Zelma Keith, Leachville's 2009 Christmas Angel, is looking forward to celebrating her 86th Christmas. She was raised in a big, happy family. She was the oldest of the six children born to Dawson and Della Jackson.
Keith said her family always celebrated Christmas and it was a special time for them all.
"Sometimes we had a tree and sometimes we didn't," she said. "We always put our socks up and we had something in them on Christmas morning. We were happy and grateful for everything we received."
Like most people from this area, she said they picked cotton and chopped cotton and made their living off the land.
"It was a way of life," she said. "It was a good life. It was not as easy as we have it today. Boiling water and washing clothes on a rub board was not fun but it was something that had to be done. Our clothes always looked really white hanging on the line. When we would get the dishes all washed and put away at night Mom would let us set the table for breakfast and we would be able to sleep a little longer in the mornings."
Keith said she remembers when things were rationed but her parents were such good providers they always had plenty. She said they always raised big gardens and her mother canned lots of food. Her dad raised the meat and they always had plenty and would share with anyone who needed help.
"It is not what you have here but what you leave behind that counts," Keith said. "I've always tried to treat people like I want to be treated."
She said she has been blessed from the top of her head to her feet.
"I've had a good life," she said "We were brought up to do what you are supposed to do. The Jackson family has always been very close."
Keith said she loved growing up in Leachville.
"I always enjoyed playing basketball and softball," she said. "I wish we could have played full court basketball like the girls do today. We played half court but it was still a lot of fun but not as exciting as the full court game."
Keith does not have to take any medication.
"That is a miracle in itself," she said. "I never fail to give the Good Lord credit for it every day."
She married Virgil Keith when she was 20 years old. They met in Leachville. He had one son, Sonny, when they married and they had four children.
Mr. Keith died at a young age when the children were young.
"It was not always easy but we did okay," she said. "I never had to worry about rent because my Dad had houses."
She went to work at Emersons and worked there for 23 years until she retired at the age of 62.
"Finding a job and being able to work was a real blessing," she said. "My kids were helpful during those years and we all worked together. I've always said you can do what you have to do. I have had a good life."
Mrs. Keith has one daughter and son-in-law, Charolette and Paul Pruiett, who live in Bueno Vista. Another daughter, Kaye Pickle, lives in Jonesboro. Her husband, Paul Pickle is deceased. A son and daughter-in-law, James and Ruth Ann Keith, who live in Leachville. Her youngest son, Ronnie, is deceased.
She has nine grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
"Our lives were never dull," she said.
She said through the years their family grew in numbers and it would get impossible for everyone to get together on Christmases. For many years her brother, R.D. Jackson would host a big Thanksgiving Dinner for all the family who could come.
"R.D. passed away recently," she said. "We really miss him."
Family has always been very important to Keith.
"I don't think I could stand not getting along with my family," she said.
She has one sister who lives in Jonesboro, one in Paragould and one in St. Louis. The sisters enjoy taking a trip together at least once a year. They have a good time together
Keith enjoys taking care of the food bank at the Methodist Church where she has attended for many years. She started working with the food bank after she retired.
"It is important we are willing to try to help people," she said.
She attends a prayer group once a week and a Bible study once a week.
"We meet in different homes for the prayer group and we meet at the church for our Bible study," she said. "It is important to stay active and be involved with friends and family. It is good for our bodies and our minds."
As always, she is looking forward to Christmas. Her family still comes to her house during the holidays.
"My children are good to me and James looks in on me every day," she said. "I've had a good life and I told my kids when I'm gone, take what you want and give the rest away. I truly believe the Lord supplies our needs and I know He has always taken care of me."