Christmas Memories from Mississippi

Christmas Memories from Mississippi

Charline R. McCord
Judy H. Tucker
ILLUSTRATIONS BY Wyatt Waters
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvhf2
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  • Book Info
    Christmas Memories from Mississippi
    Book Description:

    This beautiful book of thirty-eight essays, illustrated by Mississippi's premier watercolorist Wyatt Waters, will ring true with treasured recollections of Christmases past. Remember the Christmas it snowed on the Mississippi Coast? Glen Allison recalls that miracle. Richard Ford and Waters tell exactly what they felt when they first laid eyes on a bicycle left under the tree by Santa Claus. These Mississippians celebrate Christmas pageants, the decorating, the family dinners--even as they recognize war and loss as part of our lives and sometimes part of our holidays.Christmas Memories from Mississippilooks at the holidays from the early 20th century through the present and offers the celebrations from various points of view, both religious and secular. This book makes an ideal memento of shared traditions and lovingly extends the spirit of the season across the state's diversity.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-781-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-1)
    Charline R. McCord and Judy H. Tucker

    This volume of thirty-eight Christmas memories, each written by a Mississippian, offers widely diverse recollections. These are nonfiction accounts by living authors, many of them public figures rather than literary professionals, and most of their writings are heretofore unpublished pieces that were written at the editors’ request specifically for inclusion in this collection. Common themes of all their Christmases are family, church, gifts, food, pageantry, and tradition, all of which surround our various celebrations of the mystery and the marvel of the nativity scene in Bethlehem. However, these similar holiday experiences are always nuanced by the special people and special...

  4. Christmas Memories
    (pp. 3-9)
    Elise Winter

    As it has for most of us, the Christmas season has always been a special time for me, not just because of its religious significance, but because it has also been that one time in the year that brought together my extended family and so many cherished friends.

    My memories of Christmas are unforgettably and uniquely associated with three lovely old homes in which I have had the good fortune to live. There was first the big old house in Senatobia where I was born, then the historic Governor’s Mansion where I lived during William’s term as governor, and, finally,...

  5. A Plain White Sock
    (pp. 11-15)
    Patti Carr Black

    I was precocious in this one way: I knew who Santa Claus was when I was five. He was two kind bespectacled ladies working late on December 24, 1939, to bring Christmas to the children at Mississippi’s Preventorium, an adjunct of the state sanatorium at Magee. I was the youngest child living in the dormitory there, but I was a ten-month veteran by Christmastime.

    This is how I got there. Dr. Henry Boswell was a crusader and a savior for thousands of Mississippians who got caught up in the tuberculosis crisis in the early part of the last century. He...

  6. “We Close at Dusk”
    (pp. 17-21)
    Richard Howorth

    Most Christmas stories recollect childhood memories that feature family, food, and a warm fire upon the hearth, or they relate a transcendent experience, an epiphany, a spiritual encounter appropriate to the meaning of Christmas, religious or redemptive, or of love found or regained.

    But the truth here is that I make a living in the detail-laden, nickel-and-dime world of retail for which Christmas is a critical time of the year for financial performance. While others are making gift lists, I struggle to make sure our advertising is properly scheduled, to get the window display just right, and replace lights that...

  7. A Talk with Oprah Winfrey
    (pp. 23-23)
    Michelle Conlin and Oprah Winfrey

    So many things in life inspire philanthropy, such as your faith in humanity and your belief in the human spirit to overcome. As far as a role model, I’d say there were moments with generous people that stand out for me. I will never forget when I was about 12, and my mother told my siblings and me that we would not be receiving Christmas gifts because there wasn’t enough money.

    I remember at the time that I felt sad and thought: “What would I say when the other kids asked what I had gotten?” Just when I started to...

  8. My Christmas Carol
    (pp. 25-27)
    Lester Senter Wilson

    Christmas treasures of a singer.My first remembrance of Christmas was as a child of about three absolutely positive I heard the sounds of Santa’s reindeer upon the roof. Often throughout my life I have remembered the rhythm and cadence of their little hooves and the excitement—almost bursting inside me—of Santa’s impending visit.

    Early Christmas morning smells of yeast rolls in the oven and the turkey beginning to cook floated through the house. My father always dug a hole and put a real Christmas tree full of colored lights in the middle of the lawn—as well as...

  9. A Father and a Bicycle
    (pp. 29-31)
    Richard Ford

    My father was not a man blessed with unusual talents. If a model father can rebuild the lawnmower, rig up a punching bag properly, offer tips on your science project or advice on your lifesaving merit badge, help with math homework, put a new bike together, or replace a screen on a patio door, then my father was not a model father.

