Christmas in Blue Ridge

As I have said before, we spent a half of a school year in 1960 at my Grandparent’s house in Blue Ridge because Mom was sick. I was enrolled in school there for almost half the year, which including the Christmas vacation for that year.
My Grandparent’s residence was a desolate place back then.

It was the very last occupied house on Snake nation road at that time. A rough, ragged, rocky, muddy when it rained, and creek crossed road which took about 30 minutes to traverse from the turn off at the cemetery, to their modest gray wooded little two story house. Grandpa’s eight to ten bee hives stood like the sentinels of Stonehenge out in front of their house on top of huge flat rocks Grandpa had dragged up there on a wood sledge. I can imagine that their construction probably resembled in miniature that wonder of the English countryside, because the hill leading from the road to Grandpa’s house was extremely steep.

A lot of times when it was wet and muddy my Dad had to get a strong running start from Snake nation road before he turned into Grandpa’s driveway and then as soon as he turned left, he had to gun the gas as hard as possible to try and make the curve up the hill to the tiny parking space in front of the house. Sometimes we just didn’t make it. The tires might have been a little too worn, or the mud a little too thick. We would end up having to park down below the beehives out in the high grass and grab our suitcases and trek up the hill, trying our best not to slip and fall flat on our faces.

But, this year my Mom, my brother and I were already there, and it was for Daddy alone we waited on the day before Christmas Eve. I heard his car first and went and stood out front, next to the porch. He came around the curve which was just in eyesight across the road from “Uncle Lark’s driveway. Lark Davenport’s was my Grandpa’s Uncle…his Mother’s brother and his farm sat across Long Branch creek from Grandpa’s house.

The only way to get over there in a hurry was to walk the narrow little half log bridges that the two men had laid down across the fast running little creek in order to access each other’s house if the need arose. It rarely ever arose, but the logs were there just in case.
Daddy drove up the driveway and into Grandpa’s little parking space without any problems that day since it was dry…cold, but dry. It seemed like it was always cold in Blue Ridge that time of the year not matter what was happening elsewhere. We were in the “mountains” of Georgia…..the foothills of the Smokey Mountains which lay not too many miles away across the border into North Carolina.

I hugged my Dad, and my brother ran up to him and Daddy picked him up. Mom didn’t have much to say…things still very unsettled between them.
Grandma and I had been the ones to get the little Christmas tree a few days earlier. We had gone out into the woods and hiked around for quite a while, and found just a little old pine tree that looked nice. Grandma cut it down with the hatchet she had brought with her, and we took it back and Mike and I helped her decorate it. It was about the size of Charlie Brown’s little tree and Grandma had put it up on a table so that the lights could be seen…that one string of lights that she owned. There were maybe a dozen ornaments on it. It looked wonderful to me…as beautiful as any Christmas tree before or since. Grandma also hung our stocking from their mantle, on the far ends away from where the vent from the stove was. There were candy canes hanging around also, giving the old house a festive and fabulous look.

We always slept upstairs in the old house. Since the only source of heat in the house was a potbellied wood stove in the “living room” downstairs. During the cold Christmas weather we slept under 5 or six quilts upstairs. It was one of those situations where when you got warm, you didn’t move out of your “spot” If you moved over a foot, you would have to warm up that spot all over again. Most of the time you could see the fog from your breath, if you had your head out from under the covers. This was how we bedded down on Christmas Eve that year.

I never slept well on Christmas Eve. I always listened for Santa, but never quite heard him. Grandpa would always go “ho, ho ho” a couple of times, but I always knew it was him. He wasn’t fooling me. I heard the trunk of a car slam shut after we had been in bed an hour or so….then drifted off into a light sleep.

I heard Grandpa stoking up the potbelly stove about 5 am, and I waited the required 30 minutes or so until I knew the downstairs would be warm before I woke my brother up and we went running downstairs. All the grownups were already up and having coffee. Grandma already had biscuits in the oven, and we know that a delicious breakfast would soon be coming. Under the tree there were presents! In our stockings there was a plethora of oranges, apples, nuts, peppermint and other great hard candies. We could have our stockings but had to wait until after breakfast to tear into our presents.
We had three presents a piece from Santa, and one from Grandma and Grandpa. Four presents. In this day and age that would seem skimpy, but back then it seemed like more than enough. We place so much emphasis now on the number of gifts given, instead of the number of gifts given in love. There’s a big difference. I despise the TV commercial they have on nowadays with a woman called the “Gifter” whose only goal is to out give everyone else. That tells you where our society has gone.

