Christmas, Georgia, 1939
Stop by our house
half way between Nevils and Register
on this county road
with ruts carved by wagons
through six layers of clay,
but we don’t dress up
‘cept on Sunday – six days we plow and gather.
From the porch we’ll say git down,
unhitch and water your mules –
we’ll have us some supper –
ain’t got much,
but you’re welcome to what we got.
(The house will be clean swept
and the shutters open
for the flies and cool air,
and the yard will be clean raked
and the well water will be cold
Talk will be how you been,
fine I reckon, and the rains come late)
Grandma and Aunts will leave quiet and come back quiet
with cornbread and what else they found on the stove
and you’ll go to the back porch
to wash up
Grandpa will say the Lord has give us
mouths to feed but food to go around
and this here visitor is mighty welcome.
(The kitchen will be warm
and benches grandpa hand made
brought out for the light to show
they are grey from lye soap washings)
Grandpa will say we bring our own hunger
but we take time to thank God again
for the rain that fell and the harvest
He saw fit to give us – Let’s us eat
our beans and sidemeat
okra and corn from our own garden
and a rooster who got underfoot.
(Nobody will talk about
what’s around the corner or
what that Hitler is up to
and you’ll be invited to stay.
One of us will give up his bed,
then make his pallet on the floor.
You’ll be given the extra kerosene lamp
and directions to the outhouse.)
Breakfast is at sunup,
but we’ll be in the fields by then.
– Charles Brady
This little narrative poem tries to share the experience of generic Christmases of my memory, a blending together of my own experiences with those of others of my generation and area.
Today, on Facebook, I am in touch with a large group of Georgia friends and relatives who have such extraordinary memories of simple Christmas celebrations when they were young. Not ONE has expressed a sense of sadness in their sharing.
Some have recorded their childhood experiences and are sharing them on Facebook and elsewhere. Here is one of my own Christmas memories from a small Tenant Farm in Bulloch County Georgia back when everything was simpler:
“Out From” Metter, Georgia (We seldom lived “in” any place.), on Christmas Eve of 1938, my Mother and stepfather, my younger sister and I, threw a quilt in the back of the wagon to sit on and another as cover, hitched up the mule and headed down one of the narrow dirt roads toward a vague destination I knew to be “Grandma’s House.”
Since we set out late, it got dark immediately, but those back roads of rural Georgia in the 30s had few travelers and almost no automobiles. In fact, during the two-hour journey, we never passed another human being.
My sister (then four years old) and I passed the time by trying to stay warm! Once in a while, I would put a BB down the barrel of my just-received sixty-nine cent BB Gun from Sears Roebuck, bend it in the middle to “cock” it and fire off a BB into the rows of trees which were separated just enough for us to view the sky overhead and navigate. I’m sure my sister was clutching a small doll, as she usually received one, no matter what else was happening in the wold.
When we arrived at Grandma Driggers’ house (GrandPA Driggers had abandoned the family a couple of years earlier, but that is another story in another poem), we were welcomed by her, by young teen aunts Daisy Bell and Janie Grace, by my twin uncles Wilton and Walton (who were four months YOUNGER than I, and always like my brothers) and younger uncle Jasper.
The bed situation was arranged, in a pattern still practiced by my Southern family when kids outnumbered beds. Two uncles lost their beds for the night and they and I and my sister, were assigned to our regular accommodations – a “pallet” (A single quilt on the floor and a single quilt as covering).
We slept easily that night, as youngsters always did, no matter where or upon hard or soft surfaces. And on that Christmas, and many others, except for my little bend in the middle BB Gun and my sister’s doll, there were no Christmas presents exchanged or found beneath trees that sight.
Christmas morning, we just went out to the kitchen – which was a room separated from the main house by a covered porch – where the stove kept everyone warm – and we ate what we always ate, but I don’t remember what it was that day.
I can tell you it was not turkey nor ham, nor roast anything. We may have had a chicken since there were plenty of them running around and Grandma was adept at catching one and “wringing its neck”.
In the afternoon, we hitched up, said our goodbyes and headed back to our own house, back up that same road which was very different in daylight…and continued just beyond the small pond and grist mill, arriving before dark. And I remember that it rained like the dickens that night.
(In the Summer of 1948, my twin Uncles and I worked for a farmer/contractor in the planting of grass and ditch checks on the shoulders of that same road, now paved and numbered by Evans County. The grist mill was gone but the small mill pond remains.)
So, to those not experiencing the times and circumstances, Christmas was often just about like any other day on small farms of the rural South in the 20s, except for the small recognition that December 25th was different and a little bit of celebration had to acknowledge the fact.
Christmases have just plugged themselves into sequences from those simple ones to today, when Lee and I are planning our small Christmas dinner (tomorrow, as I write this) of Honeybaked Ham and a table full of vegetables and desserts .
Lee and I have spent the recent days selecting gifts for family and friends and have delivered them to all except those coming to dinner. As usual, Lee has selected a perfect, most thoughtful, gift for me to open tomorrow and I – being a little slow in the gift-planning department, will watch as she opens several from me, because I always believe that JUST ONE of my gifts to her may be exactly what she wants.
Who knows? Once in a while, I hit it just right.
To all of you, I wish you peace and contentment in today’s world where it is often difficult to find. but keep looking, as it IS THERE.
If Rick is as punctual and dedicated as he always is, this will be posted on December 26th, so you can pretend it was yesterday or you can just skip the whole thing. I can tell you in advance that I had a wonderful Christmas.