(Gayle J. Kirksey was raised at Happy Corner, Northwest of Leachville. She is sharing her memories of the Christmas season.)
The sweet summer days faded to autumn, then came December, the expectations of Christmas and the beloved Santa Clause. We were a family of four girls who lived with our parents on Happy Corner Road about three miles northwest of Leachville. We were subsistence farmers, cultivating 40 acres of rich, fertile, loamy soil. We survived on meager earnings, paying the land rent, eking out a survival that most upper echelon folks would deem as poverty.
It was a hard, brutal life, yet magnificent and sweet, ripe with earth's fruit and bounty. It was the life of souls attuned to Nature. It was the seeds and roots of life, as farmers know it to be. We lived simply, with no electricity, no running water. We entertained ourselves by listening to the battery radio. When daddy had the money to spare we went to the "picture show" at the Gem and Manila theaters.
So, came Winter after the crops had given their fruit, when we had gathered and picked, paid the rent, the ginner and the grocer. If Mother Nature had been kind, if we had done our part, then perhaps my parents might have had a few hundred dollars profit. Meager! We had lived and survived, not hungry and not without a new dress or shoes.
I watched as dusk fell over the spent cotton stalks, the sun falling blood red into the frozen earth. The land transcended from verdant to cold drabness, seemingly forever dead. Days grew short, nights grew long without light or warmth under a bowl of frozen stars. Yet, the coldest, bleakest days were still to come. There would be winter days of frozen, rutty mud roads, nights of bitter wind whistling and moaning along the eaves. There would be cloudy, gloomy days when eggs would freeze in the hen nests before mama could gather them.
Into this prologue of winter darkness, Christmas Carols came through the radio filling the house with excitement. In town banners and posters filled display windows, the Sears Christmas catalog came to our mailbox. My baby sister Pat and I began to make our Christmas list for Santa.
I remember having one Christmas tree during my childhood. Often I looked to see decorated trees standing before windows in homes around Leachville and Manila. I marveled at their adorned beauty, colored lights and glimmering icicles. We had no such tree inside my home on Happy Corner Road!
One Christmas we had a tree. It seemed a beautiful full tree, green and sweet scented with ropes of popcorn hanging on the drooping limbs. Paper chains fell in delicate swags, sweetgum balls hung from the limbs. I stood watching as my oldest sister, Bertha, decorated the tree with whatever she could find, having hung two or three wrapped hard candy balls onto the tree. Fascinated, I determined that I should have the candy to eat instead of it hanging on the tree for mere decoration. When I reached for the ball of sweet candy my sister objected.
During that era of the 1940 years, most country children had little candy, gum or sodas. A Little ball of hard candy was a treat. Better I should have it than let it hang on a tree! Yet, my sister, Bertha, vehemently objected. Since I must have been a spoiled little girl, I went to daddy telling him that Bertha would not let me have the candy off the Christmas tree.
Daddy instructed Bertha to give the candy to me and she did so, afterwards resuming her task of decorating the tree. I'm sure I loved the candy but I did feel a little guilty taking it but probably not too much!
On Christmas Eve night Pat and I would instruct daddy to be sure to leave the door unlocked so that Santa could come inside the house. He promised faithfully to leave the door unlocked. With much excitement Pat and I tried to sleep knowing that Santa would come that very night!
On Christmas morning we awoke in the cold bedroom, rushing quickly to the warmth of the front room to see what Santa had brought us. What excitement and joy! No matter if the crops had been poor or part of the debts had to be carried over, we kids always had a good Christmas. It was not the Christmas of the wealthy but of the family farmer. It was richness without extravagance. It was frugal. It was sweetness, joy and love.
It was a tricycle or a doll, blocks, a little piano or a drum. Once it was little bracelets and a blue bicycle that took my breath way with sheer joy. Christmas was sparklers and firecrackers and Roman candles lighting up the darkened sky. It was the fragrance of big sweet oranges and yellow apples. It was Brazil nuts and pecans, walnuts and almonds. It was chocolate drops......
My mother once told me that when she was a little girls she got raisins for Christmas. Since I was a child at the time I didn't fully understand why she got so little. I asked her if she liked the raisins and she told me yes, she did.
Today, Christmas is a day I have to get past. There are far too many ghosts on that day, too many sweet, sweet memories of days and loved ones now gone. It is a bitter sweet day. Yet, I strive to make it sweet and memorable for my family but the true magic is gone. That eara of simplicity and joy in small things has forever vanished. It is just a cherished memory of what used to be.
Christmas will forever be the cold dark cotton stalks against a blood and red sunset. It is the icy dimpling of stars over the flat, flat, fertile land that sleeps until Spring. Christmas is colored lights blinking on cedar trees. Christmas is a play at old Boynton School. Christmas is the expectation of Santa coming quietly into my house as I lay dreaming, just a little tow headed girl on Happy Corner Road!