Transcribed by Janette West Grimes
December† 22, 1949
* CALíS COLUMN *
†† We gave some of the things connected with the observance of Christmas in the years long gone by in our last article. This week, we will try to give some others. Now we do not expect to please every reader with these reminiscences, but we flatter ourselves by feeling that many will enjoy these reminders of the simple things of the years that will never come again.
†† As was stated last week, Christmas presents were indeed 50 years ago in the average home. A Christmas tree was virtually unheard of, the writer having never seen a Christmas tree until after he had become a man. Perhaps some readers will wonder how the children and grownups of that day had any fun or enjoyment at all. The answer is easily found.† They expected but little and were not disappointed. Some of the readers have perhaps heard of the text said to have been used by a negro minister: "He that expecteth nothing shall not be disappointed." Our expectations for the season were few and were hard to gradify. Most boys expected some fire works, candy, and fruits. Girls expected a doll, perhaps only a little china doll, three or four inches tall and costing not more than 25 cents. Talking dolls were unknown, and sleeping dolls did not come into the scene until about 35 years ago or a little longer. If a child of 50 years ago could have had as much as the average child of today receives at Christmas time, he would have thought that he was in Heaven already. The first oranges we ever saw were enjoyed about 48 years ago. Apples were not often found in the stores, farmers growing them and putting them up for use in the winter. English walnuts were unheard of 50 years ago in the community in which the writer lived. Bananas were also unknown in that day and time. We still recall the very first peanuts we ever saw. They were given up by John DeBow a Dixon Springs merchant, a half a century ago. They were then called goober peas. We ate that first one and it was raw or not roasted and we did not like it. A little later, they they began to come to the public in boxes, labeled "Old Fort Bedford" peanuts, each box containing some sort of premium or prize. We recall that H. B. Cox a Dixon Springs merchant of 40 years ago, remarking to the purchaser, "Son, open that box. It may have a prize in it." The boy opened the box and out fell a penny or one -cent piece of money. The merchant then said "Son, you have a penny." The boy, who had never heard of a penny said, "Naw, it ain't. It's a durned copper." This was the name by which pennies were called by practically all country boys of two score or more years ago.
†† But back to our Christmas story. The fireworks for the boys have been discribed. But the men's time through the holidays were put in largely in hunting, generally rabbit hunting, with sometimes a dozen hunters lined up on a weedy hillside. As they marched through the fields, the rabbits were "jumped," and the firing began. It was next to impossible for bunny to get away from so many hunters and the poor , little fellow was soon a victim of the season. Rabbit fever, or tularemia, was then unknown and hunters had no fear of handling these animals whose flesh was relished by many. Sometimes the rabbits would be killed and that night a big barbeque would be held, with scores of young folks gathered together.
†† On one rabbit hunting trip about 45 years ago, a rabbit ran from under a rock near our father's home and a young hunter named Harrison fired his shotgun at the fleeing rabbit. The charge struck some flat stones and glanced upward and struck our uncle Monroe Gregory and injured him to some extent. We recall that he threatened to take his rifle and shoot the boy who had accidentally shot our relative. This was the one and only hunting accident we recall at the Christmas season. The youth took his shotgun and went home, and our uncle soon recovered. But the happening made a strong impression on our youthful mind, which still recalls vividly that late afternoon, the rocky hillside where the accident occured and some of the words that were spoken. It is needless to say that it ruined our hunting enjoyment for the day and for the remainder of the Christmas season which was nearly over.
†† We recall hearing of another episode of the Christmas season in which relatives of ours had a leading part. It was a very uncommon thing for one to kill his hogs during Christmas, most of a man's neighbors feeling that this was the wrong time to call for help. But our uncle Bill Gregory, later known as "Bill Cat" Gregory, decided to kill his hogs during the holidays. Part of his own brothers arrived supposedly to help their brother slaughter his hogs. They had brought along their rifles and soon had all the hogs lying dead on the ground. Then all the help left except one neighbor and the one uncle. The help that had shot down the hogs went their way to roam the hills and fields in search of squirrels and rabbits. They eased their consciences as to their duty to help the brother and neighbor by saying, "We'll teach him not to kill his hogs during Christmas." We heard uncle Bill say had it not been for the help of the one neighbor who remained with him that he would have never been able to care for the meat.
†† On another occasion, but not at the holiday season, this same man's brothers, and others perhaps, made it up to have some fun out of uncle Bill. He was having another hog killing, and his brothers made it up to shoot them far down on the nose or in the side of the head where the bullet would not kill them but only make the hogs "squeal," as they ran wildly from their enemies. The first hog was shot in the nose and began running through the orchard at the home of Ensley Shoulders near which our uncle lived. Uncle Bill grabbed an axe and then set out on the chase of the squealing, fleeing hog. Finally he overtook and felled him with a blow of the axe and then finished what the bullet had not done. After two or three hogs had been treated in this rather cruel manner, and our uncle had run himself almost out of breath, he said, "Boys, I believe I can beat you with your own guns." It is needless to add that those who had watched this uncle or ours chase his hogs, running as hard as he could, with an axe in one hand and a butcher knife in the other, got a big kick out of the incident for years afterward.
†† The Christmas eats then were not nearly so varied as they are today. Meat generally made up the greater part of the food, being in the form of sausage, spare ribs, souse meat, chitterlings, ham, etc. Some cabbage was to be found in many homes, largely home-grown and kept in the ground until ready for eating. Potatoes and turnips were also put away in the ground and constituted a part even for Christmas dinners of half a century ago. In fact, there were but few "Frills and ruffles" in that day and time when it came to cooking.
