Happy Holidays… by JoAnn
Well, another year is coming to an end, and it’s time to celebrate the holidays once again. Thanksgiving was the first tradition to enjoy with family and friends. It’s usually my favorite because it is more relaxed. There are no worries about gift exchanges or the weather being too cold. It’s just a laid-back time to enjoy the company of people we love being around and having a delicious meal together. This year I spent the day with my oldest daughter, her husband, and my three grandchildren. My youngest daughter also joined us. We had a wonderful meal and even better conversation. My favorite thing has always been the laughter, so it’s great to get together with family that laughs a lot. It is therapy to me and the best part of every get-together we have.
Next week is Christmas, and everyone I know is rushing to finish their preparations. There are gifts to be purchased and grocery shopping to do. Recipes are to be chosen for each and every meal. Everyone wants their favorite goodies made year after year. Decorations and Christmas trees are up. I need to take a drive after dark and admire the hard work of my neighbors. I am always amazed at how many lights some will use to decorate their home. But they sure are beautiful to look at.
It’s been quite a few years since I did any of the abovementioned things. Oh, I have a few decorations scattered around and a jolly-looking front door. But I last had a Christmas tree when I adopted my cat four years ago. Every year I think maybe she has gotten old enough that a tree wouldn’t phase her. But then I watch another video online of a cat knocking over a fully decorated tree and lose my confidence. Maybe next year.
I no longer cook all the goodies I did when my daughters were growing up. I leave all that to them now. They are excellent cooks, and I enjoy trying their recipes for a change. But I do miss the specialties my own mother used to make. What I wouldn’t give for a piece of my mama’s fudge or a slice of her delicious fruit cake she made every Christmas. That fruit cake was everyone’s favorite. I even wrote a story about it. You can find it among all my others.
This year I hope to spend Christmas day with all three of my daughters, their husbands, and my three grandchildren. I hope we have a glorious time just being together. Good food and entertainment will be nice, but I’m mostly looking forward to seeing them all in person and giving them big hugs. Oh, and the laughter. I’m really looking forward to the laughs we will share.
Wherever you are this holiday season, I hope you are with someone you love and feel blessed to be in their company. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!!!
Oh Christmas Tree… by JoAnn
Someone asked me the other day what my favorite Christmas song was when I was a child. I quickly said, “Oh Christmas Tree .”I remember it well from music class in elementary school. It was one of several that we sang many times every holiday season, along with Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman. For me, Oh Christmas Tree was easier to remember the words. That was the main reason it was my favorite.
I also adored Christmas trees. As a kid, and even now, they are my favorite holiday decoration. Majority of my years, my family has only had an artificial tree. But decorated with sentimental ornaments and tinsel and glowing with bright lights, I can easily imagine the tree as real.
As a kid, I loved the Pine trees that grew on our property. I was mesmerized by how they stayed so green and lush in the winter when all else was brown and every tree bare. They even smelled green and alive. Many years later, when I had my own yard with Pine trees, I learned I was very allergic to Pine. So it worked fine that I only had an artificial one at Christmas. If I had an allergic reaction to the Christmas tree as a kid, it would have taken much of the magic out of my favorite holiday.
I remember one Christmas when we had no artificial tree for whatever reason, so my mother decided to take a chance on a live one. She disliked a real tree because of the mess it made with the needles falling off and strongly felt it was a fire hazard. I remember the day she sent my older brother to the woods to find a “decent, small tree that we could use on a tabletop” (her description). He must have been around 14 years old at the time. She didn’t seem very confident in his abilities, but my dad was away working. My brother was all she had. So she reluctantly sent him into the woods with the necessary tools. Mama had given him strict instructions on what shape of tree she wanted and what size. I also remember her complaining the whole time my brother was gone just how much she despised a real Christmas tree.
Lo and behold, my brother comes back with a real Christmas tree. He proudly brings it into the house. I could hardly contain my excitement, but I did because Mama was still in a mood! It looked lovely to me and smelled even better. My Mama did not agree at all. Her first words were, “You got the wrong kind!”. Evidently, my brother had picked out a specific species of Pine tree that she did not like. She continued to explain her reasons, one of which I remember as being it would drip sap all over everything. Looking back, I can still see the look on my brother’s face. He was so deflated.
Out the door, my brother went with the wrong tree, along with instructions to bring back a better one. A while later, he appeared with a smaller but more accurate tree. Perfect in our Mama’s eyes. “It will have to do,” she said, and we began to decorate it. The following year, we had a new artificial tree. Never again did we get a live one.
It’s been years since I thought of that day, so many holidays ago. It makes me sad to remember the way my brother must have felt. And sorry that my mother handled it the way she did. Our parents are not perfect. And we as parents could be better as well. No matter how hard we try. My Mama was a wonderful woman, and though she failed at times in her role as mother, all that she did right far outweighed her mistakes. I wonder if she ever thought back on that day with regret. Being a mother myself, I imagine that she did.
