Appalachia Christmas

Christmas In The Matheson Cove 1936

Christmas in Clay County NC 1936

Our First Christmas In The Matheson Cove, written by Eddie Lee Mull Garrett

In December, 1936, I was not yet enrolled in elementary school. Even so, I remember many details about our family moving into the Matheson Cove. On ‘moving day’ my little sister, Bennie Louise, my brother John and I were busy helping my mama load up our wagon. She told us to pack everything. With a smile on her face, mama said, “We are not coming back. We are moving to our very own place!”

Soon we were settled into the back of our wagon and bundled up with mama’s quilts. The wind blew cold against our faces! Mama and daddy were smiling; talking about ‘Our First Christmas’ in the Cove. Bennie Louise whispered to me about Santa Claus. John declared, “Santa will not find our house in the woods!” I did not want to think about Santa. In the back of our minds we knew he would not stop at our house. He had never brought toys to our old house!

A few days after we had moved into our new house mama asked daddy to go cut a little field pine tree for our first Christmas in the Cove. My older brother, William, and sister, Ida Jane, got busy making paper roping for the tree. My mama popped some popcorn. Then we strung the popped corn on sewing thread to make strings of snowy white decoration. Soon our little Christmas tree was beautiful. I loved it! We were ready for Christmas Eve!

The three older children did not talk about Santa. As we lay in bed that special night, whispering, Bennie asked me if I thought Santa Claus would come to our house. Softly I whispered, “Shhhh! Don’t think about it!” So she just closed her eyes and tried to go to sleep.

Awakening on Christmas morning, we rushed to the pretty Christmas tree. Sure enough there was not one shiny toy, not one pretty doll under our tree! But there were five brown paper pokes filled with something special.

After our morning prayers, mama and daddy handed each of us a brown paper poke and wished us a “Merry Christmas!” Inside our poke we found an orange and a stick of peppermint candy. We were so happy that mama and daddy had done that for us. After a warm breakfast, the boys went sledding on the sled which daddy had made. My sisters and I stayed inside and cut paper dolls from the Sears Roebuck Catalog. That night mama made snow cream for us. It was a mighty fine “FIRST CHRISTMAS” seventy years ago in the Cove!

That was the way we celebrated Christmas all through the years. Our family grew to include six more children. We did not know about such things as television, video games, computers or China. We were happy and at peace in our quiet world.

written by: Eddie Lee Mull Garrett (December 2006)


A special thank you too Eva Nell Mull Wilke for sharing her sister’s article with us. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did!



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  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    December 26, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Though those simpler times held few surprises and treats, with all the “things” people surround their children with nowadays, it’s hard not to long for those old times. It taught us to be grateful for what we DID have.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    December 26, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Linda-I do think theres a connection : ) I just sent you and email with Eva Nells contact information so that you 2 get figure out how or if youre related.

  • Reply
    Linda Matheson Taylor
    December 26, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    just thinking if this is the same Matheson Cove I know….near Hayesville NC and Hiawassee GA…I was born a Matheson but we moved from there when I was 2..I have 2 sisters older than me..they know where exactly we lived…I also had 3 brothers..all deceased…… my grandfather was Stanhope Matheson and wife Mary….do u think any connection..

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 26, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks Eva, for sharing this true Christmas Story. It would be 12 years later before I was even born. Yet things were similar in the upper end of Cherokee County where I was born and raised. Those were the hard times, but family and faith makes life sweeter and sweeter as the years go by. We will always have our memories of that innocent time…Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 26, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Our cable went out just as I sent this comment….I am sending my copy just in case…by the way, I spelled the name of the checkpoint
    Thanks to
    Tipper, Eddie Lee Mull Garrett and Eva Nell Mull Wike for sharing this story. Even though, as I read this story, it seemed very familiar…. In December, 1936, as the story begins. Just imagine, in one short week, the year will be January 2016, a storied memory eighty years young.
    I think it is the parallel to one of my memories…only occurring in or around the 1940’s timeline.
    A old Packard was our wagon. The biggest overstretched socks that we could find to take with us.
    Mom packed a few simple presents for our Grandparents…a couple of quilts, thermos and food just in case we got stuck in the snow, on the mountain, between Knoxville and Western NC….It was a real adventure, making that trip at Christmas..
    We (Dad) had to carry with us some “special permits” to leave and to get back in to our new home place. That old Secret City…where Dad and Mom had settled after leaving their mountain homes for a new job and a different life in what seemed back then a big city! ha
    That day we were on our way back to the mountains…As we finally got out of the checkpoint at Elza gate….Dad burst into “Jingle Bells” and Mother nearly laughed all the way…only stopping to scold us since we always bickered over the very small Packard windows in the back seat….

