My Most Memorable Thanksgiving and Christmastime by Vera Richards

GRANITE FALLS, NC (November 28, 2019)…We are very blessed and honored to have the opportunity to share this wonderful story with you that was written by Vera Richards.  Vera passed away on November 2, 2015.  Vera was a beautiful lady that was loved by many and she was a fantastic story teller as you will see when you read her story below…

Sometimes, I go in memory back down a winding, dusty road to my childhood homeplace of so long ago.  I think of the carefree warm autumn days when my brother, Joe and I ran barefoot through the meadows, and the soft, gentle breeze blowing in the wind.  We played hide and seek among the big, shady oak trees in our yard, and the shouts of gaiety and laughter are re-echoing through my mind.

Joe and I were reared in a weathered frame cotton mill house near an old mill pond.

I remember so vividly my most memorable Thanksgiving and Christmastime when I was growing up.  I was probably in my eighth year and Joe was four.  When I left the schoolhouse on Wednesday at noon, the sun was shining brightly. But much to my surprise when I awaken on Thanksgiving morning and looked out the window, I shivered instinctively at what I saw.  The snow was swirling down heavily and had already accumulated about 2 inches on the ground.

I quickly awaken Joe, and we dressed hurriedly and rushed to the kitchen, where the warmth from the wood-burning cook stove was very cheerful.  A big pot of steaming oatmeal was on the stove top, and Moma gave each of us a big bowl full, a hot biscuit, and butter and molasses, and a tall glass of milk.

After breakfast, Moma saw us looking longingly out the window at the feathery snowflakes coming down.  She admonished us ever so slightly, but she also knew our heart’s desire was to rush eagerly outside.  She helped us dress warmly in two layers of clothing, galoshes, Joe with his aviator cap buttoned snugly under his chin, and I with a toboggan pulled down over my ears.

Just several weeks earlier, we had moved our playhouse from under the oak trees in the yard to Dad’s old car shed.  We trudged up a slight hill in the snow till we came to the shed, which was partially obscured from the house.  We rushed inside and removed our outer coats and hung them on a peg.  A feeling of joy and exhilaration swept over us as we surveyed the playhouse of our dreams.

My eyes immediately fell on our miniature table.  It was made from a discarded old milk bench, and a colorful cloth was draped over it, and my tea set was proudly displayed.  The stove and cooking pots were a gift from Santa Claus the previous Christmas.  We gathered pebbles from the yard for our make-believe bean pot.  Oh, we just couldn’t wait to make mud pies to put in our scalloped pie tin shells.

Dad had brought us tow tiny stools from the mill which made perfect seats for us.  My baby doll and bed were in a corner of the shed, and I even had a scrap of colorful patchwork quilt for the bed.  We had found an abandoned old rocking chair, and this was perfect to rock and cuddle the doll.

A small crate was our dresser, and we even had a mirror over it.  A tiny pail of water was on the dresser, and along side of it was bent-up tea kettle from Moma’s kitchen.  Nearby was a broom made from broom sedge to sweep the bare earthen floor.

While the snowstorm raged outside, we played ever so contentedly together.  All too soon Moma called us in a loud voice to come in and get warm.  Moma looked up and smiled at us, but her face seemed flushed from the heat of the stove.  She had smudge of flour on her cheek and forehead.  Moma had her hands I the dough bowl making biscuits for our dinner.  She beckoned for us to sit near t he stove, and I could feel the warmth from the stove radiate throughout my body.

Dad worked in the cotton mill 11 hours a day – from 6 till 6 and an hour for dinner.  Thanksgiving dinner was on the table when he arrived around 11:30.  When Dad came into the kitchen, he sniffed appreciatively at the delicious aroma wafting in the air.  We bowed our heads in silent prayer for the bountiful Thanksgiving dinner set before us, and for the privilege and joy of us all gathering around the kitchen table.

Moma had a tender, savory beef stew (with the soup bone still intact) steamed green cabbage, white soup beans, mashed potatoes, beet pickles, and the most delicious sweet potato pie with marshmallows toasted on the top, hot buttered biscuits, and cold milk.  (In a few days, she would take the left-over beef and make her famous beef vegetable soup).  It was not like the traditional Thanksgiving dinner we have today, but it sure tasted good to us, and we ate to our heart’s content.

Soon we were bundled up to brave the storm once again.  The snow was deeper now and we had to walk more carefully back to the shed.  Joe immediately went to a far corner of the shed where he had stored a few toys.  A big, red truck caught his eye, and he began to push it back and forth on the earthen floor.  Later, he found an airplane kit, and I noticed how patiently he worked assembling it together.  Joe was always very good working with his hands.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t long till he came bouncing back to our playhouse.  I glanced at him now and then and he had that certain sparkle in his eyes.  We were so happy and engrossed in our playhouse, till time literally stood still for us on that Thanksgiving Day of so long ago.

