Appalachia Christmas

A Christmas Memory

Barbara Taylor Woodall tells of Christmas past

(Excerpt from the book, A Time For Every Purpose) written by Barbara Taylor Woodall
www.itsnotmymountainanymore.com

The first sign of Christmas a’comin’ in our Rabun Gap mountain home was Mama opening a big can of Johnson’s paste wax to smear all over the plank floors, then waiting for my brother and me to get home from school. The smell of wax ensured the house would turn into a fun skating rink. Our skates were thick wool socks knitted by Granny Lou. We slipped, slid, giggled, and wiggled for hours, polishing the floors. That was the first shine of the season.

About two week before Christmas Eve, my brother and I gathered up brown tow sacks and a double bitted ax and began a journey by foot three miles away to Littleton Cove where a grove of cedar trees grew. We wrapped up in scarves and coats and pulled tattered toboggans over our ears to cross fields and dales cold and white. Heavy frost looked like a young snow and sparkled like diamonds in the golden sunlight. The frozen forest bed crunched like walking on dry corn shucks. When we stopped to rest, the only sound was our deep breaths mixed with cold air and formed steam. All nature seemed to stand still in a holy hush that could not be described with words, only felt deep within.

Straddling an old fence, we journeyed onward with the hope of finding red and green Christmas treasures to fill our sacks. In the distance, faint glimpses of red holly berries and green branches encouraged us in our quest. Soon our sacks began to bulge as we stuffed nature’s treasures inside. We paused a moment, playing with holly leaves that were easily turned into toys when held between the thumb and forefinger. We blew hard breaths on them, creating entertaining flutter mills.

Once a tree was located, Ernest made me bend the tree over while he swung the ax. He knew the jarring of the cedar tree would cause its limbs to scratch me like cat claws, so he chopped a while and laughed a while as an eternity seemed to pass before it finally fell to the ground. Our sacks loaded with burrs, berries and boughs, and the tree in tow, we started home.

Mama tied two colored ropes across the porch to display our collections of decorations. Inside she twisted green pine branches with colorful Galax leaves into pretty wreaths to scent the house. As she worked, she sang Christmas songs. One was about a star of hope and rest that guided the wise men on their way to find Jesus. She said, “The Bible says when they entered into the house they saw the young child first, and all the rest second. I wished I had seen Him first instead of a bunch of religion.” She told of precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that lay before Him.

At night, we busied ourselves talking about Christmas and making colorful chains from strips cut out of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. The links were held together with glue made from flour and water. Collected chestnut burrs and pinecones were rolled in the remaining mixture to turn them into white balls for the tree.

Ernest cracked black walnuts with a hammer, and then picked out the meat by the light of the fireplace for Christmas goodies while I cut paper snowflakes to hang on the windowpanes. Moonbeams shown through the paper holes, creating golden patterns on the walls adding to Christmas magic. Prince Albert tobacco cans were cut in strips and used for icicles, and silver stars were shaped out of foil from old cigarette pack linings. Stars reminded me of the one seen by the wise men. Dad said, “You have to be wise to know where to look in the heavens.”

After the tree was tied to a corner wall, it was ready for us to begin hanging the decorations. meanwhile, sweet smells filtered from the kitchen to make us more anxious for Christmas to come. On Christmas Eve, Dad took the Bible off the mantel after supper and read the old story about baby Jesus lying in a manger. He said the bread of life was put in a feeding trough to feed the world, and especially on Christmas Eve when the cattle in the barn got down on their knees in remembrance. Our eyes widened with amazement, and Ernest said, “Let’s go see!” He lit the lantern and we took off towards the barn in the cold night to peek through wide cracks. sure enough, the cows were lying down in the soft hay.

When we returned to the crackling warm fire inside the house, sister Bea, a first grader, was hanging three wool socks above the fireplace and singing a song she learned in class: “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb. If I were a wise man, I’d do my part; yet what can I give Him, I’ll give Him my heart.” dad said, “Let’s act like the cattle and kneel down; let’s offer our hearts too.” Simple prayers mixed with the sweet smells from the kitchen ascended upward. Christmas Eve in the calm, silent mountains on Kelly’s Creek ended.

