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Christmas Time

Christmas In Appalachia - Western NC

Christmas Time by Wayne Newton

When I was a boy we had two Christmases. The first one was in the log cabin where we lived, and where Papa made sure that Santa Claus came on Christmas eve. The cabin Christmas was pretty basic, a pine top, fastened to the wooden floor, near the fireplace, some tinsel, and a few candles. There was fruit (one apple, one orange, and one tangerine) and hard candy in the big work sock transformed into a stocking, and nailed to the mantel above the fireplace. This telling makes it sound pitiful, but in my mind, there was magic in each of my Boyhood Christmases.

As Christmas time approached each year, us boys started getting excited for the fun to come. We begged and pleaded with Papa to take us to find a tree. Now when you live in the middle of hundreds of acres of pines, finding the right one sounds simple. But the Longleaf Pine is different from any other. It doesn’t look like a Christmas tree.

When the seed sprouts, it sends a root down, and for the next several years (as many as 8 or 10 yrs total), while the taproot system goes ever deeper, there is little to show above ground. The tree resembles a large tuft of bright green grass, though the needles are much larger than the wiregrass. And the Longleaf pine doesn’t have branches until it is several feet tall. This characteristic makes it ideal for poles, but you have to search a while to find one suitable for a Christmas tree.

So when Papa agreed to take us to find a tree, usually on a Sunday afternoon, we all piled in the old post-war GMC pickup, and went back-in-the woods. The woods were criss-crossed with roads, trails, really, used by the turpentiners and cow trails, so we could drive for a very long way at five to ten miles per hour, without having to stop, or turn around. There was Papa, Mama with the new baby, up front, and Gibson, me, and Franklin, in back. Papa allowed us to point and choose, and point and choose, until he had driven past about a thousand perfect ones, before he finally stopped the truck, and we all started walking, him with the axe.

You would have thought we were choosing from a forest of Frazier Fires, or Leyland Cypresses. For we all emulated Papa; stop; look up at the top; circle around, stop, look up, circle around, until we had circled the tree at least three times, only to be disappointed by Papa, as he decided; no, not good enough. We repeated this ritual over and over, until he had worn us down, and then he selected one that looked just about like all those he had rejected.

By its very nature, the Longleaf pine is unsymmetrical in shape, and the tree is self-pruning, making for long distances between branches. To be frank, the top of a Longleaf pine just doesn’t look like the magazine picture of a Christmas tree. In fact, I believe that the Charley brown Christmas tree is modeled after the Longleaf Pine. And the top, with the limbs and needles, was anywhere from 12 to 20 feet up in the air. It is called a sapling. So Papa’s job was to visualize how it would look when most of the trunk was cut away. But he finally made a selection.

Then he would pull off his heavy jacket, measure to about where the top would fall, and begin to chop. I forgot to mention that Papa never learned that any tool with an edge performs much better when kept sharp. His axe was never sharp, so it took a while to fell the sapling. Sometimes it seemed that he was knocking it down, instead of cutting. Once on the ground he had to estimate where to cut it off so it would fit in the front room of the cabin.

Chopping off the top from the sapling was soon done and we marched in a line through the gall berries and saplings back to the truck, Papa with the tree top, me or Gibson with the axe, and Mama with the baby. It had been adventure of the highest order, and we were so proud of our tree.

Once back at home, Papa found some old scrap 2x4s or slats from the wood pile, and he soon had a frame nailed to the floor, holding the tree more or less upright. So many years later, when the cabin was moved for the last time, the floor board where the tree was once nailed, was placed in the same spot.

The fun started on the night before Christmas. We learned at a very young age that there were never any surprises hidden in the three room cabin. But this didn’t dampen our excitement one bit. By sundown we were driving Mama crazy, and avoiding Papa, for he didn’t stand for foolishness, for any reason. After supper, which came at dark/sundown, with little to read, Mama washed the supper dishes, and she finally settled us all down in the front room for what became a ritual in the David Newton home.

Papa sat in the only easy chair in our home, and we all sat on the floor near his feet, Mama always holding the newest baby in her lap. He opened his bible to the Book of Matthew, and he read the story of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. When he finished, he said a prayer for us, and then we all soon headed for bed.

It is hard to imagine with the houses we live in today, their thick walls, and modern conveniences, and closets, and attics, and cars with trunks, and neighbors, that a secret would be difficult to keep, but in my childhood, those were not available, so Papa was forced to hide any gifts or other Christmas surprises at Grandma’s house, about a half mile away. And us boys never did figure this out.

Sometime during the night, after he was certain we were all fast asleep, he would sneak out of the cabin, and drive to Grandma’s for the gifts. There were two major obstacles in his way, as he tried to keep his caper secret, and they were both named Wayne. I couldn’t bear to sleep, knowing that the man in red was coming, so I got many whippings for not going to sleep like my brothers.