  • Reply
    December 26, 2015 at 11:01 am

    That story is a very precious memory not unlike the ones my parents told us as children. My parents were brought up in an orphanage. The good nuns though very strict seemed to understand the power of Christmas, both the religious end and gift giving. As a child I remember the nuns wrapping up six pieces of hard candy, placing it in our desks when we came to school on December 6 – the feast of St. Nicholas.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    December 26, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I enjoyed the story very much. I remember stringing popcorn and mixing fresh cranberries with the popcorn for some more color.
    Christmas was peaceful this year, spent with my 92-year-old Dad in East Tennessee.

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    December 26, 2015 at 10:44 am

    That’s a good story. Not many kids today can comprehend life back then. It’s good to have such memories,

  • Reply
    December 26, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Such a beautiful story! When my grandkids come by today, I’m going to have them read it. Mom said the piece of candy and fruit we got for Christmas was so much harder to come by than the room full of toys her grandkids used to get. The smell of peppermint and orange still reminds me of a happy time that only came around once a year.

  • Reply
    December 26, 2015 at 9:11 am

    This sounds much like the stories my Dad once shared. His parents had 12 children. and all lived to adulthood. They all worked extremely hard and had bountiful harvests, and would often haul a wagon of eggs, butter, and produce to town to sell. A luxury of an orange or hard candy was only received on Christmas.
    This is not about Christmas but helped me retrieve one of my Dad’s memories. Dad would not ever eat pumpkin of any type. He told about planting pumpkins as a young boy “down a holler.” He recalled how he had never seen so many pumpkins, and he had to haul those huge pumpkins from that hollow in a wagon. He told us how his Mom cooked and cooked them and then they kept feeding them to some of their livestock. He just kept hauling them out they were so plentiful. They ate only food from the farm, so he never ate much of anything that didn’t grow in the mountains except on Christmas. In a day when nothing was wasted, I fear he ate way too much pumpkin that year.
    One of the children in this family knows me well–she special ordered a book called “Company Script Cards and Battery Radios.” I am having to make myself limit to one 1-2 of those great stories at a sitting. Many true stories of the hard times in the coal mining areas back in the day. They had asked for folks to submit their stories, and the common theme throughout was bygone days were remembered as a joyous untroubled time with family.
    Thanks to Eva Nell Mull for a beautiful Christmas story, and I am always so appreciative of the great poems and articles she shares. These walks back in time are such pleasant reading, and they help to jog our own sweet memories.

  • Reply
    December 26, 2015 at 8:59 am

    That’s a lovely story and a real Christmas! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 26, 2015 at 8:49 am

    I especially enjoyed reading Eddie Lee Mull Garrett’s “First Christmas in the Matheson Cove” submitted by that irrepressible Dr. Eva Mull Wike. I identify so with this family (being distant-kin as we are, and only discovering our “cousin-ship” in recent years, I am amazed at how like my own growing up in Choestoe the Mull’s family life was similar in North Carolina’s Matheson Cove. Something about Appalachian heritage and upbringing never gets away from the likes of us who love family, traditions, and knowing there is a way, even if life sometimes brings challenges! Thanks, Eva Nell, and Tipper, for sharing this true account of “life as it was”! May the New Year bring joy!

  • Reply
    William Roy Pipes
    December 26, 2015 at 8:02 am

    A beautiful Christmas story. Many of us ‘old’ can relate to it.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 26, 2015 at 7:21 am

    That’s a beautiful story about real people and real values. Thanks for the perspective on this day after Christmas!

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