22 Nov Remembered stories are the best
by Vivian Lawson Hogue
I am greatly amused at stories of Christmas housekeeping hints in the print media. One woman says after Christmas she makes a gift list for the next Christmas. She carries it with her to use as a shopping guide — all year. Then she wraps, tags and stores them for when the holiday finally arrives. Never mind that a child may have outgrown wearables, music and reading preferences, or that Uncle Harry isn’t married to Aunt Sibyl anymore. Apparently he had outgrown her, too, or so he thought.
One reader expressed a Christmas wish. She said, “I’d like to tell parents whose children talk and distract in church that they will get a piece of coal in their stockings.” I have a twice-told tale that is worse. My dad, who was the oldest of 10 children, received a “cow patty” in his stocking one year. Any of his siblings could have been responsible. I always hoped the culprit was discovered and treated to a January dunking in the icy creek.
There is a time-honored Christmas story that reads, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care . . .” My minimally analytic mind always wondered about that. There’s the fireplace surround, the firebox, the hearth and mantel, but wait . . . the chimney is outside on the roof! Who would hang stockings by a chimney? But then, ours hung inside on a wall. Our dad’s stretchy brown hunting socks hung by nails and were each weighed down by an orange, an apple, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and ribbon candy coated with sock lint. Santa always brought a very large peppermint log that Mother would break up with a hammer when we wanted some.
I recall one Christmas when our son wanted and received a “Big Wheel.” We worked late assembling it, and the final instruction was to insert streamers into the handlebar ends and wrap the handlebars with the included black tape. This was done with great care as we didn’t want it to fall off with use. Exhausted, we proudly placed it under the tree and called it a night, which was actually morning. Six a.m. arrived and the child dragged us into the living room and with big eyes and shaking hands he squealed, “I got a Big Wheel!” As we admired his glee, we quickly became dumbfounded when he dismounted and said, “But this has got to come off” as he proceeded to unwrap the handlebar tape. Several minutes of our lives were wasted, but it was the wheels that counted anyway.
One of the stories I am asked to retell is about a large family Christmas dinner. My mother could have easily stitched an apron to the front of every outfit she owned, because she was rarely without one. The one worn on this occasion had a rough day, but it wasn’t over. I was always the involuntary, but designated, sous chef, so I stood at hand.
The ham and all the accoutrements were on the table, and people had chosen their places, deep in conversation and hilarity. A roast had been cooking for some time, and its moment of debut had arrived. Mother opened the oven door, and with her apron and a dish towel, she removed the roast and placed it on a platter. In a microsecond, the roast magically took a dive to the floor. She and I stooped over and hid behind the cook stove looking at each other. She then quietly picked it up, gave it a Methodist baptism over the kitchen sink and placed it back on the platter. It was her finest hour, and no one was the wiser. I think I only had the ham that day.
In my parents’ later years we encountered a Christmas when we couldn’t arrive in time to go with Dad to the woods to chop down their tree. They said that was fine. What wasn’t fine was that they, in their late 70s, walked down the icy back steps and through five inches of snow to cut down a gangly cedar that had been growing in the back yard for years. Dad grouched his way through attaching the wood stand, and with decorations it was actually attractive in a catty-whompered way.
The best Christmas story of all, though, is the one where a holy Baby is born for mankind’s benefit. He came to bring peace and good news. While neither will fit into our stockings, right now we would rejoice if they were filled to overflowing with those gifts. Even Mother’s apron wouldn’t be able to contain it, and it could handle anything.
A native of Conway, Vivian Lawson Hogue graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in art education. A retired teacher, she worked in the Conway School District for 23 years. She is editor of the Faulkner County Historical Society’s semi-annual publication, “Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings.” She can be reached at [email protected].