The old car shed had been built with old boards from the mill and had darkened with age.  There were a few cracks between the boards that had been chinked very well, and I notice a faint trace of snow filter through.  Now, as I look back, the shed was probably quite cold, but we were young and not aware of any discomfort.  We felt cozy and secure from the storm.

We finally became conscious that Moma was anxiously calling us, but we were reluctant to leave our beloved playhouse.  The snow was quite deep now so Moma came to meet us and assist us into the house.  As we entered the sitting room the small coal stove was warm and cozy.  The doors to the other rooms were closed as the stove would heat only one room.  The fire from the kitchen range had long since gone out.

Dad was tired from his long hours spent at the mill, and he sat dozing before the stove.  Moma was bustling around the stove baking cornbread in an iron skillet on the stove top.  After the bread was golden brown, she turned it over to brown the other side.  The beef stew was warming on the stove, and as I recall we ate our left-over vegetables and sweet potato pie cold.  We were in the depression years, and as I reflect back to that day, we were truly blest to have plentiful food on our table.

After supper, we hovered around the radio listening to the news and other programs.  I dare say we were not considered a very talkative family however, we were a close-knit one.  We thoroughly enjoyed the hours we spent together and the warm, companionship we shared as a family.  Joe and I were surrounded by our parent’s deep affection, and a strong feeling of love we all had for one another.

Needless to say, I will always cherish that particular Thanksgiving Day as my most memorable one.  I will remember and treasure always the special togetherness Joe and I shared in that unforgettable snow storm and playhouse of yesteryear.  All too soon it was time for bed.  The bedroom was icy cold, and I snuggled way down deep in the featherbed, and soon was fast asleep.

The Christmas season was upon us, and the Saturday before Christmas was very mild just like an Indian summer day.  The snow had long since melted from the raging snow storm we had at Thanksgiving.  My parents’ raked leaves all morning.  Joe and I helped somewhat, but we may have been more of a hindrance than helpful.  Anyway, it was wonderful being outside on such a gorgeous day.

After dinner, Dad worked on his Model T Ford.  Joe loved to hand him the tools he needed.  The Ford cost $500.00 new and was Dad’s pride and joy.  His wages from the mill were only $5.00 to $7.00 a week.  Needless to say, he had to save for quite a long spell to be able to buy the Model T Ford.

Moma had taken the butter churn to the front porch where it was cooler.  Even now, I can hear the sound of the dasher against the sides of the churn.  She let me churn from time to time, and when she had finished, I watched her remove the butter from the milk and press it down and heaped up firmly in a butter mold.  Today, when I think of that day, I think of the Bible (Luke 6:38), “Give, it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together and running over.)  Moma sold butter, milk and eggs to friends and she sure always gave good measure.

Dad and Joe were now playing baseball, and they seemed to be enjoying the game immensely.  Moma was finished with churning and I saw her reach for her embroidery basket, and I knew this was her way of relaxing.  All at once, I had such an overwhelming desire to get away by myself for a while.  Dad saw me leaving with my story book and cushion, and he knew I was going somewhere to read.  He said he would call me later in the evening, and we would go to the woods to choose a Christmas tree.  There was a big field of broom sedge at the back of the house, and I leisurely strolled right into the heart of the field, and propped down on the soft cushion.

The high, golden broom sedge encompassed me all around, and was a perfect windbreaker.  The atmosphere was warm and comfortable, and this was my secret hideaway place, and I was literally secluded from everyone.  I could just sit and daydream forever, as the stillness wrapped itself around me.  I opened my book and began to read of far, far away places.  I was just literally caught up into the pure enchantment of it all.

Suddenly, I was brought back to the present with whoops of spontaneous laughter from the yard.  Some of Joe’s friends had joined in the ball game, and they were having a good time.  I heard someone say, “Strike two”, what ever that meant.  I immediately forgot about them and was transported back to those wonderful and enchanted places in my book.  Oh, how much I enjoy reading.  To me, this is one of God’s greatest gifts.  I have cataracts and retina problems now, and my vision is greatly impaired.

I don’t know how much time had elapsed, when I heard Dad yell and say it was time to pick out our Christmas tree.  I bounded to my feet and began to run.  I swirled around suddenly there was just no way I could run in a broom sedge field.

Soon, Dad, Joe and I were walking through the meadow to the woods.  Dotting the countryside were bunches of wildflowers.  I saw Black-eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod.  We saw several rabbits and one squirrel, but they darted through the undergrowth when they saw us.  We entered the woods and walked on the soft carpet of pine needles for a while till we came to a small clearing.  Much to our astonishment there stood a perfect cedar tree.  We all cried out in unison, “that’s the one.”

