Sometimes our fondest memories are simple things that didn’t cost much. I know they are for me, because Christmas doesn’t come from a store.
My wife is from rural West Virginia. Her parents were tenant farmers, meaning they worked long hours running someone else’s farm for very little pay. Fancy gifts were never an option.
That said, Christmas was always special. Roberta and her younger brothers scoured the local woods for a tree each December. By the time they dragged it home it had lost numerous needles.
Their dad would build a wooden stand for the sparse white pine and the whole family helped decorate. They used whatever lights they had, usually gaudy multicolored blinking ones. Sometimes Roberta’s parents stayed up several evenings removing and replacing bulbs until the strands would light.
Countless evenings were also spent cracking hickory nuts. Some they sold and others they used in some of the best mincemeat cookies imaginable. More were wrapped up as gifts.
Her dad hunted raccoons by night. He also trapped foxes, muskrats, and just about anything else that would bring in a few bucks. The whole family collected black walnuts to sell at the farmer’s market.
One sunny fall afternoon the children’s trip up the hill for walnuts proved costly. A chair perched upon the wheelbarrow so the youngest could reach the lowest branch was not a good idea. His broken arm consumed all their walnut money that year, but the homemade gifts still made Christmas great.
Lack of funds never interfered with their Christmas spirit. Caroling on a hay wagon with other church members was always a big event, even though nobody possessed a stellar singing voice. One of the church ladies crocheted crosses every year for all singers to use as bookmarks for their bibles and hymnals.
The Minney’s never had much money, but you’d never know it if you arrived at their house at dinner time. Elloise had a hard earned reputation as one of the finest cooks in the area. Her country fried venison steak was a treat nobody ever turned down.
The whole family helped process produce from the garden and apples, berries and nuts from nearby woods. Every year they canned over 300 jars of green beans alone. Homemade chunky applesauce and tomato juice were also staples.
Then there were all the relatives. Ezra was one of 21 siblings and Elloise one of seven. Company was inevitable. Food was plentiful. It made for great fellowship.
Whether the coon hunting and trapping were productive or lean, it made no difference. Late spring frosts sometimes eliminated the walnuts and hickory nuts. That didn’t matter either. Christmas was always a joyous occasion.
Many people today might consider my wife’s family poor. They lived in a house with no central heat, drove a clunker and seldom went shopping. What they had was love for family, friends, the Lord and life in general. They were one of the richest families I’ve ever met and I’ve been fortunate to be a part for nearly 30 years.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.