My Canadian Christmas Memory
By Marie Hughes
Christmas is a magical time of year filled with wonder and delight that manages to cast its spell over most and I, for one, fell under its enchantment long ago. When I was a child we would make trips across the Rockies to my grandparent’s 1280-acre farm to visit family, particularly during the holidays and these rank among my favorite Christmas memories. We would drive late into the night trying to make the trip in short time and the mountain towns we passed through during the night-time hours looked like a magical crystal menagerie. There were deep snowbanks everywhere on each side of the snow-plowed road, snowflakes falling heavily on the windshield, and ice-covered trees that glistened like diamonds as the welcoming lights of town cast their glow on them. Grandpa and Grandma's farmhouse was a two-story wooden home, and the restroom facility was either an outhouse, a short cold walk from the house, or a chamber pot stored under the bed for night-time usage. In my childish memories, my grandparent’s home was huge and filled with joy when we were all gathered there. I was quite shocked when I visited 20 years ago and toured the old home. The kitchen, where I remembered us all gathered around the table, was barely large enough to hold the small wooden table with four chairs and the cast iron wood cook stove. I have no idea how we all fit inside! My perception of the size of the house may have been distorted, but the joy it held was an accurate memory indeed. My very favorite Christmas of all was the year my grandfather took my sister, Linda, and me for a sleigh ride. It was at night after the moon was already high in the sky and the pastures were covered with a glistening blanket of snow that sparkled in the moonlight. He had just finished cleaning out the barn and had tied the stone boat stacked with manure behind his tractor. He turned and looked at Linda and I, who were following his every step, and asked if we would like to go with him to dump it. We excitedly answered in the affirmative, so Grandpa tied the sled behind the stone boat and off we went. It mattered not to us that we were behind the manure pile with the dried particles being picked up by the breeze created by the tractor. As I clutched my sister, riding in front of me, we enjoyed the exhilaration of the sleigh ride and just being in the company of our Grandpa! But, I'm sure my memories of favorite Christmas' in my Canadian homeland hold little meaning to the residents of southeast Texas, so I paid a visit to my friend, Evelyn Standley of Smith Point to see if she had some favorite recollections to share. I believe her memories are some many here can relate to. I encourage you to fix yourself a cup of hot chocolate, snuggle up in a comfortable chair, and allow her to transport you back to a simpler time of "Christmas Long Ago." A time when more focus was on the giver than the gift, the fellowship than the funds, the simplicity than the stress, and most importantly, the birth of our Savior.
Traditions & Memories Of the Christmas Holidays In the “Good Old Days"
By Evelyn Stephenson Standley November 18, 2006
When I was a child, we did not have a lot of holidays from school. I went to a one-room one-teacher school with grades from first through ninth. So, we heard every class that went on all day from 8 A. M. to 3 P. M. We always had some kind of Christmas program for the parents to attend and enjoy. We sang Christmas hymns like: "O Come All Ye Faithful," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Joy to the World," and of course, the fun songs like: "Jingle Bells," "Up On the House Top," and "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." We all anticipated getting out of school two days before Christmas until the day after New Years. We would go and search for a nice cedar tree, cut it down, make a holder for it, and put it up in the living room. We would get all excited about making decorations to put on it. Our garlands were colored construction paper chains, popcorn strung up with a needle and thread, and white paper snowflakes. Our tree-top decoration was a big star made out of cardboard and colored a bright yellow. We did have candles that we put in metal clips in order that they would remain up straight when we lit them with matches on Christmas morning. They burned while we were opening our one present that each of we seven children received. Then, we put the candles out, so as not to catch anything on fire. The tree always stayed up until the day after New Years for us to enjoy. We always received apples, oranges, bananas, hard ribbon candies, and hard candies that I wondered how they got the bright flowers in. We had so much fun making our own fudge and taffy. Money was hard to come by. I only received two dolls in my whole life. I prized the one my Mother made out of a flour sack with embroidered eyes, nose, and mouth. Black hair and black slippers were appliquéd on. The pretty little dress was made out of another colored flour sack. I still have until this day as "keep sakes"--a hand mirror of a dresser set and a box that stationery paper came in. I was so happy to receive the writing paper, so that I could write to my grandmother and especially "Thank her" for giving it to me. Most children today receive so much that they haven't learned to appreciate what they have. We always had plenty to eat, because we lived on a farm and raised our own vegetables, chickens, and pork. So, for Christmas dinner we always had a couple of roasted hens with cornbread dressing and giblet gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, and hot yeast rolls (made with home-made yeast cakes and home-made butter.) For desserts, we had gingerbread, berry cobbler, buttermilk pies, fruit cake (made with home-made candied fruits,) and sugar cookies. Of course, all of this delicious food was cooked on a wood stove. I always dreamed of a "White Christmas," but I was eighty-three years old when I saw my first White Christmas on December 25, 2004, as I have always lived on the Texas coast where the weather is mostly on the warm side. We didn't have a church to go to, but our Mother always read us "The Night Before Christmas" and taught us the real meaning of Christmas, of which I am so grateful.
