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Remembering Christmas

Posted by groundhogpeggy on Tuesday, November 30, 2010

 Of course, we all remember Christmases from a long time ago, and how it's changed over the decades.  But for me, some of my best Christmases were when we were at rock bottom, financially.  It hurt me at the time to not be able to get presents/toys for our daughter, but today she is now a mother and says she wants to instill the joys and meaning of Christmas she got during those poverty times she grew up in.

I'm thinking of the years when we lived on the edge of McCreary and Whitley Counties, in Southeastern Kentucky.  We'd gotten a hold of 9 acres of wilderness... up on a high ridge in the mountains.  We managed to buy that through a land contract, very cheap, because the people who'd bought the huge tract of land on that ridge were hopeful of striking a fortune from strip mining it... but it turned out that, while there was an extensive coal seam across the road on the other side of the ridge, our side had only shale.  When the people who'd bought it had the disappointing core samples done, they divided it up and sold it in small acreage lots just to get rid of it.  Ours was approximately 9 acres.  We were the only people who lived on anything that came out of that tract, except for Ronnie and Trish on the next 9 acres over, who left when his coal company went on a wildcat strike.  So, we were the only ones, the three of us, who made home on this ridge, just outside of Bear Waller.  We still have a small core sample we took with us when we left our home in search for a "better" life.

We found an old construction site trailer office for 100 dollars... and moved it ourselves to our ridge in the woods.  That's something I don't want to do anymore: move and level up a trailer... we came close to crushing the thing.  My husband, Mike, built a chimney going up the side, cut a hole for the pipe, and we moved our fire along with us in the form of a Baby Bear model Fisher wood/coal stove.  When the weather got cold, we always had a free supply of coal for that stove... just taking trips to town yielded lots of stray coal pieces that regularly fell off the overloaded trucks leaving the mine on the other side of the ridge... we'd stop and get a few chunks year 'round, and always had a coal pile ready next to the wood pile... threw the coal in when the temperatures dropped low and ended up opening the windows about 15 mintues later.... I still miss the feel of the hot coal radiating from our wood stove against the polyphony of icy cold fresh breeze coming through the windows.  The roof leaked and the floor was always wet, either from melting snow, rain, or just plain ol' humid conditions. But it was cozy, and it was home.

When Christmas time came around, the three of us, Mike, me, and our little daughter, Annie, would walk along through our woods and look for a scrub pine that wasn't too tall and had a Christmas-tree shape on top.  Mike would climb up and saw off the top with a bow saw, and we'd drag it back to the trailer.  Sometimes there was a dusting on the ground, but usually just kinda damp and cold at that point on our ridge.

Once we got the tree inside, we'd all work at setting it up in a bowl of water and Mike would shape it with tin snips.  We usually sang, Oh Christmas Tree while we worked at this.  Then I'd pop some popcorn and Annie and I would sit togehter eating the popcorn while we carefully strung it up on a needle and thread... always throwing pieces out to the dogs as we went along.  We baked cookies and hung them on the tree, and then wrapped our strung up popcorn around it for the final touch.  It was always a fun/frustrating challenge to keep the dogs (we had 6 or 7) from eating the tree decorations.

I always felt bad that we never had money for presents to shower her with for a big Christmas morning.  Often I would sit and explain it to her, usually in tears, and she would understand and assure me it was okay with her, that she was happy and enjoyed Christmas very much without presents.  This is an odd feeling, for a parent to be comforted by their very young child, who is barely old enough to read, when we're used to that working the other way around.  

We would drive to town during Christmas time and go caroling with friends and always had a lot of fun.  Our church drove to remote places and we sang carols for people way out in the counties. These are happy, warm memories. As Christmas time approached, I felt sorry and pained that I couldn't get Annie many, if any presents.  One year we came up with 12.00 and I bought her a Tropical Barbie doll... she loved it and loved opening the gift I wrapped up in a grocery bag.  Other years we managed a few cheap toys: bubbles, a ball, etc., but not much.  Annie learned during those hard years for us that Christmas meant good friends, good food, working together to come up with creative decorations, sharing a lot of music, happy close times and a lot of caring about others.  What she didn't learn was to expect to be showered with a bunch of presents which she put in orders to the North Pole to receive.

Now it's a couple of decades past, and we live in an area with a booming economy... or it still seems so to us, even though people here think it's bad.  Annie is now a new mother, and having her first Christmas with her son.  She reflects on the values she treasures from her memories of Christmas, and how she wants to get that type of experience, the tradition, the closeness, the caring, into the heart and soul of her son while he's growing up, even though we live in the middle of a society driven by greed, with Christmas being prime time to make a buck.  She has a tough job ahead of her, to capture and hang onto what delicate lessons in life can be absorbed during poverty without having to endure the poverty to get there.  I hope she and her husband succeed... and as grandparents, we'll do all we can to help bring back the feeling of warm Christmases on our old ridge way back in the mountains.

11 comments on “Remembering Christmas”

eerohero Says:
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 @5:53:30 PM

Blueridge Mountain Christmas memories, I love that story, it reminds me of my own childhood , my christmas Gift was a pencil and a block of paper, which made me draw, and which I still can do, so it wasnt a bad idea after all.

My mother made "Christmas Bells" of Red coloured Paper, wired around the metal thread, some salt and water on it as a "Snow". Then She told me to knock doors and sell them for 5 dollars each. I was 7 years old, when she made a Business Man of me. We could afford some Christmas that way. While I was knocking doors, I met Champion of Europe in Boxing, He happened to live in my Hometown, wasnt I proud to tell my Buddies....

So,listen here, what comes out of hard ways of livings, it makes Us all tougher. and so we did....

eerohero Says:
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 @6:32:58 PM

it seems like heres a double blog of remembering Christmas at FHO ?
Harwilli made a comment on the other one.

groundhogpeggy Says:
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 @4:36:58 AM

thanks, eerohero, for alerting me that somehow I got two of these up there... I think I managed to delete one, and lost some comments from others... to the others, I did read the comments and sorry for deleting them. I appreciate the responses. Peggy

TopCat Says:
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 @6:12:06 AM

Great blog. Makes me realise what an easy life I've had...even though I would love to have some land to live wild on...

eerohero Says:
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 @7:56:55 AM

Oh, come`n Harwilli, she lost your comment for a misstake, you can write it again, you`re not a bad guy....

harwilli55 Says:
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 @5:12:51 PM

Aye Eero, just like making music, one can never reproduce spontaneity correctly, and so I could not write exactly what I wrote. I identify very much with Peggy's posting, for it reminds me of my yesteryears too. Thank you Peggy for your thoughts.

groundhogpeggy Says:
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 @5:43:05 PM

I'm really sorry for deleting your post... I meant to delete the one where i was told it was duplicate... but then, I don't know what I'm doing.

eerohero Says:
Thursday, December 2, 2010 @4:11:18 PM

You`re doing just fine, thanxs for this lovely topic of Christmas

Ozarkian DL Says:
Friday, December 3, 2010 @2:13:05 PM

Being an Ozark-ridge-runner, I too can relate to your early life Peggy.
Sentimentality overwhelms me reading your blogs.
Have you ever considered writing childrens books ?

eerohero Says:
Monday, December 6, 2010 @6:24:15 PM

Hello Doyle, why not sharing some of your Ozark-ridge Christmas memories with Us? You have an extreme writer talent for sure....

bsed55 Says:
Thursday, December 16, 2010 @6:54:23 PM

What a fine, fine story that was! I wish a lot more people (poor or money-endowed) would/could experience Christmas like your family did. It's nothing to be ashamed of, then or now.

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