The next day, three excited young’uns jumped up early to see what Santa Claus brought. Our socks were filled with stick candy, rag dolls, slingshots, crow calls, whistles, apples, oranges, and a few funny looking nuts. Finally, Mama said, “Run to the woodshed! I heard a rustle out there and th’ dog raised cain all night. Santa Claus might have stopped there.” Sure enough, he did, and he left a red wagon with sideboards and two store bought dolls. Christmas dawn was just breaking over the blue-hazed mountains. Ernest pulled his wagon inside near the fire. He put his pillow in the wagon, climbed in and fell asleep. This is one memory I will continue to unwrap year after year in my heart.

(Excerpt from the book, A Time For Every Purpose) written by Barbara Taylor Woodall
www.itsnotmymountainanymore.com

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I hope you enjoyed Barbara’s Christmas memories as much as I did! Jump over to her website and check out her books and you can learn more about her as well.

Tipper

 

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    December 23, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Lovely story. The one sentence that struck me particularly was, “The Bible says when they entered into the house they saw the young child first, and all the rest second. I wished I had seen Him first instead of a bunch of religion.”
    So do I, because I believe religions kept me from really finding Him for a long time, but then God kept drawing me near regardless, and that’s all that mattered.
    I pray for a safe and blessed CHRISTmas for us all.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Barbara Woodall
    December 23, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    I am honored that Tipper shared a speck of my new book, ‘A Time For Every Purpose’. Thank you.
    I am also humbled by your comments that mean so much. It’s been said, “Memories are roses in December.” I’m grateful for the roses shared here. Merry Christmas to each one and bless your mountain hearts!!
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0990876683

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    December 23, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Merry Christmas to you, Tipper, and the whole Blind Pig Gang! Barbara’s Christmas Story made my day- I just love her.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 23, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    You and Barbara together remind us that our fondest memories are often – probably usually – not connected with much or even any money. That’s one of those life lessons we each have some feeling for in our heart. But we also feel that we do not live that way in the day to day. Myself. I would say it shows the spirit is wiser than the body. Christmas calls us to remember and renew our efforts to live up to what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’ We need that reminder, else other things choke it.
    Wishing each of you all a Christmas 2016 that will become among your most treasured memories.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 23, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Tipper,
    As I read Barbara’s reflections of Christmas I’m reminded that Christmas is still alive as much as it ever was. What a Story!
    Merry Christmas to each of you…Ken

  • Reply
    Tipper
    December 23, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Jim-thanks for the comment! Barbara has a new book out-you can find it on her website-its called A TIME FOR EVERY PURPOSE

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    December 23, 2015 at 10:10 am

    What a wonderful story!

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    December 23, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Wish my grandkids had the experience of cutting a cedar Christmas tree the way I did. I can still smell the cedar as it warmed up in the house.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 23, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Tipper,
    I loved re-reading this excerpt from Barbara Woodall’s book. She is such a descriptive writer and the scenes fall in place in the mind as you are reading. I remember gathering winter decorating greens and hurrying around to get what I needed and back to the warm house.
    Flour and water paste was what we mixed up to glue paper chains, make those red, green and white construction paper cards and table decorations as well. We also flocked cedar branches for vases or center piece log…dip branch in water to wet well, put flour in large brown paper poke (bag) close around branch and shake…The result it a flour-snow laden branch…ha
    Luann, I love those orange and clove pomander balls…If you use a blemish free orange and hang it where air circulates it…It will eventually dry and shrink into a wonderful ball for hanging in a closet year round…
    Thanks Tipper for this post…
    PS…Warm and rainy here today….

