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Seniors recount memories of Christmases past

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
Memories are what the Christmas holidays are made of regardless of the generation you represent. However, the trappings of the season and the manner in which it is observed change over time. To find out what yesteryear's Christmas was like I asked six of Hartselle's senior citizens. Here's what they had to say:
"I was one (the 10th) of 14 children. We lived on a farm in Madison County (Gurley). We always had a live tree, which was planted in a churn or large container for support. It was decorated with the toys we would receive from Santa…things like a doll, a drum or a spinning top, nothing large or expensive.
Santa came on Christmas Eve. We received one gift each. Our mother always read the Christmas story from the Bible and we all gathered around the piano and sang Christmas carols. Afterwards, we were permitted to remove our gift from the Christmas tree. Each one of us also got an apple, an orange and some Brazil nuts.
It was the best time of the year. We had lots of relatives and all of them would visit us during the holidays."
-Rachel Oden
"My family did lots of feasting and entertaining, beginning Christmas Day and continuing until the New Year. We lived in Virgina and I was the second oldest of six children. My mother would roast two or three turkeys. Oysters were plentiful. We'd buy them by the gallon. We played a card game called Setback. Sometimes, three or four tables of players would be going at the same time.
We'd go into the woods on Christmas Eve and cut a tree. We'd find a well-shaped, large white pine, climb it and cut out the top. It was decorated with strands of popcorn and a few small ornaments. There were no lights.
Times were hard and we didn't get much in the way of toys and gifts. Each of us would hang a stocking. We could expect to have some fruit and nuts in it on Christmas morning if we had been well behaved. One of the best gifts I ever got was a $1 pocket watch. I was so proud of it. It worked well for awhile but eventually stopped running. I thought I could fix it and tore it apart, but it never worked again. My mother got all over me about that."
-Jake Armentrout
"My mother and my sister and I lived with my grandparents in Cullman County. It was pretty rough at our house. But I remember that we always had a black walnut cake at Christmastime.
We always had a tree. It came out of the woods. We'd decorate it with strands of popcorn. We would save chewing gum wrappers and use them to cover a handmade cardboard star for the top of the tree.
One Christmas Eve my sister and I were awakened by a loud noise and got out of bed to see what was going on. We were delighted to discover that our presents were already under the tree. I received a 25-cent doll and a 25-cent tea set.
I also recall that one Christmas I received a big peppermint stick. It lasted for several days."
-Jean Orr
"On Christmas Eve, my mother would get up real early and start baking for Christmas. Her coconut cakes and sweet potato pies were very delicious.
My sister, brother and I would hang our stockings and help decorate the Christmas tree. It was cut in the woods and decorated with handmade ornaments. On Christmas morning, we would get up early to see what Santa bought us. Each of us would get one present and some fruit and candy in our stockings.
We lived in Randolph County and my father operated a sawmill. All of his workers would come to our house on Christmas morning and drink a glass of homemade eggnog.
My dad died when I was 10 years old. We had a hard time getting by and I wondered if I would have a present under the tree that Christmas. I purposely stayed in bed longer than usual, not anxious to go take a look. I was pleasantly surprised when by brother dashed into the bedroom waving a Mickey Mouse watch and telling me it was my Christmas gift."
-Mary Douglas
"We lived in Tennessee when I was a little girl. My father was a shoe repairman. He lost his job a few weeks before Christmas when I was three or four years old. He finally found work in Russellville. On Christmas Eve that year, we drove to Tullahoma, Tenn. in a T-Model car to visit my grandparents and share Christmas with them. Snow and ice was on the ground and it was very cold. My mother heated bricks and wrapped them in a blanket to keep my feet warm. My sister and I slept on a pallet. When we awoke on Christmas morning, each of us found a pair of overalls and slippers under the Christmas tree.
One Christmas when we lived in Nashville my sister and I begged for a Tip-Top wristwatch. We expected to have one under the tree when we awoke on Christmas morning. We looked everywhere without success. Finally, we gave up and turned out attention to our stockings. After we took out an apple, orange and candy cane we discovered our watches in the toes of the stockings. What a pleasant surprise! I learned how to tell time on that watch."
-Edith Sandusky
"The first Christmas I remember we lived on Sloss Street. My mother was a schoolteacher and my father worked in Decatur. There wasn't a lot of money to spend at Christmas. We had a garden, a hog and a cow. One of our neighbors, Garland Gunn, had a seven-piece orchestra. They performed as far away as Nashville. Lassie Mae Gunn was the piano player and an excellent cook. She had the run of our house and would come by and bake cakes and pies for us. Her butterscotch pies were the greatest.
The first Christmas gift I can remember was a toy pistol and holster set. My brother Doug and I would play cowboys and Indians in our pasture. We always had a Christmas tree. We would find one of the right size and shape in our pasture and cut it. It was also a custom for use to visit my mother's family in Cullman at Christmastime.
I also remember when Doug and I got a Radio Flyer wagon for Christmas. We got the ride of our life when we hooked it up to our Shetland pony.
-Ed Summers