|The ice did a number on the Black Lotus in front of our home|
Yesterday morning, we left the land of ice and snow and are now in Georgia, with a trip to North Carolina planned before we head home in early January. The past week was a whirlwind as we had one of the worst ice storms in memory. Someone reported that there were 60,000 people in our county without power, which is a little surprising as I thought the population was closer to only 55,000. We spent 36 hours, without power, huddled around the living room fireplace. But with smart phones and car chargers, we never felt like we were unconnected! Others are still without power and some may go for well over a week in the dark. But down here in Georgia, it’s going to be about 50 degrees and I am upset that in forgot to bring flipflops! Here is my memoir of another Christmas journey. The year was 1966 and I was just a couple weeks shy of turning ten.
Christmas always began early in my childhood home. We’d get up before daylight. My brother was generally the first to get up, usually around 4 AM, and he’d go between our room and my sisters, encouraging us to get out of bed and to get ready. We would ignore him for a little while, but soon we were up. We also had to wake my parents who had sent us to bed under the threat of bodily harm if we went into the living room before they were up and ready for us to arrive, which meant my dad had to set up his Super-8 movie camera with the oversized flood lights that would greet us as soon as we stepped into the living room and were literally “blinded by the light.” All those old Christmas movies show us with the color bleached out of our faces and our eyes squinted with hands covering them as we come in and try to find our presents in a room that was as bright as if a nuclear explosion had just occurred.
But there was another reason that Christmas often began early this particular year. Like the first family of Christmas, we had a journey to make; only we started ours on Christmas and not before and instead of a donkey traveled in a Ford. After an hour or so of playing with our toys, and a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausage, sweet breads and fruit, we loaded up the car for the trip to our ancestral home—to Pinehurst, in the Sandhillls of Moore County. It was a three hour trip—all two lane secondary roads that cut through the pine forest and tobacco farms of Eastern North Carolina. Although we knew they’d be more presents to open once we arrived, my sister, brother and I didn’t relish the thought of the drive. We also didn’t like the idea of leaving most of our toys behind, as there wasn’t enough room in the car with the three of us and an infant. As we drove past homes, we’d see kids out riding new bikes and passing new footballs with their dads. Such scenes only made us feel sorrier for our imprisonment in the car.
Once we got to Pinehurst, we began the circuit of visiting our grandparents and great-grandparents. The particular occasion I have in mind, we stopped first at my mother’s home. I received a Kodiak 126 camera. My grandfather, as was his tradition, had large boxes and crates of fruits and nuts and he’d give everyone who stopped by a bag containing an orange and a tangerine, apples and an assortment of nuts. It was his way of sharing and making all who visited feel welcomed. As we waited for the first of our Christmas dinners to be served, all of us kids, which now included our cousins, ran around in the fields laid fallow for winter.
What I remember most about my mother’s parents’ home at Christmas was the cedar tree—an Eastern Red Cedar, the kind which gives off a wonderful fragrance that fills the house. This bushy tree was simply decorated: white lights, red ornaments and silver icicles. It seemed much prettier than our skinny store-brought tree and since my grandfather had cut the tree down made it even more special.
After lunch, before we headed off to see other relatives, I was able to snap a photo of my grandparents out by the holly bushes in front of their house. It was a little crooked, but they stood close together for me, my grandmother thin and my granddaddy, a little chubby (like me). It would be the last photo taken of them and in a few weeks, we’d again be making the trip to Moore County for his funeral at Beulah Hill Baptist Church.
Dinner, late Christmas afternoon, was at my dad’s parents. Before eating, we exchanged gifts. If my memory is correct, I received a Boy Scout hatchet and soon became the terror or trees and fence posts everywhere. That hatchet served me well (and got me in trouble) for a number of years before I lost it on a scout camping trip. Since it was already dark, I didn’t get to try out the hatchet. Instead, we moved into the dining room for the last of the day’s feasts. We certainly didn’t need dinner for after stopping at two sets of great-grandparents, who both gave us candy and fruitcake and other goodies; we were stuffed. But my grandmother had prepared a feast and we indulged ourselves on ham as well as sweet potatoes, collard greens, biscuits and homemade pie. It would be late in the evening when we were ready to head home. My grandmother fixed a few biscuits with slices of ham, just in case we got hungry and set us away with a pan of her famous persimmon pudding, a going-away tradition that continued until she moved into a care facility.
Driving home, I pressed my nose to the window and peered out into the dark night. From the east, the tree stars of Orion’s belt rose over the horizon as my breath formed frost on the car window. I scrapped it off with my hands so I could continue to see. As we passed the same houses in which the kids played outside that morning, I saw families gathered around the Christmas trees in their living rooms. Smoke from fireplaces filled the air. These houses seemed warm and cheerful, but I no longer wished to join them. It had turned out to be a special day and I was satisfied. I felt loved and a part of an extended family who cared for me. Somewhere in the night, as my dad drove and he and mom talked, the three of us in the backseat fell asleep. When I woke the next morning, I was home, in my own bed.