Ruth Rhodes, 79, is this year's Caraway Christmas Angel. Although Rhodes was not born and raised in Caraway, she has been a resident there so long she considers Caraway her home. She is the oldest child of Everett and Hazel Long, formerly of Corning. Her six siblings include Louise Fears, of Memphis, Kathryn Whelchel, of Rockford, Ill., Vernon Long, of Clarksville, Joyce Pitman, of Jonesboro, Sue Wade, of Hayti, Mo., and Carol Crosley, of Dallas, Ga. "Daddy was a brick mason and worked out of town often," Rhodes said. "Dad worked laying runways for airplanes during the war. Momma did a good job of keeping the family fed and cared for when he had to be gone.
"I just love this time of year, and think about Christmas when we were growing up. We didn't have a tree so much as we had great food and Christmas stockings. When we woke up on Christmas morning our socks were filled with apples, oranges, and nuts. Mom would fix a big ham and we would have a table full of good food to eat.
"Having a big family meant we always had someone to play with," Rhodes said. "We didn't get many toys but could always make our own fun. We would run and play and laugh with each other. We always felt secure and well taken care of.
"Mom cooked chicken and dressing and a big Christmas meal. She baked pumpkin pies and my favorite applesauce cake.
"When I was 18, I moved to St. Louis to work. Each Christmas I would by my siblings nice gifts for Christmas. Mom was so pleased and the kids loved it. To this day they remember gifts that I bought for them. My brother always tells about a nice watch I bought him. I had as much fun giving the gifts as any one of them could have had in receiving them."
Carl Rhodes had served in the Army three years before moving to St. Louis to work at General Motors. He met Ruth Long, who was working at G.A.F. Corporation. They married and raised their daughter Carla Rhodes (Cook) in St. Louis. They now have one granddaughter, Jennifer Cook.
"I worked for 27 years in St. Louis," Rhodes said. "We had a wonderful neighborhood and made a lot of friends we will treasure the rest of our lives. After we retired we decided to move back to Carl's hometown, Caraway."
Carl Rhodes' parents were Clarence and Flora Thomas Rhodes, and he had three siblings, J.C., deceased, Helen Lewis, of Michigan, and Russell, of Caraway.
"We have many happy Christmas memories here," Rhodes said. "We have made new friends in town and in our church at New Hope. My Sunday school teacher is Helen Adams, and we have a very close fellowship there.
"I especially love coming to the Caraway Senior Center each weekday, and try to take part in all activities there. I started coming in 1995 when it was first located at the Methodist Church, then at City Hall, and now in the nice building downtown.
"I have a lot of hobbies to keep me busy, as I love ball games, and am an avid Cardinals fan. I still love to go to Riverside basketball games. I used to walk regularly, and even go to senior citizen dances. Our senior citizen group has done a lot of traveling together. We also go out to eat. I go to the center every day, and usually play my favorite game of Skip-Bo. We have tackled many projects, such as baking hundreds of fried pies for fundraisers. My friends there are like a second family.
"Carl died in 1985, but I can't imagine myself living anywhere else. This is home, and I am very comfortable here, so I planned to stay.
"Three of my sisters and I declare a sisters-day-out each month and eat out and catch up on family things. Before Mom died in 1999 we would go to Hayti for celebrations. We would look at old photo albums and reminisce. Last week we sold Mom's house, which was sad. It is always hard going in and looking through her keepsakes of a lifetime, and sorting things out.
"We are just thankful to have each other, and all those shared memories. When we get together we are like kids again. We have a big family reunion every other year, and often have 100 to 125 people come.
"My daughter was here for Thanksgiving, and I plan to go to her home in Desota (Mo.) for Christmas. We always have a great time, and it is a joy to be there."
When asked what plans she had for next year, Rhodes said, "To keep as good of health as possible, keep coming to the center and attending church, and above all to see my family as much as possible."
Family has always been a high priority for Rhodes, and times spent with her siblings, daughter and granddaughter rank top among them.
"Christmas, as life, is all about family," Rhodes said. "Whether it is my own family or my extended family at church and the center, that is where my real joy comes from. I never plan to be alone, surrounded by so many people who care about me. Christmas is a real celebration and a time to be cherished."