†† In that rather remote time, there were but few, if any, "down and out families" in the entire community, and there were few calls to get out and help others who had been unfortunate. In fact, most people would have resented any particular help, counting such aid as a disgrace and thus putting the recipients of such help, if accepted, in the class of paupers. In fact, one had to be very tactful in offering others such things as food left over from a meal, or something else that might go to waste if not given away. So there were no families that we can recall that were on the border line in our immediate community. How vastly and sadly different it is today, when many, many are looking for something for nothing and want a hand-out, and who resent it when they fail to get help that is even now asked for, or begged for. We somehow like the independence of our folks of 50 years ago, but we fear that it is gone never to return, and this means a loss of that self-respect that made man work for a living and to provide for themselves and their families rather than to accept charity.
†† Some of the many, many pranks that used to happen or be put on at Christmas time have already been published in this "Colyum," but we hope to be pardoned for reprinting some of them. Visiting 50 years ago or more was far more common than it is today. People liked to get together and those who had but little company felt themselves slighted and ignored. So everybody wanted company and had it to the full.
†† So on Christmas Eve, it was common for nearly half the people to be in the home of some other family. One of these nights before Christmas, our father's cousin, Gabriel Beal, went "a-visiting," taking his entire family with him and leaving his home without an occupant. He lived then on the big hillside just above the present home of Turney Rich, on Nickojack Branch of Peyton's Creek about a mile and a half from Mace's Hill. This house was of logs, with a chimney at the end next to the hill. On one side was a side room, used for a kitchen. The upper end of this side room was level with the ground and the lower end was some four feet off the ground. In the lower end of the kitchen there was an open window, without a pane of glass or even a shutter. As Mr. Beal and family got in sight of their home that Christmas morning nearly 60 years ago, Gabe, as he was called, looked toward his home, and discovered that his one horse was in the kitchen with his head stuck out that window with no shutter. Pranksters had taken the horse from his stable not very far away, had let him into the kitchen on the upper side where there were no steps and none were needed, and had left him there in the midst of all the kitchen furnishings, flour and meal barrels, cook stove, eating table, chairs, etc. It was fortunate that the floor was strong, for it was holding up the weight of a horse, whose legs would have broken if he had fallen through. Gabe's remarks on seeing his horse's head protruding from the high window were, "Confound, if they ain't put old Charlie in the kitchen." We never learned how the dishes and other breakable things in the kitchen fared.
†† Another farmer had left home in that section to spend Christmas Eve. His stock was in the barn, but it was seldom that any doors were locked. So some time during the night, a number of youths in the neighborhood met at the man's barn, went inside and began a sure-enough Christmas trick or prank. First, they built of rails, a large pile of this ancient kind of fencing being near the barn, a pen which they "floored" closely with rails. Into this they led the farmer's jack, wit the pen built up high enough that the animal could not jump out over the sides. Then they began to lift up a corner at a time and place a rail under that particular corner, then another corner was lifted and the entire rail placed in position. This continued a rail at a time on one side, then on another and so on, until the jack rose slowly in his pen to the very top of the barn. Hours of time and an abundance of hard labor were required, but the pranksters were going to have some real fun. After making sure that the animal could not get out of his pen and that the pen would not fall, they left and went their way perhaps with not one thought of remorse or regret now with any conscience to "gouge" them.
†† The next morning, the owner came home to do his feeding and opened his barn to find his jack† in the very top of the barn in a pen just as he had left by the young men who were determined to have some Christmas fun. The owner had to have a "working" to get the animal down, calling in his neighbors, including perhaps some of the very boys who had played off their neighbor. Rail by rail, they let the donkey down from his high "perch" until at last the animal with the long ears stood on the ground, safe and sound.
†† On another occasion, our good friend of other years, Uncle Willie Kemp, the father of Marlin, Jesse, Wylie, and Harvey Kemp, lived then on the upper part of Peyton's Creek in this county, at the same place now occupied by Harvey Kemp. He had not long before built a large feed barn, one shed of which had eaves that were only about six feet from the ground. One Christmas day when the Kemp family was all away from home, our good friend, Henry Oldham, later one of our leading Baptist ministers, and a number of youthful buddies, passed by the Kemp home. Noticing that nobody was at home and seeing the new barn and also the running gear of a brand new two-horse wagon, Oldham said, " Boys, let's take Uncle Willie's wagon on top of his new barn and put it together." This suited his buddies to a "t" and they proceeded to dismount from their horses or mules and began to work with a zeal worthy of a better cause. They took the wagon wheels off, uncoupled the front axle from the rear, took out the wagon tongue and lifted and dragged parts of the wagon to the top of the barn. The axles and hounds were carried up first, then the wheels and on the very top of the barn they assembled the wagon piece by piece, with the front wheels of the wagon on one side of the comb or top of the barn, and the hind wheels on the opposite side of the roof. This left the wagon in a position from which it would not fall or dislodge itself. To complete the job, the boys pulled up the wagon tongue and put it into position, the tongue extending out into the air many feet above the ground. The boys rode away, perhaps without a twinge of consciences hurting them.
†† When the owner returned home, one of the first things to greet his sight was the new red wagon on the very top of his new barn. He soon decided the only thing to do was to call in his neighbors, who freely came and helped to remove, piece by piece, that new wagon that had spent the night on the top of the barn. Uncle Willies got a great kick out of this and did not seek to retaliate against the pranksters in any way whatever. It was all just a part of the fun and jollies of observing Christmas in the years that have gone by, we suppose, forever.
There is yet another column not in Calís Column Book.