Dad told us when we had finished our evening chores and supper was over, we could trim the tree.  Dad split wood for the cook stove, and Joe and I carried the wood to the wood box in the kitchen, he also milked our jersey cow, and fetched a bucket of coal for the coal stove to warm us during the cold night.  Water was drawn from the well.  By the way, on extremely cold nights a skim of ice froze in the water bucket.  The long-handled dipper was used by all of us.  I remember on several occasions, the dipper froze to the sides of the bucket.  After we had eaten our left over vegetables from dinner and a delicious apple pie, we all gathered in the sitting room to trim the tree.  Dad assembled the tree for us near the fireplace and in front of a window.  Joe and I could hardly contain the excitement that welled up inside of us and spilled over.  We began eagerly to loop garlands of red, green, and silver Christmas roping all around the tree.  Here and there were placed ornaments that Moma had saved for years.  They were so beautiful and fragile, (oh, how I wished we had kept those – they would be so priceless today.)  Last, we took the icicles and generously sprinkled them on the tree.  We stepped back to observe our handiwork.  When I think back to those moments, my heart overflows with love for my family.

When Dad reached for his well-worn and frayed song book, I was overcome with joy.  I knew we wouldn’t have to go to bed just yet.  Moma sang alto and Dad soprano, their voices blended well together as they sang those old hymns.  Sometimes, if they didn’t know the tune, they would sing the notes till they could get back in harmony.  My parents encouraged Joe and me to sing along with them.  We would always join in whenever we knew the words.

During the long, winter evenings, we had several choices of entertainment.  I sure looked forward to our old-fashioned sing-a-longs.  We also hovered around the radio listening to the news and other programs.  The Amos and Andy Show was my favorite program and I also like Lum and Abner.

Dad and Joe enjoyed sitting around the stove playing a good game of checkers, while Moma and I worked on our embroidery.  She was very patient in teaching me to make neat stitches.  We also shared a love for reading on those winter nights.  As I look back to that particular Saturday night, I remember how relaxing it was just to sit back and listen to the Grand Ole Opry, and enjoy the closeness of our family.  Some of my fondest memories are woven around those long, winter nights, and the warm companionships we shared.

Finally, it was Christmas Eve, and Moma had place a huge, red belt with streamers over the fireplace.  Sprigs of holly with glistening red berries decorated the fireboard.  Our long, woolen stockings were hung one on each side of the fireplace.  Our Christmas tree at the window looked very dazzling and festive.  Moma had several pitches of holly throughout the room.

Moma came from the kitchen with a plate of tea cakes.  A few days before, she had baked several dozen and wrapped them in a pillowcase to keep them fresh. (The tea cakes were similar to the sugar cookies we have today.)  She gave us several cookies and a glass of milk.  We sat close to the stove and munched ever so contentedly on the cookies, and I was daydreaming of Santa’s visit in the morning.  Soon it was time for bed.  I took one last look around the room at the beautifully decorated Christmas tree and the warm “Christmasy” atmosphere that filled the room.

On Christmas morning Joe and I bounced out of bed almost at the same time, as we ran barefoot to the sitting room.  We gazed in wonderment around the room.  Santa had left my gifts on one side of the fireplace and Joe’s on the other.  Propped against the hearth was the prettiest baby doll I had ever seen.  She was dressed in a pink dress and bonnet, and little black shoes.  I just couldn’t wait to hold and cuddle her in my arms.  There was also a big, illustrated story book, and I was already becoming absorbed in going through the pages.

I glanced around at Joe and he had that little smile hovering around the corners of his mouth.  He was bounding around with his gun and holster on that Santa had left him.  I could tell how pleased he was with his handsome ball glove he was trying on and he had received a new ball too.  (When Joe was around 2 years old, Dad had meticulously whittled him a ball bat out of very good wood and had sanded it to perfection.)  Oh, how he loved that ball bat.  He sure loved to play ball whenever he had someone to play with.

Under the Christmas tree were presents wrapped in brown paper and tied with Christmas colorful roping. We all opened our presents and were so glad to receive the much needed clothes for the long winter days ahead.  Last, but not least we emptied our stockings and we each had an orange, tangerine, apple, nuts, and candy.  This was indeed a treat from Santa Claus – we didn’t have oranges and tangerines during the year.  After breakfast, we were allowed to play with our toys for a while.

All too soon, it was time to go to my grandparent’s home for our Christmas dinner.  Our Model T Ford was parked in the yard.  We stepped on the running board and climbed into the Ford, all except Dad he went to the front of the Ford and vigorously cranked to get the car in motion.  As a child, I was always fascinated by the isinglass window curtains that kept out the cold air. (The cars back then didn’t have windows)  When the Ford finally started, we were off and running over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we went.

