Anna Bell Simpson of Manila knows the true meaning of Christmas and is thankful every day for the blessings of life.
"Next to accepting the Lord as my Savior at the age of 17, marrying J.B. is the best thing that ever happened to me," Mrs. Simpson said.
She was born during the depression in 1933, the daughter of Bill and Pearl Cheatham. Her mother died in 1941 with pneumonia leaving her dad with two teenagers and four small children. That year was a difficult Christmas for the family as her mother died on Dec. 18. The youngest child was 18 months old.
Her father married a year later. They both had children at home and later they had children together.
"With all of us, Dad raised five sets of children," she said. "There were nine of us all together. I don't know how he managed but he did. He treated all of us the same. I don't see how he supplied our needs but I can say we never went hungry, we were never cold in the winter and we never went dirty. We had plenty of warm quilts and blankets in the winter time. All of my brothers and sisters still enjoy getting together for reunions when we can."
Mrs. Simpson said times were not easy for most people during her growing up years.
"We didn't really think about it, we just went to school, worked, and did the best we could," she said. "Like I said, we always had food to eat and a roof over our heads."
Christmas was special and she remembers the boys would usually get marbles or a cap gun and girls would get a doll. Most of the time, everyone would get a piece of fruit. She remembers one year when the three boys got a red wagon to share. The little ones always came first.
"One year we did not have a very good crop and there were not a lot of extras," Mrs. Simpson recalls. "Mother found a doll from the year before and was able to clean it up and she gave it to me and told me to go to a neighbor that was known for her sewing skills and ask if she could make a new outfit for the doll. She did and it made a nice present. Years later I ran into the lady and had the opportunity to thank her for her kindness. She did not remember it but I certainly did.
"One Christmas I remember waking up and seeing Dad putting dolls in the stockings. I outgrew the dolls and I remember the last gift I got at home was a billfold. Kids back then didn't get things every day so what we got at Christmas was very special.
"We didn't leave cookies for Santa, but Mom always made a coconut cake for Christmas and there was always one piece gone when we got up on Christmas morning. Mom always told us Santa ate it."
Mrs. Simpson was raised in the Milligan Ridge area and Mr. Simpson was from Blackwater. He is the son of Morris and Claire Grace Simpson.
Mrs. Simpson still remembers well the first time she met her future husband. She was 14 years old.
"We met in the ice cream parlor in Manila. He asked me to go to the movies. He was tall, dark and a quiet man," she said. "We were just kids but I knew I liked him from the first time I met him. I felt very comfortable with him. He told me years later he felt comfortable with me from the first time we met."
She was 15 and he was 20 when they married.
They both knew about living on a farm and they worked together to make a home.
Mrs. Simpson's dad sold his farm in Milligan Ridge in 1950 and moved to Missouri where he lived until his death 25 years ago. Her stepmother still lives in Sikeston.
"We enjoyed Christmas time when the kids were little," she said.
Mrs. Simpson made lots of dolls and doll clothes for their daughter and their son liked tractors.
She has always enjoyed being a homemaker. She worked on the farm with her husband but she liked being at home or at least near by when the kids got off the school bus in the afternoons.
"When American Greetings opened in Osceola we talked about me going to work, but in the end we decided it would be better for me to be home with the family," she said.
She has never regretted the decision and is happy she was able to be home.
Mr. Simpson semi-retired from farming but for several years kept 40 acres to farm himself.
"He knew it was time to quit the last year he farmed," she said.
Some things change but Mrs. Simpson still enjoys having the family come to their country home for the holidays.
"We get together when they can come," she said. "We are always here."
Their son Willie and his wife Debbie live in Caraway and Janie and her husband Stan live in Lepanto. The Simpsons have seven grandchildren, one deceased; 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
They will be celebrating Christmas twice this year as one of her granddaughters and families will be home New Years.
Family and church have always been a big part of the family's Christmas. The Simpsons are members of Blackwater Baptist Church where Mr. Simpson taught Sunday School for 45 years and led the song service for many years. Mrs. Simpson also taught classes for many years and she shares a class with Delphia Waddell.
"The Lord has blessed us," Mrs. Simpson said.