    My earliest Christmas memory is of lying in my bed late at night, hearing my father—with my mother as his assistant—attempting to assemble a snare drum Santa had been commanded to deliver. Work went on in...

  10. My Mother Was Santa Claus but My Father Was an Indian
    (pp. 33-41)
    Mary Anderson

    “Thank goodness your mother brought you children to live in Ocean Springs. You were growing up like wild Indians at that place in Gautier!”

    Miss Anna shook her bluish curls so violently that I worried for the teacup in her gloved hand.

    “Just like wild Indians!”

    I ducked my head to hide my smile, then glided away through a forest of ladies in talcum-smelling dresses and stocking-clad legs—St. Mary’s Guild at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

    She was right. Indians and the timeless sense of their presence filled my world at Oldfields. Our church there, St. Pierre’s Chapel, was built...

  11. Snow in Saigon
    (pp. 43-45)
    Maureen Ryan

    They knew the end was near, the Americans who were still in Saigon as the North Vietnamese Army inexorably approached the capital city of its enemy at the end of April 1975. It was a chaotic, heartrending final evacuation, as those thousand Americans jostled with the many thousands of panicked South Vietnamese who fought for a seat on those last American helicopters out of the soon-to-be-vanquished city. You’ve seen the photos, the grainy TV video. We’ve all had that tape in our heads for thirty-five years now.

    It’s hot in Vietnam, even in April. I’ve been there, so trust me...

  12. Ded Moroz
    (pp. 47-53)
    Ronnie Riggs

    I rubbed my temples and checked my watch again for the third time in ten minutes. Igor should’ve been here an hour ago, but he wasn’t. I was tired, I was jet-lagged, and I was frustrated. We’d hoped to get off the plane at Pashkovsky Airport, be met by Igor, and taken straight to our hotel. Instead we waited. I sat in the tired Pashkovsky terminal facility, surveying my surroundings. Rapid-fire Russian ricocheted around me, and it made my head hurt. The hard plastic seating was old and cracked in places, and nothing about its dingy orange color spoke to...

  13. Dusty
    (pp. 55-57)
    Mary Ann Mobley

    I suppose all my Christmases have been special. Funny, though, the only ones that have remained crystal clear in memory have been from my childhood. Others are foggy reminiscences of warmth, family, and sweet reminders of how delicious it is to lose oneself in another’s happiness. But it’s when you have children that the complete joy of Christmas is experienced. However, it’s also a time when the sublime can quickly tumble into the ridiculous.

    I have never understood why toy manufacturers are allowed to advertise when the items are not available. Nor do I fully comprehend why, at holiday time,...

  14. Herman’s Present
    (pp. 59-61)
    Will D. Campbell

    It was December 1943, and we were on a crowded troopship bound for the South Pacific. Most of us were in our teens—seasick, homesick, and a little afraid.

    I had asked my best pal, Herman Hyman, what he was going to send his girlfriend for Christmas. “Nothing,” he answered. Seemed strange. He mumbled something about Hanukkah, and changed the subject. I had no idea what he meant. I was a naïve little Baptist boy from rural Mississippi. Herman was from the Bronx.

    What had promised to be a bleak Christmas turned even more dreary when the KP list was...

  15. Mississippi Ornament
    (pp. 63-67)
    Robin Whitfield

    The day before my trip to Washington, D.C., I found myself floating down the Yalobusha River. Though it was late November, a friend and I wanted a relaxing adventure before the days got any shorter and colder. The river water, always milky brown with sediment, carried our kayaks through a deep gray day past pale curving sandbars and dark tangles of nearly bare trees. Up ahead in a treetop were three large dark forms.“What kind of birds are those?”she asked.“Vultures?”I said,“What else could they be?”As we neared we saw heads so white they blended...

  16. Christmas Encounter
    (pp. 69-73)
    Charline R. McCord

    The year was 2005, a seventy-one-degree mid-December day in Clinton, Mississippi, when my brother’s call came. “What do you think about flying up to Maryland and then traveling on to spend Christmas in Austria with us?” he asked. Was that something I was really supposed to have tothinkabout? In a flurry of excitement, suitcases were yanked from closets, and clothes and shoes were tossed randomly on the guest bed. The passport and European converter kit were located, and at some point well into my packing it fleetingly crossed my mind that I would not only miss Christmas in...

  17. I Heard the Angels Sing
    (pp. 75-77)
    Bishop Duncan Gray III

    The Angel said: “Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior …” And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest …”

    The annual race towards Christmas that consumes our attention for the last six weeks of the calendar year exacts a terrible toll on most of us. The Christian Church talks extensively about the twelve days of Christmas that begin on...

