|Family Reunion - Jean Frederic Bazille|
Another Day with Larry
and Other Holidays,
at Our House
and Other Holidays,
at Our House
Uncle Willy Beal, Mom’s brother who lived in Elkins, usually took the bus to Valley Head, walked to our house, and stayed with us the Saturday night before to go to the reunion with us. It was a huge reunion with up to 2000 people. Senators Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd both visited it almost every year.
Two of my best school buddies, Edsel Riggleman and Donald Ware, were always there. It was a great time to talk over the summer’s events, the state fair, and the upcoming school year. And, of course, to eat popcorn. There was always a popcorn vendor there - fresh popped, and the best I’ve ever tasted. He also sold trinkets and simple toys. I remember a pinwheel on the end of a stick one year. It had a noise maker attached so we probably drove all the adults nuts. We all had a great time. The reunion is still held on West Virginia Route 15 on the top of Point Mountain in Webster County.
On Labor Day, we labored. We usually “celebrated” New Year’s Eve, Near Year’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, Good Friday, Columbus Day, and Veteran’s Day (then Armistice Day) pretty much the same way.
We always had a costume party at school on Halloween. But there was no trick-or-treating in our small community because the distances were too great. The kids in town did do some, but I think there was more tricking than treating.
Soaping windows was the norm. There was a candy product available for a few years then, a wax cylinder filled with a sticky, sweet syrup-like flavored liquid. Some kids, after emptying them, rubbed them on windows instead of soap. Soap could easily be washed off, but the wax had to be laboriously scrapped off the glass.
Eggs were sometimes thrown at cars and doors. A brick or stone in a paper bag was put on the road in hopes that someone would hit it thinking that the bag was empty. Another favorite was to put some fresh feces in a paper bag, put it on the front step or front porch, knock on the door, set the bag on fire, and then run. The idea was for the person who answered to door to instinctively try to stomp out the fire. Dad told stories of earlier times when outhouses had been turned over (sometimes when occupied), buggies set on barn roofs, and other semi-harmless pranks.
Halloween was a time for fun and mostly innocent mischief. The witchcraft and demonic worship so prevalent today were simply not there. It is sad that an innocent, fun holiday has become so perverted. I do not recognize Halloween today - there is too much evil associated with it. My wife and I have provided an In-Lieu-of-Halloween party for the kids in the church several times.
Thanksgiving was not a big holiday when I was younger. When the weather was good, we usually shucked corn the entire day. We sometimes deer hunted. After Denzil and Virginia were married, we usually spent Thanksgiving with them. The coal mine where Denzil worked usually gave each miner a turkey. Along with the turkey, the menu included mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans, dressing baked in a pan (It was dry and firm enough to eat with your fingers, which I did, all afternoon!), mincemeat pies, and pumpkin pies. Denzil usually raised 2 hogs per year, and we helped him butcher on Thanksgiving.
I think that if anyone had asked Dad and Mom why they didn’t do more to celebrate Thanksgiving, their response would have been interesting. It was not a day off from farm work until Edith and Virginia were married. Gerald and Denzil both got the day off from the mines. But before that, no one thought about taking the day off.
Fall is a busy time on the farm - it’s harvest time. Getting the harvest in was more important than their setting aside time to give thanks for the harvest. I believe that Dad and Mom would both have said that they were thankful every day - they didn’t need a special day to give thanks.
Christmas was a big holiday, a family and community holiday. There was always a Christmas program at the school, a Christ-centered one - didn’t seem to hurt anyone too badly! Edith remembered the first Christmas “piece” she learned for a Christmas program. I can’t remember much about any of the programs I was in as a kid. I do remember hating to have to get up in front of all those people to say those stupid pieces.
Dad and Mason looked for Christmas trees the entire year when they were in the woods so when the time came to cut the tree, they knew exactly where to get it. I think most of our trees were hemlock. They didn’t look much like commercial trees do today. They grew on windy ridges and were never pruned so they were not well balanced, and they didn’t have many limbs.
With no electricity, of course, there were no lights. We used foil icicles, glass bulbs, garlands, and a star on top to decorate the tree. The star was home made, cut from cardboard and covered with foil. We also strung popcorn a time or two and made paper chains of colored construction paper a time or two.