I know that every year of my brother’s adult life, he has had a live Christmas tree in his home for the holidays. Usually, one he has gone into the woods and gotten himself. The last one I remember seeing was much too big for the room and oddly shaped. But it smelled wonderful. I also remember how proud my brother was of it. That made me happy.
Year Round… by JoAnn
I was watching one of my favorite people on YouTube the other day, and she said something that I have not been able to forget. She was showing the new Christmas decorations she had bought for her front porch. It’s their first holiday season in their new home, and she is eager to decorate. Her dad is planning to put up the lights around the outside of her house. He asked her if she wanted to have them up temporarily or if she wanted him to attach them more permanently. As in, leave them attached to the house forever! What? Did I hear that right? Does he suggest she leaves her home strung with holiday lights year round? She asks him the same question, and he answers that it is the new thing people are doing.
At first, I chuckled at the thought of doing such a thing. What first came forward into my memory bank was the vision of a dilapidated tin can of a mobile home, with twinkling lights of every color, strung in no particular order, around every inch of the trailer. We’ve all seen them either in person or in the movies. A redneck couple usually lives there. I’ll admit I have a few of these festively lit homes in my neighborhood. That’s how I know for sure they exist. I am thankful that I have never been so colorful myself.
As lovely and joyful as holiday lights are, is it necessary to leave them up all year round? I understand the chore of placing them on the outside of a house. I used to put them up just around my front porch back in the day, and it wasn’t easy. I’ve watched my grown children and their spouse venture into decorating with outdoor lights, and there is a struggle. No one wants to climb a ladder and feel unsafe just for a few lights. I can understand someone thinking it’s a great idea to string up the house and leave them there. Maybe they think if they are not turned on, people won’t notice the lights are there. I would know! And it would drive me crazy.
The YouTube video ended with her saying she would have to think about it and decide if she wanted temporary or permanent lights. I hope she decides temporary. The home is a beautiful, classic brick farmhouse built around 100 years ago. I think permanent holiday lights would bring the classiness down a few notches. I hope she agrees.
by Larry Fields
(based on true events, mostly)
“Hey Heck! What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?”
“Don’t reckon Santa will be a-comin’ to our house this year Tommy Joe”, Heck answered. “But iffen he does, I’m just a wantin’ me a bullwhip . . . and that’s all I want! What about you, Tommy Joe?”
My name is Tommy Joe Hall, and that’s part of a conversation I remember having with my best buddy the last day of school before the Christmas holidays in 1955.
My answer to Heck Hadley that day was a lie. I told him I only wanted a bicycle, when in actuality I wanted the exact same thing he did . . . a genuine Lash LaRue bullwhip….
This is the story of why I answered the way I did, and why I still say today, fifty years later, the Christmas of ’55 was my favorite Christmas.
Heck Hadley and I lived in a coal mining camp in rural Southwest Virginia. We were both ten, and our daddies were employed as coal miners by Bull Creek Mining Company. Several hundred people lived in the camp, in side-by-side, spittin’ image houses.
Heck had a knack for discovering fun things to do. Just walking to Bull Creek Elementary School each day was a wonderful adventure. Things like smoking out a hornet’s nest and catching a crawdad, or even swinging across Bull Creek on a grapevine, made the two-mile trip fly by. And we had fun with each other’s names….
I was always saying—”Aw Heck! Heck”. One day at school Heck yelled:
“Get out of the hall, Tommy Joe Hall!” 😂
I will say that school was hard for Heck. He was always getting in trouble for not paying attention or dropping a marble on the floor. In his defense, he was such a good marble shooter he couldn’t help but drop marbles. He could go outside for recess with two marbles in his pocket, and twenty minutes later when the bell rang, he’d come in with two hundred marbles bulging his pockets out.
But with class work, it was kinda like Heck got things backwards, and the teacher just thought he wasn’t trying (since he couldn’t even read or write).
Heck didn’t’ know what to think when the teacher, Mr. Wilkens, told him he would never get out of the Fifth Grade. I thought that was a mean thing to say.
One fine Saturday in late September, Heck and I caught the passenger bus to Grundy, a booming mining town about ten miles away.
Arriving in Grundy, the first place we visited was the Ben Franklin 5 & 10 cents store. Heck wanted candy and some caps for his cap shooter, and after purchasing those items, we went over and looked in the western comic books section. We looked at several before settling on one we knew we didn’t’ have . . . a Buck Jones.
Back on the crowded streets, we hurried to get a closer look at the posters describing the movies at Grundy’s’ three theaters (Lynwood, Morgan, and Alamo). Two of the theaters had Double-Feature westerns starting at noon . . . but the other theater, the Morgan, was the one that caught our eye. The Morgan was having a live show at noon featuring a western star named Lash LaRue. The marquee announced him as “KING OF THE BULLWHIPS”.