  18. Christmas Gift
    (pp. 79-85)
    Lottie Brent Boggan

    “Christmas gift! Christmas gift!” As I opened the front door, I called out these words that had been passed down through the generations. It was an ancient custom in the early morning on the eve of Christ’s birthday for servants to come to the big house, knock on the door, and make this cry to the masters who presented them with gifts of food and clothing.

    My father made a pencil-thin silhouette on this star-bright and freezing Christmas Eve as he stood on the porch clutching the door frame. I was a stranger to him.

    “Christmas gift, Christmas gift,” I...

  19. Angels Brought the Message
    (pp. 87-87)
    Maude Williams Ballou

    When I was a little girl, about four years old, living in Mobile, Alabama, my dad was a dynamic Baptist preacher and community activist. My mother was a homemaker who sewed beautifully, among many other things. My father, Hillary (Henry) Parker Williams, had pastored churches in Biloxi and Ocean Springs, Mississippi, before coming to Mobile. My mother, Mary Jane Fox Williams, had made some beautiful clothes for me and my twin sister, Mayme. We were to perform in the annual Christmas pageant at the church, Yorktown Baptist.

    In the pageant, I was supposed to say, “The angels brought the message...

  20. The Coon Hunt
    (pp. 89-97)
    Jerry Lee Bustin

    I step out the back door and sit on the edge of the plank porch, dying to get started hunting, seconds flicking off in my mind fast as plaster. I’m thinking, Christmas is just a week away, so I make myself a promise right then to check out a good many cedar trees we pass in the woods for Mama and me to go back later and cut one for our inside Christmas tree under the mantel, so Santa Claus has a place to put Brother’s and my gift on Christmas Eve night.

    Ole Blue—Grandpa’s oldest and best bluetick...

  21. What Counts
    (pp. 99-105)
    Beverly Lowry

    The first time I saw him he was seven. It was Christmas. He was flying in with his mother and my son, from San Jose to Austin. This was in the days when we could still meet our people at the gate when they landed and see them off when they departed. I’d left home early—we lived twenty-six miles from Austin—and arrived in plenty of time. Waiting as the plane taxied from runway to the gate at the bottom of the jetway, my heart went into a serious scramble, and I felt as fidgety as if on a...

  22. The Greatest Christmas Gift
    (pp. 107-111)
    Freda McKissic Bush

    Christmas memories, for me, always centered on celebrations with food and fellowship and family. My folks emphasized that family sharing with others was a big part of the Christmas celebration while keeping focus on the greatest gift, the birth of Jesus.

    I was born in 1947, the fifth of nine children, to Rev. James and Rosa McKissic. There were five boys and four girls. My father was a Baptist preacher and my mother a schoolteacher. Year-round, our home was always full of activity and fun though not much money or material possessions. What we lacked in money, my mother would...

  23. Plenty
    (pp. 113-119)
    Steve Yarbrough

    At the time of my grandmother’s death, in December of 2000, she’d been living with my father—her son-in-law—for almost thirty years, Grandpa having died of a heart attack in 1970, leaving her with very little that she could call her own: no land, no house, just a bunch of farm equipment about to be repossessed. She’d spent most of her life renting sixteenth-section land in Sunflower County, a few miles north of Indianola; she hoed cotton, picked it, pulled the trailers to the gin, ran a small country store stocked with goods she and my grandfather bought in...

  24. The Soloist
    (pp. 121-123)
    Judy H. Tucker

    Doesn’t everyone remember the Christmas pageants of their childhoods—the angel tree at school where you sat on pyramid bleachers wearing white crepe paper robes with green collars and sang carols, the church pageant with the manger scene, the angels and the wise men standing near?

    Once upon a time, in a little one-roomed clapboard church at the edge of a deep, quiet wood, I was a star of the Christmas pageant. Only once. I sang the solo. It was so long ago there were as many mule-drawn wagons pulled into the churchyard as there were log trucks, pickups, and...

  25. Christmas Recalled and Lessons Learned
    (pp. 125-129)
    Billy G. Bridges

    World War II brought drastic changes to the small-community lifestyle of this seven-year-old country boy from Mississippi, not the least of which were Christmas celebrations. It was the same for most other small-town children in America, with immediate rationing of food, gasoline, and rubber products from which bicycle tires and many other things were made.

    When war broke out on December 7, 1941, my family consisted of four: Momma, Daddy, my older brother, Kenneth, and me. We had weathered the prior years—including the Great Depression—better than some families. Both Momma and Daddy worked hard, but when the four...