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 23, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Tipper–I purchased and read Barbara Woodall’s book when you first covered it a few years back, and it was a pure delight. Simply and sweetly written, evocative, and powerful. She captured in words what so many of us feel in spirit, and her Christmas account is a grand one.
    I also think her choice of the book’s title wonderfully felicitous. There’s a real estate broker in Bryson City with a big sign in the window: “Mountains For Sale.” My blood boils every time I see it. You shouldn’t think of the mountains as something you own. They may hold or “own” you soul, but they are far too splendid and beautiful to be viewed as one person’s possession, just as those who advocate steep-slope development and ridge-top construction should think long and hard about the resulting visual impact. These are subjects Woodall handles, and handles well, in her book.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 23, 2015 at 9:26 am

    What great memories, expressed so well. Thank you, Barbara.
    Barbara spoke of the sounds of their trip to get the tree. One of the special blessings of the four distinct seasons is the range of sounds. Jar flies and whippoorwills in summer, walking through newly-fallen leaves in autumn, and the unrestrained exuberance of birds singing and streams laughing and playing of spring.
    But there’s something extra special about the silence of the woods in winter during a snow. Birds and other critters are hunkered down. Even the noise of streams seems muted, giving way to the barely audible swish of snowflakes brushing against your clothing. It’s a pure wonderment.

  • Reply
    dolores
    December 23, 2015 at 9:14 am

    It is amazing how small things were so important in early childhood. There wasn’t any commercialization of huge decorations both inside and outside. I still cherish a small Rudolph that my parents had from when I was very young, maybe three/four. I put it up each year. Probably my most memorable gift was a pair of ice skates. I still have them and I am well into my senior years. That was a beautiful excerpt to read. Tipper, you seem to find the most wonderful readings or do the great writings to fit the season. Merry Christmas to all your readers!

  • Reply
    Frank
    December 23, 2015 at 9:01 am

    and a Merry Christmas to one and all!

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    December 23, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Such a beautiful description of Christmas! She describes how nature seemed to stand still, and it could be felt within. I used to think there was nothing more beautiful and peaceful than a white world with overhanging snow filled limbs as I walked to the school bus stop. The only sound seemed to be the crunch of snow under my boots. All this seems to have been lost with the nuisance of scraping snow and ice from the windshield of my SUV. Maybe I need to read Barbara Taylor Woodall’s book to actually again enjoy the simple things. It is still exciting to see a holly bush all covered with berries.
    Thanks so much, Tipper, for bringing us another heartwarming story during this Christmas season.

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    December 23, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 23, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Barbara Taylor Woodall is such a descriptive and perceptive writer, telling of so many Christmas customs in our mountain area that most of us who grew up there can so readily identify with! Beautifully written; poignantly remembered! Thank you, Tipper, for sharing with us. I have her book and will remember to read more of her memoirs as Christmas progresses. The warm weather, storm warnings, thunder, lightning and hard rains are not necessarily reminiscent of our cold Christmases-past. But as with life, we take weather as it comes and hope to be safe from the storms. And speaking of storms, they are both physical and metaphorical in our mountain lifestyles. And we are known to weather them all, with our degree of persistence and acceptance. So, with this in mind, to all of you, a blessed Christmas! Be reminded of our abundance of love and sufficiency, both in physical blessings and from our stalwart heritage.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 23, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Thanks Tip, that’s a beautiful story reflecting values nearly gone.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 23, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Such a wonderful story of family and joy at Christmas. Thank you for sharing your memory.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 23, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Such a wonderful story of family and joy at Christmas. Thank you for sharing your memory.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 23, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Such a wonderful story of family and joy at Christmas. Thank you for sharing your memory.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 23, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Such a wonderful story of family and joy at Christmas. Thank you for sharing your memory.

  • Reply
    Luann
    December 23, 2015 at 7:20 am

    Tipper,
    Sharing this story is a Christmas gift to all of us. Thank you!
    It brought memories of my mother doing baking for the holidays and making decorations from holly leaves and other greenery. Have you ever put whole cloves in an orange to make a room smell wonderful? Rough on the fingers, but worth the effort! (Using a small nail to make a hole for each clove makes it easier.)
    May you and yours be blessed this holiday season and into the the new year.

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