‘Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store’

By Vivian Lawson Hogue

‘Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store’ – The Grinch

December has both a joyous and pensive aura about it. I hold close the days of my youth when my family and friends were all alive, healthy, visiting, and with some exercising their usual sharpened, dry senses of humor. On early Christmas days, I recall we had as many as 24 people present. The kitchen would be bustling with womenfolk assigned jobs in the culinary vein. The men gathered in the living room smoking cigars the brothers had gifted our dad. The room became enveloped with thick, blue, asphyxiating smoke through which you only recognized someone by their voice. 

Children ran in the back door and out the front, then in the front and out the back. They climbed the magnolia tree or twisted in the wooden swing hanging by chains from an old post oak tree. The city residents had already enjoyed the colored lights that hung above Oak Street for a block or so. Some silver-tinseled stars on the street lights came later but never quite had the same effect. The city had held its Christmas parade, and merchants remained open until around 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

College students and others who came home for the holiday held mini-reunions downtown on that night. Much of the visiting was lengthy reminiscing and catching up whether the participants were in the middle of a sidewalk or at a table in Greeson’s Drug Store. Some of those memories are still recalled by many. Those raised in other towns have similar memories, just with different people and places. I can relate a few downtown holiday conversations people have told me were held on cold nights of gift searching during extended store hours. See if you remember these.

One gentleman said, “I’m not sure I remember a bona fide spittoon in Massey’s Hardware, but the next best thing was a Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco can.” A friend added, “There were metal bins on the sidewalk on the west side of Massey’s that contained dynamite for purchase. They displayed guns in the south window along with a stuffed bobcat and a deer. This was before dynamite and guns became ‘evil.’ And every boy worth a plug nickel carried a pocket knife to school so they could play mumbly peg.”

Another said, “I remember playing with my brother’s cap pistol that was bought downtown.  Watching that little red paper spiral go around and the hammer hitting a cap with a Ka-BLAM!  Stinky smoke everywhere, but surely this was what real gunpowder was like.  Sometimes a manufacturing glitch didn’t put enough mixture in the cap and it sort of went ‘pthfft.’ Then came the rubber guns out of the back pockets of our $3 Levi jeans and the battle continued. Sterling’s and Ben Franklin were the places for weaponry and ammo.”

Those who went to college locally in 1960 may remember that the college enrollment for all three colleges that year was more than 2,500. Our town was very quiet. At times other than Christmas, stores closed at 5:30 p.m. and were closed all day on Sundays. We spent our lives sleeping with windows open in summer with no fear of burglaries or attack, nor did we lock our cars. Our family was blessed with city utilities, but until he was 18, my husband lived in the country with no heating or cooling, no running water, and no indoor bathroom.

Children could wander anywhere in our small town without a worry. Monsters were only in old movies. If they wanted to eat with the family, they were home at dinnertime and suppertime.  No snacks or fast food in between, at least not from our mother. But we all had Christmases, elegant or modest, involving food and perhaps calls or visits from family or friends, all to be brought to mind later and talked about with those who shared the same time of life and experiences.

We are not allowed to have a nativity scene in front of the courthouse anymore, and I suppose a tree with colored lights is too much to expect. What fine visuals they once were to remind us of the season’s focus. In fact, if God had not gifted us all with His Son and Spirit, what might we have done every Dec. 25? How else could we have been offered and willingly accepted those two gifts of His love AND with the added bonus of looking forward to wondrous forevers in heaven? I just thought the marquise-cut “authentic rhinestone” ring I received in the seventh grade was the best Christmas gift! The ring is lost in time now. Its value is in the memory of it, along with my first roller skates.

My mother always told me, “When someone offers you something, accept it and say thank you, whether you need it or not. You may later regret not accepting the offer.” That Bethlehem Christmas baby and His Father are still offering their free gifts. The way things are going today, just accept them and say thank you. They are never lost; everything that matters is gained with no regrets. If that doesn’t make for a lifetime of merry Christmases, I don’t know what else could!

Vivian Lawson Hogue
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