Our primary light was an Aladdin kerosene lamp. (We had 2 or 3 smaller lamps as back-up.) I can remember eating supper sitting behind the kitchen table with the lamp on the table, seeing the soft glow of the foil and bulbs on the tree in the living room.
Our Christmas gifts were usually practical things, most often clothes. In addition, I always got a book or two and some comic books. Gifts that stand out in my mind include a B-B gun, a set of cap pistols with red leather holsters from Virginia, a Tinker Toy set, an Uncle Wiggly board game, a pocket watch, 2 pairs of boxing gloves, and a set of silver gray cotton work clothes. They were much like the Dickies work clothes today. We called them matched pants and shirt; I had wanted them for a long time. I grew up with a little red wagon that was probably a Christmas gift, but I cannot remember for sure. It was simply there in my first memories.
The B-B gun stands out - I had wanted it very much. It was still dark when I first opened it Christmas morning. I immediately loaded it and took it out on the porch to try it. I shot a porch post from a range of 8 - 10 feet, the B-B ricocheted, and struck me on my right eye brow. I was like the little boy in the movie The Christmas Story - his first shot did the same thing. Like him, I never told anyone. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” was the constant refrain.
Like Opie in The Andy Griffith Show, I also learned the hard way about killing birds. I shot at a blue jay eating corn in our corn crib. It was hanging on the side pecking corn through a crack. I was about 50 feet or so away and didn’t even think about the possibility of hitting it; it simply looked like a good target. To my shock, I did hit it and killed it. That really hurt me; I promised myself that I would never shoot at a bird again, and I haven’t. That was another one that I didn’t tell anyone about.
The Tinker Toys were also special - I’m so glad to see them available again. I made everything in the instructions, several times, and made up several structures on my own. Mason enjoyed them as much as I did. I played with the holster set until they literally disintegrated.
I tried to get anyone I could to box with me. Won a few but lost more. The worst was when my niece Donna blacked my eye. I actually became a fairly good boxer. I wasn’t very fast, but I had a decent left jab, some good combinations, and was a fairly good counter puncher and defensive fighter.
The wagon was great for play but was also a working tool. I hauled firewood in it. Mom and I hauled apples, peaches, pears, sweet corn, potatoes, and hard to tell what all to the house with it. We picked rocks in the fields and hauled them to the rock pile with it. I even broke my arm with it. I was riding it down a hill, and it overturned. I ended up on top of the overturned wagon, but my arm was under it. It wasn’t a bad break - we didn’t even go to the doctor until several days later. He said that it was healing nicely and didn’t need anything done to it; I believe that it was a cracked radius, the smaller bone in the forearm. When we got back home, I immediately started chasing a chicken and fell. Mom almost had a heart attack.
The first time I was able to buy gifts for anyone else (I believe Virginia gave me the money.), I bought a dish for Mom. I was so excited about it that evening that I told Mom that I couldn’t even remember what color the dish was that I had got her. I was reminded of that many, many times!
A dish or two was always on the list for Mom. She loved pretty dishes, especially a white molded glassware that was available then. We called it milk glass. She had quite a collection, but it was all destroyed in the fire that took Mason’s life in 1975.
We usually got Dad a pipe or a large can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco. A pocket knife was often on the list for Dad and Mason both. Tools of any kind were big for Mason. In addition, there was always socks, shirts, underwear, gloves, caps, pants, etc., the practical stuff.
I remember Mom telling me the Christmas Story when I was just a child. I misunderstood and thought that some bad people had “mailed” Jesus to a cross, a very cross person. That horrified me, and when I later discovered what actually happened, it had a great impact on me.
Most of my Christmas memories are after Edith and Virginia were married. After my nieces and nephew were born, we had some great times together. I was only 5 to 10 years older than them so we were more like brothers-and-sisters than uncle and nieces/nephew.
As Barbara Mandrell said in her song, “Christmas (and other holidays) at our house, was good.” In fact, it was great. They all were.
|Family Reunion - Philip Bracco|