From The World Of Parks & Recreation
By Doug Comer
Our Appalachia Enrichment wrapped up this week with a huge success as every day available was booked and those fortunate to get the opportunity to come to the Recreation Complex heard first-hand the story of Christmas in Appalachia. The story, narrated by Director Mike Book and Enrichment Coordinator Donna Stuart, tells the tale of a Christmas morning in 1915 and what the day had planned for a small family in a remote area in West Virginia and I want to share the story in this week’s article.
A new snow has fallen overnight outside a one-room cabin tucked into the valley somewhere in the hills of the Appalachian Mountain range. Rooster’s crow as the rising sun slowly spread its light across the white ground and the family begins to stir.
The children in the loft have been awake for hours whispering about Santa Claus and quietly laughing over the tricks they played on their neighbors while serenading the night before. On the fireplace, their simple stockings dangle from the fireplace mantel each heavy with the weight of an apple, orange, a stick of peppermint and a brazil nut. There will be few toys but the house is decorated and a great Christmas dinner is anticipated. Santa has been good to them this year.
Now that we have set the scenery for this article, here are some true stories passed on from family members who lived during that era and narrated by Book and Stuart. I hope you enjoy or even have similar stories that you can relate.
“When I was a little boy, I can’t remember us having a Christmas tree. I was five years old when I saw my first one and it was down at the old school and what I remember the most is the piece of stick candy that was given to me as a gift. That was the first tree that I remember seeing” – Book.
“Our first tree we put up in the house was god-awful looking. Because the good pine trees were used for wood for building, we had to get a tree that had a crooked spine and was not worth much to those that were lumberjacks. And we talked maw into decorating the tree on Christmas Eve. We would take popcorn and string around the tree as well as pine cones dipped in flour and other things around the house. We kept that tree up until New Year’s Day. And we had the whole house ready for the holidays…plenty of holly around the mantel and the window panes. That tree would go in the corner of the house and would be the prettiest thing our eyes have ever seen” – Stuart.
“In the evening after many of the families in the area would be settling in for the night, we would go out serenading throughout the land. Now, we did not necessarily go out and sing songs, but we would bring any noise contraption out there that would cause a stir with the neighbors. You never heard such a racket. Ringing bells, clanging pots and pans and whistle makers were all a part of the noise and we would do that until they turned on their lights and opened the doors to offer us something. And they always invited us in to eat” – Book.
“They would have about 20 people making all that noise and it grew as we went to each house. You never heard such hootin’ and hollerin’ from the group of people who would join in. And yes, we did sing a few songs like Jingle Bells and other carols. Sometimes we would walk up to five or six miles since people during this time did not live too close to each other” – Stuart.
“And you did have those folks that would not come to the door. We called those people cantankerous or just plain grumpy! The ornery kids would do all sorts of mischief acts on those people like take their wagon wheels and hang them in the trees or switch the animals from different stalls. We would hide their axe or whatever was lying around that was needed. Sometimes we would hide stuff so good that it would take days to find them. We never did anything that would cause harm, just some good ole fun” – Book.
As you can see, it was a different time – a simpler time but a hard life. Coal mining, lumbering and farming were the top three trades and those jobs took a majority of the father’s day. But, he always took a day off on Christmas to spend time with the kids and to celebrate the day. These stories are a few of what we have passed on to the kids who visit the center.
I hope that some of these stories capture your imagination and please feel free to pass them on to the family during the holidays. All of us at Harrison County Parks and Recreation wish you and yours a warm, safe and wonderful holiday!