If the girl was of age they eloped, if not, she was “stolen.” My paternal grandmother married at 15, had a daughter, Ruth, at 16, so in later years they were more like sisters than mother/daughter.
When we visited them the television, when there was one, went dark and conversation took center stage. Talk was of neighborhood news and showing holiday correspondence. The Thomasons and Underhills were perpetual subjects because news dribbled back of their prosperous lives in Arizona and then the next generation in Southern California.
Pictures came in Christmas cards and I’m looking at one now of Dr. Underhill with Indian children near Phoenix.
There was a Christmas Tree for my benefit, but it was a very recent addition. Otherwise my paternal relatives didn’t decorate.
The recitation of their childhood Christmases went something like this: The day before Christmas was ordinary. There was no hurried shopping or last minute arrangements. Small cards had been exchanged, when they could be afforded. Young people arrived by wagon and buggy, sang a Christmas Carol or two, then moved on.
The last act was to be sure that children washed their feet before going to bed. There wasn’t whispered conversation or dreams of come-true wishes under the tree because there wasn’t a tree and wishes were modest.
Everything left by “Santa” could be found in a stocking nailed to the fireplace mantle. Coffee grinding awoke the children who sprang up and down the stairs in nightshirts to see what was hanging.
Oranges and tangerines were a rare treat for children and a nickel stick of candy could be a foot long, thick as a thumb and last all day, or maybe into the next. The fruit would be parsed out for a week.
If the celebration tarried, cows bellowed to be milked. Christmas quickly turned into another ordinary day broken by a visiting neighbor.
When my father’s siblings were grown, neighbors who lived along Dog River looked forward to the “candy drop.” Then, as now, petroleum pipelines were patrolled by airplane and on the week of Christmas the bi-plane made a special journey loaded with booty.
As the airplane slowly circled people stood outside. The pilot or assistant dropped a small parachute over the side. A bag of candy dangled below.
In a time when the tab for Christmas gifts may reach past the hundreds and some children can have nearly anything they want, I wonder if they are any happier than a kid in 1911 with a stick of candy, or the those in 1951 who watched a small parachute drift to earth.
It all seems . . irrelevant. (A parachute from the “candy drop” now hangs in the Douglas County Museum in Douglasville, Ga.)
Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at email@example.com.