Bettye H. Galloway
When I look around today at all the glimmer, glitz, and gadgets that are necessary for Christmas decorations and celebrations, I remember my childhood Christmases when all these things were not even pipe dreams.
Lafayette Springs in the early forties had no electricity, no running water, and no telephones. It was a quiet, friendly, conservative, self-reliant, God-fearing community where everybody was poor, but nobody knew it. Neighbors helped neighbors, and Christmastime was the big event of the year.
Early each year we kids roved the pastures to pick out the “perfect” cedar for the year-end Christmas tree. It was watched all year, and errant branches were trimmed from time to time to make sure the shape was just right. We carefully watched the area around the community stores and the roadsides to collect all the discarded cigarette packages to get the aluminum liners to wrap sweetgum balls for tree decorations, and we were sorely disappointed when Lucky Strike green went to war and the packages no longer had shiny insides! Before a blight destroyed them, our chestnut trees dropped their fruits, the nuts were saved for later cooking, and the burrs were used for tree ornaments along with pine cones. Most of these were kept from year to year, but the others had to be renewed each year. We spent many hours by the light of a kerosene lamp stringing long lines of popcorn and bright red holly berries. If we had been lucky enough to amass more than enough cigarette liners for the balls, we would carefully cut shiny strings to use as icicles on the tree. When it was finally time for the tree to be cut, it would be carefully placed in the living room far enough from the fireplace not to pose a hazard, and every decoration was carefully placed. It was the most beautiful thing in the world!
The whole house was beginning to smell like Christmas. Oranges still remind me of Christmas. About the only things that were purchased in those days were coffee, tea, and flour, oranges at Christmas which were always included in our gifts from Santa Claus, as well as other “special” things for the season. To disguise the smell for us kids, Mama always baked an orange cake so that we would not be suspicious that gifts were in the house. Christmas baking required as much attention as the tree preparation. We had a wonderful orchard with apples, pears, peaches, grapes, and Himalaya berries which we spent all summer canning. Apples, peaches, and grapes were also dried, As soon as they started falling, we gathered the pecans, chestnuts, black walnuts, and scaly barks, and we spent much time cracking them and picking out the delicious meats to be used for Christmas cooking.
Christmas was a time for special cooking. Mama would buy a whole coconut and a whole pineapple—cracking and peeling a coconut is almost as hard as removing the shell from a mossback turtle! Then the coconut would be grated for the cake. The pineapple would also be prepared, coated with sugar, and set aside for another special cake. These were the chores for us kids. For days the whole house smelled like a bakery. The best part was the teacakes which were always there for the taking (we couldn't yet eat the cakes—they were for “guests” and were eaten when we had company). Fruitcakes were made from the diced dried fruit and nuts, and fried apple and peach pies were a staple. What a wonderful life!
Christmas Eve finally arrived, and we went to bed early so Santa Claus could come to eat his teacake and milk. When we woke up on Christmas morning, Santa had left us wonderful treats—each kid had a box with his/her name on it (we had never heard of stockings), and mine was filled with candy canes, apples, oranges (of course), nuts, a blouse, and a beautiful doll. I felt like a princess and never once recognized that the pecans and apples came from our trees and that the blouse was made by Mama long after I had gone to sleep. They were fantastic, and there is no way that Wal Mart or Sears today could provide the essentials at any price to make a Christmas memory as wonderful as the ones I remember from pre-War days at Lafayette Springs.
Bettye Hudson Galloway
Born, reared, and educated in Oxford, Lafayette County, Mississippi. Retired from Mississippi state service (primarily the University of Mississippi) and as executive vice president of a drug testing laboratory.