Heck and I agreed that we had heard of him, but we were pretty sure we hadn’t’ seen any of his movies. Right away, that was where we wanted to go. Just one thing was holding us back . . . the one- dollar admission price. Quickly checking, we determined that we had 50 cents between us. Ordinarily, that would be enough for the 10¢ admission to any of the theaters, plus enough to buy popcorn and soda, and the 10¢ bus fare back home to Bull Creek.
Don’t’ get me wrong. Money was never a problem when Heck was around, and we had a whole hour to earn the money . . . as announced by eleven loud bongs on the courthouse clock.
As it turned out, Heck didn’t’ need an hour. Heck was a masterful shoe-shine boy. Not only did he give the best shine in town, but also his whistling entertained bystanders royally.
Four shines at a 25¢ a customer, with one man giving a dollar tip, and Heck had earned the money we needed for the show, and we didn’t’ even move from our spot in front of the Grundy Drug Store. My contribution was holding on to the funds.
“Give me a quick one son”” said a man in black wearing a black cowboy hat, I’ve got a show at twelve over at the Morgan Theater.””
“Say, you must be Lash LaRue mister” Heck said, as both of us looked on, kind of starstruck. “That’s me” said the man in black. (Years later Johnny Cash would introduce Lash LaRue as the original man in black.)
“How would you boys like to make a quick buck?” he asked, as Heck popped his rag and whistled the “Chattanooga Shoe -Shine Boy” song.
We nodded, knowing we didn’t need the money right then, but from the looks of things we were going to see his show for free anyway.
As it turned out, we not only saw it, but we were also co-starring. Lash LaRue marched us right into the Morgan Theatre and right up on stage where he told us what he wanted us to do.
What a show! We both agreed later that we had discovered a new number one cowboy hero that day. With bullwhips, guns, strength, and magic, Lash Larue kept the packed audience in the Morgan Theater on the edge of their seats for nearly two hours.
The show opened with a movie clip that showed Lash LaRue getting shot. A split-second later, the house lights came on and Lash LaRue jumped out from behind the screen, his guns blazing! It scared me and Heck and everybody else half to death.
My hands trembled as Lash had me stand on one side of the stage with a piece of paper held between my hands. Lash stood on the other side with a bullwhip at least 15 feet long.
“R-R-R-R-ip!” . . . and the paper I was holding pulled apart like it was cut with a pair of scissors. The audience cheered and Lash asked me to hold just one half of the remaining paper. I closed my eyes when he brought the whip down. When I heard the sound, I opened them . . . and he’d done it again.
Since I’d felt the wind the last time, I refused to hold the smaller piece. Then Heck volunteered and held it ’til the paper got so small you could hardly see it. Finally, even Heck wouldn’t hold it.
“He could shore whup a young’un!” yelled a snaggle-toothed woman, suddenly standing up in the first row.
About that time, a man came running up out of the audience, grabbed Lash’s gun belt from the stage and started running up the aisle.
Lash’s whip sounded like a thunderbolt as the tip popped in the air above the head of the running man!
And then the cracker end of the whip descended around the man’s neck like he’d lassoed him….
When Lash pulled tight, the man’s tongue shot out, causing the audience to roar with laughter.
Lash continued pulling and soon the man was right up on stage, looking embarrassed and whipped. It may have been part of the show, but the sheriff came up and escorted the man out the door.
Lash LaRue was quite a showman with the whip, even catching coins out of the air and jerking the fire out of a man’s cigarette, leaving the cigarette still dangling in the man’s mouth.
Then Lash asked Heck to whistle . . . and did he ever . . . bowing to a standing ovation.
After the show, Lash gave us our dollar and an autographed picture of himself sitting on his horse, Black Diamond. A big bullwhip was curled around Lash’s shoulder. A picture to treasure forever!
Everyone wanted to shake our hand on the way out. I was surprised to see that Mom and Dad had been in the audience. Mom invited Heck to stop by our house for her Saturday night special; hamburgers, and home-made fries. Sooo Good!
Heck and I made a good number of whips in the days following the big show . . . but none of them were worth a plug nickel. We had fun, but to be honest, sticks and old shoestrings don’t make much of a whip.
Shortly after the big show, tragedy struck the Hadley household. Late one October night, Heck’s dad was working the hoot-owl(midnight) shift at the coal mine when he was pinned in a roof-fall. Luckily, his life was spared, but my dad said it was doubtful if he’d ever walk again.
Heck became the breadwinner at the Hadley place, doing all sorts of jobs, including shining shoes on Saturdays. Unfortunately, since Heck had to miss a lot of school, we rarely saw each other during November and December of that year (1955).
On the rare occasion I saw Heck, he wasn’t his old jolly self . . . and neither was I . . . without Heck to keep me company.
