It’s a beautiful, cold, snowy morning in north-central West Virginia, one week before Christmas day. I thought it an excellent time to do some random reflecting on Christmases past. While personal to me, I thought maybe these memories might help take other people back, whether “back” is 70 years or seven.
Life is about making memories. As my favorite poet Jimmy Buffett says, “Wrinkles only go where the smiles have been.” Christmas makes memories, but it also brings a longing for days and people past so be careful. Enjoy the memories and relish the opportunities to make new ones.
One of my favorite stories of Christmases past is from the year my oldest daughter Beth was just six months old. She is bearing down on a memorable birthday next July, so you might be able to guess how long ago it was. 1983.
My parents were still hale and hardy, as was my Aunt Margaret, who had a wonderful old home on Junkin Street in Christiansburg, directly across from the building where my Dad had attended high school and later served as superintendent of schools and where I had started first grade. The house had been built by my aunt and my mom and their mother in the early 1940’s and was the place my parents first stayed after my Dad returned from World War II. Lots of memories in other words. Also, lots of icy drafts. Wood frame, pre-insulation days, coal heated, old iron radiators. The stuff Christmas movies used to be made of.
Like most of the Christmas eves of my life up to that point, we had dinner at Aunt Maggie’s with the temperature hovering around minus 10. That’s right, not 10, minus 10. Not unheard of on winter nights in the Alleghenies in those days. The inside of the house probably didn’t warm above 60 degrees that night, and we had daughter Beth dressed in a bright multicolored jumper and cap. Precocious from birth, she was trying to stand, pulled herself up on a big basket and then toppled headfirst into it, legs in the air, reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz.
I remember eating country ham and biscuits while my Dad and my wife and Aunt Maggie had fried oysters with their ham. My Mom and I abstained, my tolerance for oysters only coming later in life. My Dad kept his Stetson and his overcoat on the whole evening.
Another cherished holiday memory was around the year I was in third or fourth grade. My cousins Joe and Bobby lived at the top of our street, and Joe was home from college. Cousin Bobby was still in high school. A couple of days before Christmas we had a heavy snowfall, the kind we no longer seem to have. They took me sledding in a neighbor’s backyard on Cherry Lane while the snow was coming down in buckets. I came home soaking wet and shivering. But what could be cooler when you were a little kid than hanging with your older cousins?
A couple of days later, Bobby and Joe came to our house early on Christmas morning and brought me a puppy ( Tippy) and told me Santa had left him in their house with my name on his collar. I remember being excited (our previous dog having recently “taken a powder” as they used to say), but I was also a little dubious since their house didn’t have a chimney and why didn’t Santa just leave Tippy in my house and how did he carry dogs around in his sleigh? And why did I hear later that Tippy had siblings on the Lucas farm in Riner? Unsolved mysteries.
And there was the first Christmas in our “new” old house in Bridgeport, Laura’s first Christmas. The time my wife and I “drew the line” and told our parents back in Virginia that they would have to come to our place. We were starting a new tradition with our girls. They made the trip, my aunts included, and I remember how proud I was to have Christmas in our own home with our two beautiful daughters.
About three years later my Dad and the “Weaver sisters” (my Mom and her two sisters, all 3 of whom were essentially married to my Dad) were in our big old house again. By that time, Beth was probably seven and Laura four. Beth was enamored with the movie “White Christmas” (my influence), and she got her younger sister (reluctantly, very reluctantly) to do the “Sisters” scene from the movie (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, watch it). It was as precious as it gets. I think that was the same night the girls’ mother and I decided finally to make it to the MIDNIGHT service at our church. We left Aunt Maggie in charge to keep the girls in their beds and took off for Bridgeport Methodist, my parents having long since turned in. How were we to know that midnight was when the service ended, not when it began? We exchanged Christmas greetings with lots of friends as they were leaving.
More random holiday memories. My first year at UVA and going to a 10 p.m. Christmas Glee Club concert on Friday night in Old Cabell Hall to see one of our hall mates sing and coming out on the Lawn to see it covered with new fallen snow. Being home from college that same year and caroling around Christiansburg with my pal Jerry (actually following the girls who were caroling). As a little kid, helping my Dad put wet gravel in a big bucket and lugging it into the house to stand the tree up in, not wanting to buy one of those stands like normal people used. Selling Christmas trees outside of Krogers on cold winter nights as a Key Clubber with my great friends Jay and the Gregs and hoping some of the CHS girls who wouldn’t speak to us at school would come to the store and we could force them to acknowledge us. Meeting Joyce “under the clock” at Kaufmann’s in “dahntahn” Pittsburgh on our annual shopping trip in later years.
I hope this little piece brings back some good Christmas memories for my readers and that you make more this year. Merry Christmas!
Evans “Buddy” King is a proud native of Christiansburg, CHS Class of 1971. He resides in Clarksburg, W.Va., where he has practiced law with the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC, since 1980. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.