Merry Christmas!! Evelyn Standley
A Christmas to Remember
By Herbert Roedenbeck
Those who farmed in the year 1920 are not apt to ever forget that fateful year when prices for all agricultural products fell to the lowest level of the 20th century economy. It was the aftermath of a period of exceedingly high prices, caused by World War I and the inflationary tendencies caused by that war. In the beginning of that year, the government urged all farmers to produce as much food as was possible, because the food was needed and because millions of children and grown people also were perishing for want of the essential foods. While this condition of famine did not prevail in this country it was a lamentable fact prevailing in European Countries like Germany, Austria, Poland, the Baltic States and great parts of Russia. The situation was aggravated and partly caused by the Blockade instituted by Great Britain and maintained war after a peace was signed in 1919, that country would not relent his grip on the throat of Europe; and France, one of the Victor powers of said War marched their troops into the industrial area in Germany to prevent the economic recovery of a fallen enemy.
There was, however, one country in the world that had the spirit of Christianity, and the United States, although not affected by the European Calamity, arranged for relief of the misery of the countries where already untold millions of children and grownups had perished.
The US sent that Stalwart humanitarian, a Quaker and friend and an expert organizer of business undertakings, Herbert Hoover who in course of time alleviated the sorrowful conditions prevailing in those countries; of which the sufferers were the innocents. This relief organization, however, was not in operation at the time of which I write, which is December 1920.
Like nearly all farmers in the United States, the rice farmers in Chambers and Jefferson counties, in Texas, were caught by the abrupt and merciless decline of prices; rice that sold as late as in may 1920 for from $11 to $15 per barrel of rough rice, had declined in September to $3 per barrel and in December to $2 per barrel.
In fact, rice was unsalable. The price would not suffice to cover 1/10 of the expenses to produce the crop and the rice laid in warehouses coved until a multitude Of liens which could not be paid. I had farmed in that year close to 3000 acres, with 18 tenants and we had produced a pretty good crop, but it turned out that the more rice we had, the poorer we got.
The American Rice Growers Association to which I and most farmers belonged tried to help the farmers by arranging a deal by which farmers shipped their rough rice to rice mills for toll milling and for sale of the milled rice by the mills. This was not a benevolent deal for the farmers, and those who followed this adventure regretted it ever after. Myself and B. W. Kiker who tried this scheme with 1000 barrels of rough rice, had a Beaumont Mill receive this rice for milling and sale in the processed condition. We waited two or three months for results, but finally the agent of the mill came around and said, “Boys, I have bad news for you. The rice which you sent us for milling and sale, was shipped to Porto Rico and on the way, the boat sank, without leaving a trace.” The result of the experiment with those 1000 barrels did not make me or Kiker better off, clear to even a blind man.
This was the situation in which we found ourselves in the middle of December of that fateful year, the rice tied up in warehouses, unsalable, the credits suspending or wiped out. This led stores unable to get good, indeed we were all depressed by gloom that laid as thickly over our minds as the fogs hang over the marshes of the gulf coast on Winter days.
And in ten days there was Christmas!
It seems to all that the children would not have Christmas and no presents. That depressed especially all mothers; and there was no indication of that things could get better.
