Christmas memories

Dec. 19, 2012 @ 05:09 PM

My childhood memories

One of my childhood memories — and I have many — was in December 1935.

Two of my first cousins and I had an outdoor playhouse near our paternal grandparents’ rural home in the Dudley

community of South Carolina. Our mothers, who were sisters-in-law, and our grandmother were busy for three days baking fruit cakes to be served at our grandparents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary Celebration a few days before Christmas. They used several bottles of different flavorings, and of course, threw away the empty bottles.

My cousins and I gathered up all the bottles and filled them with our own “flavorings”, which we made with water using walnuts, poke berries and leaves to color the water. We planned to use our flavorings in mud pies for the playhouse.

The night before the celebration upper South Carolina experienced the “big freeze of December 1935”, and would you believe every bottle of our flavoring froze and burst. Of course, we were very disappointed that we would not have something to show to all our cousins who were coming for the anniversary party.

The memory ends on a happy note, though. The MILL POND froze over, which made it possible for all the cousins, boys and girls alike, to skate for hours — and we decided that was a lot more fun than making mud pies.

Sarah F. Gulledge



Decorating the cedar tree

My cousin, Sandra Secrest Glenn and I, Ann Secrest Rushing meet in  early December to decorate a cedar tree on the Fowler Secrest Road in  front of the entrance to The Village of Woodridge. 

This has become a  tradition for us to remember and honor our fathers, John Blair and  Leroy Millen Secrest, who were good stewards of this land many yeas  ago.  This track of land is called "The Blair Place" and is currently  in the US Forestry program growing pine trees.

Sandra and I are direct descendants of the original Secrest clan who  settled this area in the early Eighteenth Century.  Our fathers

instilled in us at an early age an appreciation for the land that has been in our family for seven generations.

We share wonderful memories of stories told to us by our fathers  about their young days growing up on the land.  All they could expect  for Christmas was a stocking with fruit and nuts and an occasional  candy cane or book. They never mentioned having a Christmas tree in  their house, so Sandra and I like to decorate one for them in one of  

the fields they use to plow with the mules.

Ann Secrest Rushing



My Dad made magic on Christmas

Anybody that knew my Dad, Tom Lowery, knew that he had a genuine love for Christmas.  As long as I can remember, a tradition in our house was for him to display his  Christmas creations every year in our yard.

To his four children, Christmas began around the middle of December as we watched our black and white tv or circled the Sears and J.C.Penny catalogs selecting our favorite toys.  But to Daddy, Christmas was "in the making" much earlier in the year, when you could hear his saws buzzing from our garage, where he was busy creating his Christmas surprise for all to see.  All of his work was handmade from wood, but looked every bit as impressive as if it was store bought.  

Every year, neighbors couldn't wait to see what "Mr.Tom" was building, and he NEVER disappointed them. A hearth with our stockings hanging from it, complete with Mr. and Mrs. Santa rocking in their chairs, and a choir of rubber dolls standing on rafters with Christmas carols playing in the background were two of my favorites.  But, the all time best decoration Daddy ever created was a miniature Ferris wheel that looked just like the kind you rode at the beach. Each seat turned slowly, and as it circled, every foot rest brought with it a different word, Merry-Christmas-from-the-Lowery's.  I could not believe that my Daddy actually made something so neat!!

As I stop and reflect on the past, I guess the tradition that I thought he began, sharing the love of Christmas, and of decorating his yard, actually began with his Mom and my grandma, Mary Lowery. I now recollect that the stockings on the hearth described earlier were her handiwork, but even more impressive were the 30 pleated choir robes with white collars, that she made to fit the dolls.  

So, if you're out riding in Wingate, and happen to see four huge toy soldiers standing at attention with a "Seasons Greetings" message between them in someone's yard,  you'll be able to re-live my Daddy's magic, as he made these too, and I love being a part of that tradition.  Or, if you live closer to the Waxhaw area, this year the oldest grandson, my son, continues the tradition my Grandma and Daddy began so many years ago...sharing the excitement of Christmas in your yard with your children and others..

Cindy James



Too much of a good thing

When my children were young, my wife and I delighted in making Christmas a true surprise for our three children.

We lived in a small house in western Massachusetts that we decorated each year in the New England tradition of placing a single candle in each window. And the house stayed that way until our children went to sleep on Christmas Eve. Despite their excitement, we prodded them to go to bed early because Santa would not stop at our house until they were fast asleep.

As soon as they drifted off, my wife and I set to work to prepare the house for Christmas morning. I dragged the Fraser fir in from behind the shed in the backyard where I had hidden it. I set it up in the small sun porch just off the kitchen. We had outfitted it with thermal windows and it was a perfect spot for the tree.

