Irene Earnhart of Black Oak enjoys a well-rounded life in the city that she calls home, with the friendships that she has spent a lifetime cultivating and enjoying.
"Mom and Dad lived in Sallisaw, Okla., when I was born in 1927," Mrs. Earnhart said. "We just lived there a year, then moved to Viola, Ark. I was 11 years old when we moved to Black Oak."
"I have nothing but grand memories of Christmas, here and everywhere else. We had some wonderful handmade gifts when I was young. Momma would make us girls rag dolls and work on them in secret to surprise us on Christmas morning. We also got sticks with wheels to chase and stockings full of fruit and candy. Grandmother DeMoise lived with us, so we had three generations in one house.
"We would travel in a wagon to Flora Church for Christmas programs and fellowships. I can honestly say I went from traveling in a wagon, to traveling in a jet, in my lifetime. That is quite a stretch."
"We had dinner-on-the-grounds at the Flora church, which was always fun," she said. "We would clean the cemetery on the grounds after lunch. I went to school in Viola then upper Mangrum and Black Oak after we moved here. My father farmed for the Earnhart family. I met my future husband, Junior, in the cotton patch. We chopped and picked cotton together.
"I was just 16 when we got married. Junior was in the service, and we married in Richmond, Vir. One Black Oak man told us the marriage wouldn't last because we were not married by a preacher. We were married 54 years.
"When Junior and I couldn't be together we wrote hundreds of letters back and forth. He couldn't keep my letters because he was transferred so many times, but I kept his. I have kept all those letters and treasure each romantic note and valentine he sent."
"My parents moved to West Plains, Mo., shortly after we married," Mrs. Earnhart said. "I didn't know how to cook or do much of anything, but my mother-in-law, Fanny Earnhart, just took me under her wing and taught me. I went with her to all types of functions, and she got me started in the Black Oak Extension Homemakers Club. After all these years our club is still going strong."
The Earnharts have three children, Carolyn Ewing, of Kennewick, Wash., Lynn Nutt, of Hampton, and Allen Earnhart, of Piggott. They have six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
"Junior farmed and we led the typical farm life," Mrs. Earnhart said. "We had gardens and raised cows and chickens. I loved to cook and took food everywhere. I loved WMU gatherings at the Black Oak Baptist Church, as well as fundraisers for the PTA. I recall the kids asking me one day, after arriving home from school to find a big baked cake in the kitchen, 'Mom, is this cake for us or for the PTA?'.
"We took part in all the community activities around Black Oak. When farm work would allow us we took the kids camping at Hardy and Mountain View. Vacation Bible School was always something we looked forward to, as well as all the school activities. We found joy in whatever the kids were involved in at the time.
Junior and Irene only lived away from Black Oak one winter, and that was when they went to Flint, Mich., to work at the Buick Factory. That year they had a bad farm crop and needed money to make it through the winter.
"We were sure glad to get back home," Mrs. Earnhart said. "Later on Junior worked at G.E. and Singer, closer to home. I worked at the Monette Shoe Factory, then Ed White Shoe Factory in Paragould, and Basler Electric in Caraway. Whatever it took to make ends meet, we did it.
"Christmas with the kids was always special for us. We bought one of those aluminum silver trees with a colored spotlight on it. We decorated it with ornaments and watched it glow. We just loved that tree. Later on we tried going back to a real tree, but the pine needles got all over the house. Then we got a green artificial tree."
Christmas for the Earnharts consisted of big family meals with lots of cousins, aunts and uncles. They took part in school and church programs and visits with friends. Holidays then, like now, were mainly about family.
Mrs. Earnhart still loves her EHC Club and wouldn't miss a meeting.
"We are a three star club, which is the highest level of organization," Earnhart said. "We do a lot of community service projects, crafts, and attend county and state functions. I have been in the club for over 50 years. I took the girls to meetings with me when they were young. My daughter Lynn took me to the state meeting this year, and she enjoyed it as much as I did. When we got home she helped me make a scrapbook of our trip."
The Earnharts moved from the country into the City of Black Oak 16 years ago. They purchased a spacious three bedroom brick home near the center of town.
"Junior felt we needed to make the move and he wanted me to live here in town in case anything happened to him," Mrs. Earnhart said. He always thought he would go first, and he did. He died in 1998, four years after we moved to this house."
Earnhart loves going places with her friends and especially to music programs.
"We go out to eat and to attend shows at the Roundup, the Bobbit Theatre and the Collins Theatre. My friends, Short Hickman, Peggy Williams and Gaye Williams, eat out and attend music shows together. I only drive locally now and sure enjoy having people willing to take me to the things I enjoy attending out of town. My friend, Dorothy Banks, takes me to the doctor when I need to go. I don't know what anyone does without friends."
"I plan to spend Christmas here in my own home this year," Mrs. Earnhart said. I plan to just reminisce. I feel in love with my husband through our letters. We only had nine real dates. I have kept all his letters through the years and plan to just sit down and read them one by one. These letters bring me such comfort now that Junior is gone. I told my kids that I want them to bury these letters with me when I go. Reading love letters is not a bad way to spend Christmas, and I look forward to it. I think the secret of life is to always have good things to look forward to...and I have that."