And the very second that Papa came back into the cabin, The unmistakable aroma of apple, or orange, or tangerine woke me up. At first I just lay and savored that smell. Only if you have never had any of these fruits, except at special occasions, can you begin to imagine the effect the aroma had on me. To this day, when I enter a home where there is fresh fruit, I am taken back to those times so long ago.

As soon as Papa had quieted down in the front room, I began to try to arouse my brothers in the room with me. We slept two to a bed, the room was small, and there was just the log wall between us and Papa and Mama’s bed, so any sound I made was hard to cover up, so cover-up I did. I pulled the covers over our heads and poked my brother in the ribs, and whispered, “Santee Claus has been!!!!” I repeated this until I got a response, usually, a muffled, “Leave me alone!”

If I persisted too long, Papa heard me and after several threats, he would open the door to our room, and tell me, “Wayne, one more time and I’m gona whip you, boy!” Only problem was, when he opened the door, the full force of those aromas blasted into our little room. This was one of the few times in my life that I actually argued with Papa. “I know he’s been, I smell the apples!” “But Papa, don’t you smell the oranges?”

Finally, Mama, my blessed Mama, could stand it no more, and she played her part, “David, why don’t you look and see if he’s been here.” And that was a signal to me. I was at the doorway in an instant, peering into the almost dark front room, as Papa pretended to look, first at the tree, and then to the mantel for the stockings. In the dim glow of the embers from the fireplace, I could see Papa as he lifted a big sock, that was miraculously filled with something.

There was no holding me back, then. I will forever remember that big sock so full of sweet smelling wonder. The fruit that had awakened me, the hard candy, the nuts, the kumquats; what a treasure trove! There was no sleeping after that! I don’t have a clue what my brothers did or what they got, or anything else, I was in a world of wonder and joy! The things we received back then are lost in my memory, for they were not of such stuff to last for long. But the real gifts I received so long ago, will never be gone. The wonder of Christmas will be with me as long as my mind can wander back to that time, and that place in time.

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I hope you enjoyed Wayne’s guest post as much as I did-I swear I can smell oranges after reading it.

Tipper

 

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Nancy
    December 16, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    I so enjoyed both of the Christmas stories. But the smell of oranges is one of my fondest memories of Christmas growing up. It can be the middle of July and if I smell oranges it brings back memories of Christmas’ of my childhood. It is nice to know I am not the only one with those memories. Thanks!! Merry Christmas

  • Reply
    Tammy N
    December 15, 2010 at 11:23 am

    The tree pictured reminds me of the type that the School would cut {the whole thing} and put in the gym for the Christmas Musical Program.
    As a family we would hunt for a smaller version which were abundant in the woods for our home. It would be dwarfed in the huge colored lights of the time and old timey shiny ornies and icicles.♥

  • Reply
    Rick
    December 15, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Now that tree in the picture would look real good all directed with lights on it.
    Whitetail Woods Blog / Deer Hunting and Blackpowder Shooting at it’s best.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 14, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Great story, I enjoyed it very much. Thank you

  • Reply
    Becky
    December 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Yes I do and Yes I can.
    This story made me feel as if I were sitting in the corner of that cabin watching the events unfold.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    December 14, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    A wonderful Christmas tale!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 14, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Thanks, Wayne, for a beautiful story. I remember the oranges. They were always a part of Christmas when I was a kid.
    These are the memories that you can’t buy at the mall

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    December 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Tipper: swell story,and truly it brought back even more memories. my dad was great fun at Christmas time,he always had something for us no matter how bad off times were. i remember if you had ask for some special gift,he almost always seem to find a way. one time i think i was about twelve, i wanted a 22 rifle, fat chance huh, well he had it seems talked uncle john out of an old Remington bolt action ,he had re-blued the barrel and receiver, and refinished the stock. boy what a wonderful Christmas that was. happy yuletide k.o.h

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    December 14, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    It’a amazing how the aroma brings on the memories. Growing up in an Italian house, our traditional Christmas Eve dinner was fish. More specifically, baccala, or salt dried cod. It was hard and dry, about like jerky.We would buy it a few weeks before Christmas, and store it in a cool cupboard. 4 or 5 days before, Ma would put it in a pan of cold water to soak. She changed the water at least once a day, as the fish soaked it in , and salt came out. If the weather was cold enough, she kept it in the garage. Sometimes she would have to put it in the cellar, when it was too warm outside. The aroma(my non-Italian wife says stench)in the house on these occasions would be fishy. If it was in the garage, I couldn’t resist peeking at it when I was outside, just to sniff it and anticipate the special dinner. Ma only made this for Christmas Eve, and we looked forward to it every year. When it was time to cook it, Ma would fry it, and some would be placed into tomato sauce to go over pasta, usually a wide curly pasta called mafaldini. The aroma of the tomatoes, the fish, and the herbs was intoxicating all afternoon!
    This salt cod dated to a time when refrigeration was rare, and fish were preserved this way. My wife persuaded me to switch to fresh or frozen cod, as she really didn’t care for the strong fishy smell of salt cod. But the mingled tomato-fish fragrance still triggers those memories, though I can’t go to the cellar and anticipate it for 4-5 days. Burt I know it’s coming!