  26. A “Global Soul” Reflects on Christmas
    (pp. 131-133)
    Seetha Srinivasan

    When my sons, growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, anticipated that we would mark in our home the festival of Christmas that was so important to their friends, we deemed it important to fulfill their expectations. Though we are practicing Hindus, we believed that to not do so would only further underscore that we were outsiders, one more indication that we lived in the American culture but not truly as a part of it. After all, my husband and I reasoned, we were secure in our faith of Hinduism, and by participating in Christmas festivities we were making evident the acceptance...

  27. The Poor Children’s Christmas Party
    (pp. 135-141)
    Walter Howell

    Christmas memories mirror one’s life. My childhood memories are grounded in the last years of World War II to 1950 in Biloxi, and are about parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, and neighborhood friends. As I’ve grown older, my Christmas memories embrace wife, children, and grandchildren, but parents, brothers, and sisters never go away. Christmas memories are about family; children are the catalyst for the many special moments we cherish.

    Our 2008 Christmas will always be remembered for the brutal honesty of my six-year-old grandson, Ian Gerald. Tearing the wrappings off two of his presents—a sculptured cow soap bar and...

  28. Ode to the Fruitcake
    (pp. 143-149)
    Carolyn Haines

    It’s almost impossible to remove food from memories of family Christmas extravaganzas. In our house, food was a big deal, as much a part of the tradition as stockings hung by the fireplace, mistletoe, Bing Crosby, Elvis, and Santa Claus. We started weeks before the holiday to prepare some of the delicacies that were part of our unique tradition, the most important of which was the white fruitcake, a recipe brought from Sweden with my grandmother.

    My mother could make a trip to the dentist fun—an imp of mischief sat on her shoulder and she was always up for...

  29. My Christmas Fishing Tale
    (pp. 151-153)
    John M. Yarborough

    Christmas on Billy Hill is always a rare treat, a vacation from the demands of a busy medical practice in humid, semitropical New Orleans. It’s always colder in the middle of Mississippi on top of that hill where the wind blows and there are always dreams of a white Christmas. A sparkling, ceiling-high tree stands in the corner of the brick room, a fire of seasoned oak crackles, and I’m ready for St. Nick.

    Ann and her mother, whom we fondly call Bragg, are in the kitchen getting Christmas Eve breakfast. Brother Bragg is out checking to see if any...

  30. Exiles on Main Street
    (pp. 155-159)
    Caroline Langston

    In 1972, the year that I turned four, my older brother left our hometown in Yazoo City, Mississippi, for college up north, and Christmas changed forever.

    Before that, in my child’s mind, Christmas was nothing more than a jumble of random impressions, anchored neither in scripture nor folklore, but rather within the city limits of Yazoo: The magnolia tree in front of the Rural Electrification building on Grand Avenue, strung up with fat colored lights and topped with a great big star. The glinting ropes of golden tinsel, put up by the Public Service Commission, that were suddenly draped over...

  31. Splitting Christmas
    (pp. 161-165)
    John M. Floyd

    I’ll always be thankful that I grew up in a small town. I’ll bet almost anyone who did would agree with me, or would at least know what I mean.

    Maybe the best thing about it is that in small communities your neighbors are more than neighbors—they’re almost an extension of your family. I can still name all the folks who lived on my little street in Sallis, Mississippi; in fact, I can remember just about everybody in town. After all, its population for many years was said to be 223, and even that sounds too high. (I used...

  32. Christmas Guests
    (pp. 167-169)
    Mary Libby Payne

    Somehow we always had “extra” people living with us. During the Depression it was relatives looking for work. In the new house built in summer of 1941, each of us had separate bedrooms until Mother rented the extra bedroom to two young girls who were telephone operators. Then along came World War II, and military wives descended upon us, wanting to rent every “lying down place” in the house. One airman wanted to rent the glider (rocking couch) on the screened-in front porch! We crowded up putting me on a cot in my parents’ room for the duration while others...

  33. Christmas 1988
    (pp. 171-173)
    Bill Luckett

    Christmas 1988 was a cold, blue sky day. Earlier in the year, I had bought a membership in a hunting club located on the banks of the Mississippi River west of Clarksdale, Mississippi. I had not been much of a hunter growing up except for occasional fall dove shoots. When I joined the club, I knew nothing about hunting turkeys, but the “sport” sounded rather exciting. After all, Benjamin Franklin wanted to name the turkey America’s national bird instead of the eagle because turkeys have incredibly good hearing and eyesight and are very wary and hard to harvest. While the...