This was the year I got a telescope, and Mike and I both got a “friction” stagecoach which shot sparks out the back when you revved it up. I also got a plastic “pinball machine” where you shot the balls up into the machine and see whether you get them to land in the highest number “slots”. I think I played that thing pretty much all day long that day. Grandma and Grandpa gave us some clothes of some kind, and I got a couple of new comic books. It was good…no, it was great.

Later on that day, the Uncles and Aunts, and numerous cousins came for dinner. Grandma’s little house was crowded to the gills. A lot of us ate dinner sitting out in the living room or even on the front porch. My cousins and I would find something to play or do after dinner. The food was nothing grand. I don’t remember if we had Turkey or roast beef. It really didn’t matter because Grandma could make anything taste good. I think later on that winter, we got iced and snowed in for over a week or so out there at the end of that old road. Grandpa had to shoot Robins for us to eat. They were delicious. When you’re hungry, I guess anything tastes good!

The air seemed to be filled with good will, good feelings and love that year. Later on, early in the spring we moved back home to Trion. Mom had gotten better, and our lives went back to normal…as normal as it could be in our family anyway. We continued to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house pretty much every Christmas after that. Even after my wife and I married in 1969, we continued to make an annual Christmas trek to “the mountains” Certainly, even now when Christmas rolls around, I think of those days. The camaraderie, the food, the love that we all had for one another. Those were great Christmases, as are the ones we have now with all of our children and grandchildren.

The common factor is family…and love, and remembering what Christmas is all about, not the presents, not the food or the games. It’s all about the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas everyone.

An Old Fashioned Christmas

I was thinking today about a Christmas Cantata we did quite a few years back entitled “Old Fashioned Christmas”. It was back when I was still a member in good standing at the TFBC in Trion. I can’t remember the year…maybe 1999 or so? I know someone would remember, but it’s not that important. The important thing was the people involved.

You see, I wasn’t always such a pariah. At some points in my past I was an acceptable member.

But ahh, the wonderful people.

We’d begin to rehearse musicals like these at some point in October most of the time. Wednesday nights after prayer service we’d gather and pass out the booklet of Music. This one musical always sticks in my mind. I think maybe it’s because we did it twice in the space of five or six years.

An “Old Fashioned Christmas” about a young lady disenchanted with the way a Christmas is conducted nowadays wants to go back to the good old days of the 1890’s, and the wonderful Christmases they had back then.

But, it was the people who were there at that time, in that place, who made the event special. They were all people I loved, and almost all are gone now.

Mr. Tip sang the deepest bass you ever heard and beside him was Eldred Barrett. Rev. Richardson filled out that low side. Then there was my brother Mike, me and…the first time we did it, I think Johnny Brimer was there, and by the second time my son Ted. It’s tough remembering everyone.

Mrs Yvonne Barrett, and Eldred’s two sisters. Ruth Locklear, and Ruth Collette. Marilyn, Carol, Myra, and some of us other “younger” ones. Myra was one I always had to keep in line (ha) It was always so much fun giving her a hard time because she gave me just as hard a time as I did her! All in good fun.

Norman’s wife Carolyn was on the organ, Ann McCollum as always was there to play piano….ever faithful, always willing to go over and over a part that we just couldn’t quite get. I winged it most of the time anyway, alternating between the tenor part, and harmonizing with the sopranos in some weird harmonies that sounded good, but definitely weren’t in the music. I couldn’t read a note, but you’d have never have known.

Jim Sprayberry ran the sound system. Ted helped him for a lot of years.

There were others I can’t remember right now. Wonderful people with good hearts. That’s what made it fun. It made it seasonal. It made it Christmas for me. The big night of the performance (or day sometimes) we would all sing our hearts out, and “leave it on the stage”

I loved that musical. I wish we’d had film back then as convenient as now to record those musicals. I miss them.

I miss Mom and Dad out in the audience, along with many others from their generation who would come by afterwards and pat you on the shoulder and say “nice job”. Few are left and they are passing on so quickly.

For many, many years that was the highlight of the Christmas season. From about 1975 until 2009.

The people. It’s always the people. Your family. Your friends. The times that you have that you think will go on and on. But they don’t and that’s just the rub, isn’t it.

In any case, all of you folks out there who are singing in a Christmas musical, or caroling, or just humming a song to yourself, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.