It nestled next to the three steps that led down from the hall into the room, which made it easier to place the angel on the top. I strung the lights and hung the ornaments — some new and some handed down from both sides of the family — and painstakingly applied the tinfoil icicles one by one on each branch. It sparkled and glimmered and was just perfect.

My wife fished out the presents she had bought and wrapped and hidden around the house, and arrayed them around the base of the tree, carefully avoiding the tracks of the train that I had had since I was a boy. She and I then wrapped the remaining presents and placed them carefully with the others, just as streaks of gold and crimson crossed the morning sky announcing the sunrise.

We sat at the kitchen table and drank coffee waiting for our children to awake. We did not have to wait long before we could hear their footfalls on the steps. The older two, Ben and Sarah, clomped down the stairs anxious to see what Santa might have left. Their enthusiasm could not be contained so I went upstairs and roused Jon, our youngest at three-and-a-half. He followed me down the stairs and by the time we got to the kitchen we could already hear Ben and Sarah oohing and aahing over the presents in the sun room.

I skipped down the stairs and turned, wanting to see Jon's expression at the decorations and the presents. It was, after all, his first real Christmas, the first he would really remember. And as it turned out, one that we would all remember.

His face lit up like a Christmas bulb, his eyes were big and round and the reflection of the lights danced in them. He clapped his hands and danced about excited and stunned. His mouth was a huge round "O" surrounded by smile lines and sheer delight. I thought he was about to bust.

And then he did.

He stopped his little dance, and bent a bit at the waist over the edge of the stair and over the presents. He shuddered a bit, once, twice and then all that excitement streamed out of that huge round "O" all over the tree and the presents, creating a Christmas memory that has been impossible to erase.

A wet washcloth and a bit of breakfast and he was as good a new. And the presents were well wrapped. Everything survived. But, looking back, I don't recall what a single one of them might have been.

Stan Hojnacki

Indian Trail


The Christmas concert

During middle and high school, I played violin in my local youth orchestra. We played the same Christmas each year. Once the Halloween concert was over, our conductor would break out the sheet music for Leroy Anderson's "Sleighride", Vaughn William's "Fantasia on Greensleeves", selections from "The Nutcracker" and a horribly arranged sing-along medley of carols.
I thought the music was hard when I first joined. The first year, I was scared little girl in second violin section who had just started learning to play double-stops. By my sixth and final year, I sat third chair in the first violins and could play most of the Christmas concert from memory.
That was the year a new conductor was hired. She came in with fresh ideas and a gusto that had long been exhausted in our former conductor. She had the great idea she would rotate musicians in the different sections to give kids in the back some experience in leadership. I believed, with the conceit only a 17-year-old can muster, that the first rotation meant I would soon sit first chair, the coveted position of concertmaster.
But fate is cruel. The new conductor announced that  my stand partner, Megan, and I would sit dead last. The last stand would sit behind the concertmaster, who would stay where she'd sat the entire season.
"This is so, like, unfair," Megan said.
"I know! This is, like, the worst thing ever," I said.
We decided to revolt.
Together, we waged a covert sabotage operation against the white baton. Two ambitious and catty girls convinced of their own superiority were thrust into the heart of a very impressionable violin section. Most of the kids sitting around us took their tempo and cues from whoever was nearby and, much to the maestra's frustration, rarely looked up at the conductor.
For a month of rehearsal, Megan and I led our cohorts galloping through "Silent Night" and lurching through "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." We tinkered with tempos, jogged through legatos, ad libbed crescendos, triggered false starts and ignored fermatas.
Possibly our greatest coup was a movement from the Nutcracker. In the middle, strings and wind instruments trade a short phrase of very fast notes. These are easy for string players, but requires some skill from anyone powering their instruments with breath. Tempo is quite important. It's a bit like a rollercoaster - because the passage is repeated four times, each had to be exactly like the last.
Megan and I pushed our tiny army to start the passage at a tempo that was just cruel to performers who still needed to breathe. When they began turning blue, the conductor moved on.
"Watch me," our conductor would yell in these passages. Craning over her music score atop her podium, she pointed at the little violinists who were oblivious to her. "You're rushing! Are you even listening to me?"
The night of the concert, we sailed through each piece in perfect concordance with our conductor's tempo. It was the first time we behaved ourselves and the first time our guerrilla violin section didn't earn the conductor's violent glare.
In the end, Megan and I learned some leadership skills. Granted, they weren't skills either put on our college applications. I still can't listen to the Nutcracker without cringing at my own brilliant immaturity.

Heather Holloway