As Christmas approached, I thought a lot about Heck, and my lie to him about only wanting a bicycle for Christmas. The lie to Heck was a Hallmark event in my life. There, in that moment when Heck asked me what I wanted for Christmas.
For the first time in my life, I valued another person’s wishes above my own. IF THERE WAS JUST ONE BULLWHIP IN SANTA’S BAG, I WANTED HECK TO HAVE IT.
On Christmas morning I couldn’t believe my eyes when I hurried to the tree and saw a beautiful black bicycle. But what really caught my eye was the genuine Lash LaRue bullwhip coiled around the handlebars and seat. Lash’s name was carved right in the handle. I was jumping up and down happy when I saw it.
Being so excited I couldn’t eat, or even watch for a minute what dad said was the first television in the Bull Creek mining camp. I hopped on my bicycle, quickly christened it Black Diamond, after Lash LaRue’s horse, and letting out the reins on Black Diamond, and leaning out over her neck, I arrived at Heck’s house in record time.
If any boy had been a good boy, it was Heck. I knew in my heart that Santa had delivered Heck a whip just like mine and a whole lot more.
But no, that didn’t happen. I was just readying myself to ‘hello’ to everyone in the house when Heck stepped out on his porch . . . looking like a little whipped pup. 😞
“Santa d-didn’t come to o-our h-house”, Heck said, choking back tears.
I didn’t hesitate for a second. “What the Heck, Heck, Santa left your present at my house” I said, sailing the coiled whip through the air into his outstretched hands.
Heck didn’t return to school in January 1956, and when mom told me his family had moved to Montana, I cried for two days.
I looked up Montana on the map and vowed I would visit there some day.
That day came this past October. My wife Mary Jane, and I, were touring the West . . . when the big sky country of Montana beckoned.
It was surprisingly easy. I asked a guy at a truck stop, near Helena, Montana, if he knew Heck Hadley.
“Everybody knows Heck Hadley, he has a 5,000-acre ranch for troubled kids just south of here” the man said. “Several thousand kids have graduated from his ‘Hope and Help’ ranch. Just follow the signs, mister.”
Twenty minutes later, we were parked in front of the gate at the “H&H” ranch. “Look at the bullwhip!” Mary Jane said excitedly, as she pointed to the sign above the gate.
I looked . . . It was the same genuine leather Lash LaRue bullwhip that Santa had left for Heck Hadley at the Bull Creek mining camp.
Just then, a black horse cantered up to the gate. Mary Jane touched the power window, and I was pretty sure I recognized the rider because he was whistling.
Merry Christmas from the H&H Ranch and Ol’ Corn.
It is indeed more blessed to give than receive…… Larry
Christmas Stockings… by JoAnn
December 23, 2022
Guest Missive 2022, Guest WoW
Growing up, the highlight of every year was Christmas. The whole month of December meant parties, decorations, letters sent to Santa Claus, the anticipation of snow, and a much-needed vacation from school. It was the last month of the year, but the best month for so many reasons.
My sister and I would begin our holiday season with the arrival of the annual Sear’s toy catalog. The excitement when our mama would hand over the iconic catalog was worth the one-year wait. She would give each of us a pencil to circle our favorite toys. Of course, we understood that everything we marked would not be under the tree come Christmas morning. But we would dream of which things might. No matter what Santa brought us, we would be overjoyed. Some years would be lighter if money were tight, and some, we would have more under the tree. But I never remember it mattering either way. I only remember loving everything I received and how much fun my sister and me would have.
Another tradition was hanging up our Christmas stockings for Santa to fill with small gifts. It would usually be candy, an apple, an orange, and a few nuts still in the shell. It may seem silly to a kid today, but back in the 60s, those items weren’t available all year round to kids like us. They were treats. Sometimes, there may even be a small toy in our stocking or another small surprise like a necklace or a pack of Old Maid cards. Our mama was very good at gift-giving. She always picked out or told Santa about things we would really want. I don’t remember ever, not even once, being disappointed in anything I received for Christmas.
The very best Christmas stocking was always the forgotten stocking. When we would get so caught up in the opening and playing with our gifts that, we completely forgot about our stockings. Sometimes it would be later in the day, and it would suddenly dawn on us that we hadn’t checked them. Our mama got a kick out of seeing just how long it took us to remember we had stockings too. It would be like Christmas morning all over again.
It’s been many years since I had my own Christmas stocking. I did enjoy filling my three daughters’ stockings every year, though. I tried to make them very special, just as my mama had done mine. I’m pretty sure I succeeded with that task. Wonder what it would be like to wake up on Christmas morning at 60 years old and have a stocking filled by Santa Claus. I imagine I wouldn’t feel 60 at all.
Here’s hoping you have a stocking to check this year. Merry Christmas!