Sometime later we rounded a curve and there perched on a lovely plateau was my Grandparent’s old homestead.  Today, I can look back and envision the big, rambling, weathered shingled, boards darkened with age, and the L-shaped porch.  I can see the wide panoramic view of rich farmland, the old barn with horse stalls and cowsheds, the chicken house, hog pen, granary, car shed, and the corn crib.  When we came into the yard, chickens scattered in all directions.  Old Jack, grandpa’s faithful dog, came running to greet us and almost knocked Joe down.

I noticed at once the cedar boughs and holly entwined, and fastened securely around the posts on the porch.  The tiny snowflakes and holly berries glistened in the sunlight.  (Grandma had mixed flour and salt with water, and had sprinkled in tiny droplets on the cedar boughs to make it look like snow.)

As we entered the sitting room, a fire was burning brightly in the huge rock fireplace.  A beautiful holly Christmas tree stood near by and the most tantalizing aroma coming from the kitchen.  Dad was the second eldest in a family of 13 children.  Needless to say, the house was soon overflowing with relatives and spilling out to the big front porch.  Very small children were playing in the yard too.  The fun-loving boisterous laughter reverberated throughout the house.  It sure sounded as though everyone was having a very Merry Christmas.

Grandma soon came to the doorway of the big dining room and called us to dinner.  By the time Grandma finished the blessing, and I had waited in line a while, I was famished.  But surely it was worth it when I saw the bountiful Christmas dinner set before us.  To the best of my recollection, there was a huge pot of chicken and dumplings, baked ham from Grandpa’s smokehouse, beet pickles, four or five large bowls of steaming vegetables, cornbread browned and crunchy to perfection, and of course plenty of cold milk.  She had a large aluminum dishpan full of yeast bread cut in big wedges, apple pies, sweet potato and pumpkin pies, and a cake stacked with dried fruit.

As many as could gathered around the long dining table, and others sat at the table in the kitchen.  I remember sitting on the floor with some other children and a long bench served as our table.

After we had eaten dinner, the men and boys walked down to the cow pasture to play baseball.  The men always looked forward to a good game of ball whenever our families gathered together.  The women sat by the fire reminiscing of the good ole days.  We girls strolled ever so leisurely out to the granary.  We found Grandpa’s hammer and old shoe last and that kept us busy for quite a while cracking walnuts.  We even got peanuts from Grandpa’s bin where he kept them stored.  I sure hoped he wouldn’t be too angry with us.

We decided to walk down to the cow pasture and watch them play ball.  We passed the “ole tater hole” that Grandpa had dug out under a hill like a cave to store his winter vegetables.  I loved to stand by the open wooden door and peer into the darkness of the cave and to smell the pungent scent.  He had stored turnips, sweet potatoes, and cabbage to last during the winter.

Just before we arrived at the pasture, we walked across a quaint old foot bridge that spanned a very deep gully.  I was fascinated as a child walking across this bridge that my Grandfather had built.  We stood at the edge of the pasture and enjoyed seeing them play.  Their enthusiasm knew no bounds and was contagious to the rest of us.  Dark was upon us when the ballgame was over, and we all trooped up to the house to say our goodbyes to our relatives till another gathering of our big family.  As I reflect back to that Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays of bygone days, my heart is warmed by those nostalgic moments, and they will forever be etched in my memory.

Dad left in the springtime of my life when his beautiful red roses were in full bloom and everything was bursting into life.  Moma joined him years later on a beautiful, hot summer’s day.  Now, this autumn on a perfectly blue and cloudless, October day, Joe was reunited with Moma and dad to be with them forever.  I am now in the winter of my life.  As I write these lines I am in my seventy-fifth year, and the unforgettable past is unfolding and being recaptured.

As I think back to those endearing days of yesteryear, I can see a light in the window, and table set in splendor, Moma, Dad and Joe are all standing by the open door, and there is such a longing in me for all of us to be reunited and to gather once again around the kitchen table at suppertime.

As my Christmas story comes to an end, I think of Moma and Dad and the good raising they gave Joe and me.  We were taught to go to church, and they were firm believers in the old adage, “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.”  They taught us that the greatest Christmas gift of all comes from the heart, and I hope I have captured for you the true spirit of the Holiday season.  A flicker of tenderness and wistfulness sweeps over me, when I think of how much I loved them.

Even though Joe is not with us this Christmas, he is with us in spirit, and will forever be in our hearts.  I am so appreciative and thankful to be surrounded by Joe’s big, loving family this Christmas, and I have a deep and abiding love for every one of them.

If I close my eyes, and listen ever so intently, I can hear re-echoing down through the years, a childish little voice of a 2 year old, tow-haired, grey-eyed baby brother say, “Tetch a ball, Daddy, tetch a ball.”

By Vera Richards…”Dedicated to the Joe Richards Family In Loving Memory of my brother Joe.”