  • Reply
    Anastasia
    December 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    What a lovely story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.
    ~PS~ When I was a child, I always got a pommegranade in my stocking together with chocolate and biscuits. It’s supposed to bring luck and happiness.

  • Reply
    Wanda
    December 14, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Wonderful! I also remember the marvelous smell of the Christmas fruit. To smell it now brings back the past. We got apples & oranges & “Santa” usually ran past our house & threw a coconut up on the porch.
    We always had a cedar tree–a little one as we had such a small house. Also we had only one string of lights–they were the original bubbling lights made of glass & they were treated like gold. We had a string of red paper “roping” & various homemade ornaments. “Icicles” were saved from yr. to yr. It was always beautiful & magical in my eyes.
    Our stockings were big work socks,too, & were filled with fruit and candy. We got a few toys & there was always a “coke” apiece under the tree. My baby brother, especially was a true “coke” lover & they were very scarce in our lives.
    Thanks for awakening these memories!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth K
    December 14, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Great story, thank you for sharing it, I enjoyed reading it. I well remember the apples and oranges that were always in our stockings, left at the foot of our beds – we didn’t have a mantle. We didn’t have a great deal of money either, but Christmas was always wonderful at our house.

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    December 14, 2010 at 11:29 am

    ohh what a wonderful story .. it brought tears to my eyes… i loved it. to me those are the memories that stay with us the most.. the innocence of children and the smells and sounds. thanks so much for sharing… and i hope santa brings especially sweet smelling oranges in your stockings 🙂
    big ladybug hugs
    lynn

  • Reply
    mamabug
    December 14, 2010 at 10:47 am

    What a wonderful post Tipper. I had to go check out Wayne’s blog and decided to follow him too. His stories are so interesting.

  • Reply
    Ken
    December 14, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Tipper,
    Thanks for sharing another great
    story of Christmas past. I really
    enjoyed Wayne’s storytelling from
    his memories of childhood. And I
    can relate to his experiences of
    the fun and excitement, and the
    coming of my Christmas bounty. Like B. Ruth, while reading Wayne’s story, I could sense the
    tangerine peelings squeezed in my
    eyes by one of my older brothers.
    I always forgave him though cause
    he said I would be able to see
    farther when it quit burning. Ken

  • Reply
    Rachel
    December 14, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Great memories there!! We also got the sock with the apple, orange, tangerine, and maybe a banana, and it was the best stuff ever!! There might be some candy in the bottom of the sock as well. Ah…those were the days!!
    Thanks for sharing his neat memories!

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    December 14, 2010 at 10:08 am

    What a wonderful story … I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks Tipper for passing it along.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    December 14, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Thanks Wayne for a great story of Christmas past….and
    Thanks Tipper for bringing the post to us….
    Maybe it’s my ‘smeller’ gone bad…but I just don’t think the oranges have the fragrance like they did when I was a child…or maybe it was the tangerines that smelled so good..that I’m thinking of…
    I remember me and my brothers using the peelings of tangerines to squirk each other in the eye and up the nose!…LOL…and of course when I smell a tangerine today, I remember the ‘peel battles’…Little did we know that a little flat orange fruit would evoke such a Christmas memory…guess we were mean little rascals after Santa left!
    Thanks Tipper..

  • Reply
    kat
    December 14, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Good to go back to our childhood in our minds. One of my best Christmas memories is when my folks would buy one coconut and we’d all drink the milk from it before eating that delicious meat.Seems like the apple and orange also tasted better then too.

  • Reply
    Lise
    December 14, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Wonderful story, I can visualize it all, and I too can smell the fruit!

  • Reply
    Jen
    December 14, 2010 at 8:41 am

    What a wonderful storyteller…I can almost smell the oranges! Thanks for sharing, Tipper.

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    December 14, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Wholeheartedly agree with Wayne that it’s about the wonder and magic of Christmas. But beautiful memories, as well! Thoroughly enjoyed!
    p.s. Just read your Old Timey Christmas Tree post as well, Tipper! Magic! :))

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 14, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Great story, Wayne and Tipper, and it brought back fine memories – some similar, others not, but all fun to recall.
    Our stockings were heavy grey wool hunting socks with, appropriately, a red ring around the top.
    Daddy’s axe, like all of his knives and cutting tools, was never dull. For years after I’d moved out on my own, whenever he was coming for a visit, I’d take a file and whetstone to my tools and knife blades lest he find me a dull boy.
    Oranges and tangerines are catalogued right alongside of pine in my storehouse of Christmas smells.
    Wayne and I were kindred spirits in terms of the excitement. I don’t think I slept on a Christmas Eve until my teen years.
    Thanks for evoking splendid memories on this cold, cold morning.

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