  34. Inheritance
    (pp. 175-177)
    Margaret McMullan

    Christmas seems impossible to imagine without our dining room table. For most of our adult lives, my husband and I lived with disposable, collapsible furniture because this kind of furniture was as inexpensive, flexible, and impermanent as our lives. Then we had a son, and my parents shipped their old dining room table south to us.

    The table is made of cherry, and the metal squares that go on each of the four corners have all come unglued. All at once my husband and I had become a family, complete with a baby, a home, and inherited furniture with a...

  35. The Sport Coat
    (pp. 179-183)
    Chris Gilmer

    The gold quilted Christmas stockings that my mother sewed for me have held peppermints, cashmere socks, concert tickets, homemade cards, and even car keys, but nothing any stocking can ever hold is as dear as the memories my mind unfolds, bought with joy and hardship I can only begin to imagine, of all that my grandmothers have meant to me. There is no other way to say it except that I feel downright sorry for those people who never knew their grandmothers and, by virtue of what they never had or experienced, cannot begin to comprehend all that they have...

  36. The Joy of Family
    (pp. 185-189)
    Beverly Wade Hogan

    Christmastime has always been special to me as far back as I can remember. I still carry images of a lighted Christmas tree, Mama, Daddy, and my siblings gathered in the family room, exploring gifts. There are the memories of finding the right tree on the farm and my daddy cutting it down and all of us helping to haul it back to the house to decorate on Christmas Eve. Decorating the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve was a family ritual of sorts in our household. And there are lasting memories of the wonderful smells generated from Mama’s baking which,...

  37. The View from Under the Tree
    (pp. 191-195)
    Glen C. Allison

    Not every childhood is sprinkled with tinsel and wrapped in warm fuzzy Christmas memories.

    For some, pleasant Christmas memories are strewn everywhere like the shredded remains of gift wrap. For others, those happy times are as elusive as that last bell ornament clinging to the tree, dented and desperate.

    The years, however, glaze the harshness of our losses with sweetness.

    Born a Mississippian, I was quickly whisked away to other places during my formative years. My dad was a Seabee, a construction engineer in the navy, stationed at Keesler Air Force Base on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My mother was...

  38. An Artificial Christmas
    (pp. 197-203)
    Beverly Marshall

    The square brown box, marked “Free” for postage, arrived at my mother’s door on December 23, 1967. It had traveled thousands of miles to Mississippi from Vung Tau where Lt. Butch Marshall, my husband of three years, was flying sorties to the Special Forces camps in the Mekong Delta. He addressed our correspondence to my parents’ house because I had moved back into my girlhood bedroom after Butch boarded the plane that began his journey to Vietnam. I longed to know what was inside the package that measured two feet in length and width, but we had promised each other...

  39. Hurry Up and Slow Down
    (pp. 205-207)
    Michael F. Smith

    To understand the difference between my family and my wife’s family when it comes to the annual ritual of opening Christmas presents, you only need to be able to understand the difference between a horse-drawn carriage and a rocket. One is methodical and deliberate, getting the most from the sights and smells and sounds of the world. The other is fierce and hurried, shooting through the moment with only a jet stream to prove that it was even there.

    Sabrea’s family is the horse-drawn carriage. And on the first Christmas I ever shared with my soon-to-be in-laws, I thought that...

  40. Whole Hog Christmas
    (pp. 209-213)
    Dorothy Shawhan

    “Hey, y’all, let’s roast a pig in a pit this Christmas.” That e-mail launched our family into a culinary observance beyond the realm of the traditional turkey and cornbread dressing with cranberry sauce. We had that too in the Christmas of ’08, foodies that we are and unwilling to completely break with the past.

    Maybe three weddings and one birth in the space of a year and a half put us all in the mood for change. Undoubtedly another factor was that our hosts Jimmy and Marg, one of the newly wed couples, have a home deep in the woods...

  41. Yes, Mississippi, There Is a Santa Claus
    (pp. 215-220)
    Wyatt Waters

    Christmas was not a certain day of the year for us. It was an expectation of something wonderful to come, something not defined enough to be spoiled by the disappointment of reality. It meant getting out of school for a good chunk of time, getting together with family and lots of noise with contrasting dinner prayers. Friends had their place and time, but Christmas was family, and I knew that without ever being told. It was like how they didn’t have to tell me I wasn’t supposed to murder someone but knew it anyway. I was the middle of three...

  42. Contributors
    (pp. 221-231)
  43. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 232-232)
  44. Copyright Acknowledgments
    (pp. 233-233)