollar.† Possum hides were more plentyful than pole cat hides.
††††††† When we found a fur-bearing animal in either kind of trap we soon had his hide, for we knew very early in life how to remove the pelt without damaging it.† We believe we would be save in saying that by the time we were ten years of age, we could easily and neatly remove the pelt from either a pole cat or possum or fox.† We wonder howour own sons of today would go about "skinning a varmint" of either kind named above.† After the pelt or hide as we called it, had been removed from the carcass of the animal, the skin was stretched over a board or plank trimmed at one end to a point and the other left wide and untrimmed.† Then we waited for the fur buyer.† He generally came around every few days, but we were very bashful and too timid to ask for our furs the price they should bring.† Our father generally attended to this for us.† The money we received from such fur selling went into our "Christmas fund" which was jealously guarded until Christmas was at hand.
††††††† We recall that one of our uncles, and we had four uncles, our fathers brothers, once had some possum hides for sale, and decided to advertise his pelts.† He was a very poor speller and not much better as a marker of signs.† Finally he got his sign ready and placed it on a tree or a post in front of his home.† This boy of 80 years ago had made out a sign which read. "Roysters for sale."† He had missed the spelling of possum and instead had cut on his sign board the name of a family living two miles away, this being the well-known and educated Royster family.† Our own father got a great kick of his younger brother's advertising.† Just how he ever got the spelling as he did we never knew.††
††††††† Although this took place about 80 years ago, we heard it when about ten years of age, and little did we dream then that someday we would be making a large part of our living by advertising for the public in a weekly newspaper.† We guess this was our first aquaintence with advertising.
††††††† But back to our spelling of deadfalls.† Generally our younger brother wend with us on our trips to set dead falls, the two of us working together, one holding up the big heavy rock and the other placing the three triggers in position.† However, now and then we went to visit our trap lines alone.† The writer recalls that on one such trip, he found one of our largest dead falls down.† He undertook to set it without any help.† He finally managed to lift the big rock into position and was trying to place the trigger where they belonged when down came that big rock and partially caught our right hand, which we jerked from under the rock as it went down.† The heavy rock "peeled off" the skin all along the top of our right hand which bled very profusely and which was many days getting well.
††††††† With our little fund on hand, we looked foward to the day when we would go to the store to make our Christmas purchases.† We walked most of the time from our home at the foot of Mace's Hill, to Pleasant Shade, a distance of three miles.† One Christmas Eve day that is bright in our memory as if it had only been yesterday, our brother and the writer set out for Pleasant Shade.† The sun shone with a brightness that has come to us 45 years or more.† There was not a cloud in the sky, the sun rose in its glory and brightness and two happy, country boys were on their way to buy their "Christmas."† We had about eight dollars between us, a whale of a sum for us, as we felt.† We got an early start, climbed up Mace's Hill, on the old Fort Blount trail road, thence down Towtown Branch by the old Wade Smith home, whre we had already learned that Andrew Jackson used to stop to spend a night now and then, as he made the horseback journey over the old trail, and then on across Porter's Hill, from the top of which we could see the little town of Pleasant Shade, nestling in the valley among the high hills of Peyton's Creek.† We hurried on and soon reached our destination, and then we began to purchase what we wanted for Christmas.† We did not buy a single present for any other person, presents being then, almost entirerly unknown.† We perhaps bought a little candy and maybe some raisins, called then by nearly everybody, "reasons," and perhaps one or two other items in the way of eats.† Our hearts and minds were fixed on fireworks, and did we buy 'em!† We spent seven or eight dollars for roman candles and firecrakers, and they were far cheaper than they are today.† Finally when our money was practically all gone, and we had about all the fireworks we could carry, we set out for home, arriving late in the day.† We did not fire even one of the fireworks that night, one of our father's rules being that we could not celebrate Christmas until it actually arrived.
††††††† But by four o'clock the next morning, a very cold and cloudy morning, we arose and began to make the old hills of that section echo with the roar and noise of the exploading firecrakers.† One of our cousins, Albert Wilburn, had spent the night with us and he also had brought along his firecrakers.† As we set off the big firecrakers, we could hear others in the valley to the south as well as elsewhere.† It was a common thing then to be able to hear firecrakers in Dixon Springs which was three and a half miles away.† We recall having heard our father say that so many firecrakers were exploaded in Dixon Springs during the days just before Chirstmas that the streets or roads were literally covered with paper.
††††††† Writing of firecrakers we recall that on of our neighbors whose name we will refrain from giving and who was then perhaps 45 years of age, had bought a bountiful supply of the big firecrakers that "Cannon crakers," a neme that has lingered with us for nearly 50 years.† After setting off a large number of these big guns, as they were called sometimes, he spied his wife's new was tub hanging on the wall at the side of a building.† Without his wife's knowledge, he decided to try one of the big "guns" under the tub.† Carefully placing the unlighted cracker under the tub, he then applied a match and removed himself to a place of saftey.† The firecracker went off with a big "boom" and the tub sailed through the air coming down on the roof of a building.† His elation at setting off the big "gun" under his wife's wash tub, covered that the explosion had blown the entire bottom out of the tub.† His wife's wrath was reported to have been plentiful.
††††††† The same man, on another occasion, so it was reported, had gone to Pleasant Shade and purchased a 15-cent tin was pan.† On returning home with his new pan he decided to clean out his old muzzle-loading shotgun, which often became foul and the barrel had to be cleaned.† To do this generally the owner of such a weapon would remove the stock from the barrel, wrap some extra tow on the gunstick or ramrod, place the rear end of the barrel in a pan or basin of water.† Then take the ramrod and begin to draw water into the barrel through what was called the tube.† Then the water would be forced out through the tube by the downward plunge of the ramrod.† This pulling of water into the barrel and then forcing it out, somewhat like the old-fashioned "squirt guns" of 50 years ago, would soon clean the barrel, which was replaced on the stock or the stock replaced on the barrel.† But back to our story, which we never verified.† The man above mentioned, finding his gun needing cleaning and the gun being loaded with powder and shot, this being before the day of loaded shotgun shells of later years.† The owner decided to save the shot, which perhaps might have been worth a quarter of a cent.† He took the new 15-cent pan, placed it on the ground below his door steps and then stood in the door and fired point blank into the pan.† The blast from the gun tore a hole in the bottom of the pan as large as one's fist, the shot going into the ground and being lost, as well as ruining the pan forever.† We stated that we never verified the story, but a sister-in-law of this neighbor of our early days, declared it was the truth and got as big a laugh out of it as one almost ever heard.† "Them was the good old days"† that will never come again while we live here below.
††††††† The last time our father ever bought any fireworks for us, so far as we can recall, followed a statement to him made by our own little mother.† She never weighed a hunderd pounds.† As our father was going to Dixon Springs to buy our "Christmas," the writer heard him ask our mother, "What must I get for the boys?"† She looked into our father's face and then said somewhat plaintively and wistfully, "They won't be boys much longer.† Let them be boys as long as they may.† Get them some fireworks, which they want more than anything else."† God bless the memory of the dearest, sweetest and wisest mother our own boyhood ever knew.† Little did we dream that in less than ten years she would leave us and our home would never be as it had been in the earlier and happier years.† Even as we write these words, our heart aches over the thoughtlessness, carelessness and ingratitude we manifested towards our "mammy" of lifes golden morning.† Those brief fleeting happy years were not enough and surely somewhere there is another land where we can be together again and enjoy the "rest that remaineth unto the people of God."