Then, the unexpected happened: A friend of mine whom I had known well in the old country, and who owned a coffee plantation in Guatemala, and whose father was what is called a coffee broker in New York, sent me a letter and enclosed a New York Bank draft for one thousand dollars. He had heard about the disaster of the rice market and because I had given him a lift some years ago, he sent this draft to alleviate the condition for me. All this was of course a real help from Santa Claus, and it was nothing but right to use some of this unexpected windfall for the children for a better Christmas.
I sent word to all the folks who had farmed with me that I invited all their children and all grown folks for a Christmas celebration, and that we all would meet on the 23rd of December on Section 119 in Chambers County where I had a pretty big house and farm and where I kept the mules, horses and implements all of which the tenants turned over to me in lieu of money in order to pay for some of the advances made to them during the year. The number of mules had reached already about 90 head, and feeding them made me poorer by the day.
I told them men folks to get wild ducks, geese of which there was no scarcity and have the womenfolk prepare them and cook rice with it and bring all to the place in section 119 and that we would start at noon of the 23rd. Among these folks were a number of French people from Louisiana who had settled in Chambers County; the men were good rice farmers and great hunters. Their wives were the best cooks in the world, they knew to make a dish a piece de resistance of wild ducks and geese, and they knew how to cook and prepare rice dishes for the most particular gourmets. If Grand Charles of Frances, alias Charles the Great, would ever come to this country and taste some of these dishes prepared by these girls from Louisiana, he would not refuse to take a platter of this delightful dish, although he says he does not want anything from this country and wants to paddle his own canoe. Tasting this Louisianan delicacy, he would realize that his chef de cuisine in the Elysee Palace is not equal to these Louisiana beauties when it comes to cook or bake “canard Savage” and I bet a US Silver Dollar (and that is as high as I can go) that Grand Charlie would ask for a second helping, if he ever has the privilege to come to Louisiana or Texas. After the excursion about Dr. Goulle and the praise of the Louisiana French cooking artists, I return to December 1920.
After I had given invitation to all, I went to Jim Guy who was a colored truck farmer living near Winnie. He and his wife had settled there, coming from Louisiana. Both had a certain talent to raise vegetables, sweet potatoes, and watermelons. He was bedsides being a very good gardener, also expert in barbecuing all sorts of meat, fish and also wild ducks and geese. He barbecued using a hole or trench In which he used slow burning woods such as hickory of which he had a good supply in his yard. He took not less than 15 hours when barbecued wild ducks or geese. His wife prepared the sweet potatoes, rice, and other vegetables. I hired Jim and his wife to bring the ducks, geese, chickens, all other necessary things for dinner, to section 119; in fact I let him drive a team to the place on the 21st so that all was in readiness for the 23rd. Theodore Williams, who was my colored cook and also horse wrangled, donated six chicken in which were also barbecued by Jim. Theodore went with another team and brought dishes and other things to the place in Section 119.
I myself drove in a spring wagon to Anahuac, to Stacey’s Drug Store where I had seen many toys and other gifts a week before. I asked Mrs. Stacey to put presents for about 30 children in boxes and some gifts for grown women and 4 boxes of Roy Tan Cigars for men. Then I went to the baker who at that time was baker from Germany and bought bread of all kinds and German coffee cakes. In the store I loaded up with milk, a good deal of coffee and such other things that a cook needs. I had a pretty good load when I left Stacey’s drug store and drove direct to Section 119 which is about 20 miles southeast from Anahuac, located on the Lone Star Irrigation Canal.
It was getting dark when I arrived there. Jim Guy was already busy barbecuing chickens, ducks and geese; his wife preparing rice and sweet potatoes and all other things that belong to a dinner of that kind. Theodore had already started with improvising seats, tables and had decorated on long table with the evergreen twigs from the prairie myrtle bushes which were plentiful on section 119. We had no Christmas tree, and Theodore who was by nature a kind and somewhat artistic fellow decorated the table in his own way. All looked attractive although all very simple, and such is the spirit of Christmas, simplicity,. Like it was over 1900 years ago when a child was born in a manger, an event that changed the world.
