A few Christmas memories I thought I would share with my readers this week. Christmases change, as we change. I am blessed to live in an area where the warm and loving hearts of many of our people remain a constant. This provides cheer not only at Christmas but all year round.
A few things I will share. Christmas was a time for family, as so much of our lives in north central Florida revolved around church, family, school and our dear friends.
At the One Mile Still, I can recall the glamour of the visits, to me, of the W.L. Anderson Family at Thanksgiving, Martha Anderson Hunt, Jacksonville, who was, and still is, “drop dead” gorgeous, and, could, just by walking in a room, make the world seem better and brighter, would bring a stunningly, beautiful, red poinsettia and set it on a beautiful table in the formal living room where there would also be an array of Christmas goodies. To me, the appearance of that poinsettia signaled the beginning of the Christmas season, but I didn’t think about that at the time, but in reflecting about it, I think of it now, though.
I also recall what we called the sugarplum or gumdrop tree. We had one each year, and each year, Daddy and I made the trip either over to the old Buck Sistrunk place just north of the house or down the Eight Mile Still to the Croft place where he took his sharpened pocket knife, (when he put his britches on in the morning he had a pocket knife and handkerchief in his pocket), and cut a “sour orange” branch. It was sprayed silver or gold, allowed to dry, anchored in a coffee can surrounded by aluminum foil and then the spiced gumdrops were added.
We didn’t go out into the woods and cut a Christmas tree like most folks. We did that, as I recall, only once, and that is because there was a perfectly shaped red cedar that was near the mouth of Roaring Creek. I can still recall that tree, and the wonder of cutting it down and decorating it. That’s been over 50 years ago now.
Anyone out there remember “angel hair?” That stuff that was made of fiberglass that you pulled across the top of the tree after it was lighted and decorated. Mama used this stuff on our tree for a few years, and it did give it kind of an ethereal glow, and she would say to my cousin LeAnn and me, “Keep your hands away from that angel hair, it will cut your hands to pieces.”
I also remember Santa Claus coming on the Fire Department Truck to the little park in White Springs where the old Water Tower is located and now there is a Veteran’s Memorial. Each year the same, Santa Claus came, bags of fruit and candy were given to children, hot dogs and cokes were served.
Christmas cantatas and programs at church, too numerous to mention. I did double duty for the Baptist and Methodist Churches. The late Mrs. Virginia J. Daniel, was the longtime pianist and organist at the Methodist Church, and I didn’t say “no” to her, and I didn’t say it to Mama either nor the late Mrs. Ann Crow, who played the piano at First Baptist for many years. I loved Mrs. Crow. I miss her to this day. I also remember Linda Carol Freeman Lindsey playing the piano for us at First Baptist for the choir for many years, and she was wonderful.
There were programs at Stephen Foster almost each weekend through December, the St. Petersburg Male Chorus, someone playing and singing in the tower, and with each program, a reception in the Museum. I can still recall the “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” punch being served at those receptions which was basically orange juice and ginger ale with a little bit of sugar thrown in for good measure, and the perfectly shaped fruit cake cookies lovingly made by the late Miss Mildred Shiver and Forever Ambers, made by the late Mrs. Virginia J. Daniel. That huge silver punch bowl with the late Mrs. Ernie Wilmot or the late Beverly S. Davis or the late Mrs. Sylvia Rogers serving punch dressed into those antebellum style hoop dresses. The programs would be emceed by the late Cousin Thelma Boltin.
At school, our principal at South Hamilton Elementary, the late Mr. Hal M. Worth, always had a school Christmas tree that was situated in the front hall as you entered in the foyer of the school. I can picture it in my mind’s eye. The tree was erected on a raised plywood platform that he made, and around the tree was situated a toy train that moved around the base of the tree. It doesn’t seem much now, it was “really something” to us at the time. Each class made ornaments for the tree, and the tree was lighted. Great memories.
Getting back to the late Miss Mildred Shiver, who taught scores of White Springs students in 5th grade, there was everyone else you had for a teacher and THEN “Miss Shiver,” you didn’t dread having her, but she had a reputation as a down to earth, “no nonsense” teacher who was there to teach school. The truth is she was held in high esteem by the community, as she earned that, and she traveled all over the world, and, as her students, we traveled with her, as she did show us slides from all her world travels. Kevin Morgan and I have talked, we traveled more in her room than ever in our lives, but she opened the world for us with those slides. At Christmas, she always decorated a beautiful Fraser Fir tree. I can see it now, perfectly shaped, and she took Ivory Snow detergent, whipped it with water until frothy, spooned it on the branches of the tree to resemble snow and sprinkled it with silver glitter. She used the, now old fashioned, then everyone had them Christmas bulbs, and her ornaments were carefully chosen, and she placed each icicle on that tree with care. When she finished using it at school, it went to her house, often on her front porch, and she didn’t take it down on New Year’s either, not all the time. One year she decorated her tree with all blue lights, but I remember that only once.
I remember Daddy and Mama taking us to Jacksonville Christmas shopping, now that was a trip. The store windows downtown. The window at Kuhn Florist. Jacksonville was like another “enchanted” world. I also remember when I thought Valdosta, Lake City, Live Oak and Jasper were much the same, the same kind of Christmas excitement.
Daddy, oh Daddy, Daddy DID NOT shop. He phoned the shops or had me phone, and the Mrs. Tannenbaum, the late Betty Tannenbaum, God rest her soul, wrapped up Mama’s present which she had picked out in advance at the Lovely Shop and, later, Willene Drury at Stephanie’s in Jasper did the same. Willene took me through all Laura Leigh’s Easter dresses, special occasions, deaths, celebrations, we lived it all, I love her, I always will. I loved Mrs. T. too, and she was GREAT.
I remember the Van H. Priest Five and Ten Stores in all the area county seats, and McCrory’s in Lake City and their spoon burgers. Delicious.
In today’s world, I love talking with my relatives, and I still send snail mail and cards. I love the lights over at Stephen Foster, and I still love the excitement of seeing and visiting with old friends. Despite all the discord in the world, and all the arguing and fussing, as we are in the midst of this Christmas season, let us give thanks for the one who was born in a stable long ago who is the Reason for the Season. In the area, Christmas on the Square in Live Oak, was fantastic. Enjoying a performance of the “Messiah” at St. James Episcopal in Lake City was magnificent, and joining a friend to see the Nutcracker Suite Ballet in Jacksonville was magical, as was Candlelight Service at White Springs United Methodist and reading to my precious fourth graders at Hamilton County Elementary. Find your Christmas joy in just “being there” for someone.
I will be at the 406 on Duval in Live Oak on Saturday, Dec. 21, from 3 till 5 p.m. signing my newest book “Black Runs the River.” Come join me. My book is for sale for $20 and would make a great gift, a unique gift. Come by and visit with me, I would love to see you. Thank you to Don Allen and his staff at the 406 in advance for making this happen for me. I love the fact that all my book signings have been held in historic buildings in our area. That was not accidental.
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.