On the 23rd everything s in readiness for the dinner at 12 o’clock. All or nearly all the folks invited arrived on time, with all their children, After the women folks had put the ducks, geese, and chickens and everything else on the table, the dinner began. It is a well known fact that the trail to contentment and happiness lead thru the stomachs, and this dinner was no exception; it created a fine spirit of contentment, made all forget the tribulations of the times and put the children into a mood of happy expectation for the presents which were, after dinner, passed out by the mothers.
As can be well understood, these presents were very simple and inexpensive toys and useful items, and we had enough of them so that every child received one or two gifts. These simple gifts made the children very happy, they created more joy than the most expensive gifts that rich folks load upon their children, and ever bestow upon rich children who as a rule become blasé and unappreciative, even when parents present them with sport cars. The custom of giving Christmas presents is abused when families or nations become too prosperous, after all such presents should be only the symbols of remembrance and care.
The evening passed on in great harmony, all were happy after all, the men folks smoking the Roy Tars, the ladies enjoying coffee and cakes with their children. All left about 4 o’clock so that they got to their homes before dark. I paid off Jim Guy and his wife with a Christmas bonus, well deserved; they drove back to Winnie with the pots, can, dishes, and left over ducks and geese. Theodore Williams and myself remained over night; besides there were two colored men who stayed there permanently, to look after the mules and shoot ducks.
The wide, almost endless looking, Texas Prairie induces one to meditate and speculate about the wonders of nature. So it was not strange that I scrambled to these feelings on that night when the Southern sky in all its beauty helped to make one happy in a degree, but also melancholy and in a way sad.
I slept that night outdoors on a cot, the night was one of those beautiful southern nights, a lot of ducks were amusing themselves in the marsh a few yard away, in never ceasing conversation, geese honked indicating great satisfaction with their world. Frogs too made themselves known by their continued special sounds. All creatures seem to be satisfied and happy that night. In a distance, a wolf or coyote was howling which sounded less peaceful, but wolves and coyotes and also foxes that were plentiful in that prairie, they have no Christmas nor a song in their hearts; their behavior reminded me of a certain man I had met in my life, men with no Christmas and no song in their hearts, who were after their prey only, regardless whether is was Christmas or Sunday, they had to get what they were after, on any day. I was afraid that these foxes were after rabbits which visited the place frequently and I hoped that they would have sense enough to stay in their burrows during Christmas when all the world is after something to eat; these rabbits should stay in their burrows with their little ones, and as is well known, rabbits have large families. The season was when one can expect meteors race thru the sky fragments of other planets that explode when they enter into the earth’s atmosphere, and break up in a last stream of fire or in a fire ball. One of those splinters illuminated the sky that night, and that light made me think that it was a sign that things would get better. It reminded me of the chapter of the Bible in which is reported that three wise men saw such star on the night of which Christ was borne, and that they brought presents to the child that laid in a manger, because no room in the inn was available. These 3 wise men must have had the intuition that that child was destined to pronounce a new way of life and a philosophy that revolves around the Lord of Men. Other civilizations had existed and ruled over men before; some great civilizations: the Babylonians, Persians and Greek and at the time of Christ’s birth the Roman civilization. But all these cultures were available only to a select few and the majority of the people of these races were forever condemned to be and remain themselves or destined to be of a lower class forever.
The philosophy of this baby, the coming Christ, differed from these ancient institutions. It pronounced the dignity of every man and woman and stood for the fact that every one has a right to his view and should be free under the law. This movement has been going on for over 1900 years and has revolutionized the outlook and activity of me. Only a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist can deny that mankind has made immense progress, in material ways, scientific ways and also in his inner sentiments. All this is the result of the new ethics brought in the world by the child borne on Christmas. The development was open interrupted by period when despots, fanatics, men drunk with power, fascists of commissars tried and try to the throw mankind back into slavery of mind and body. But there are in all nations of the Christian World, a class of people who perhaps unknown to others, resist those attempts and they always have won in the long run.
The march continues and will go on for eternity. That, in my opinion, is the meaning of Christmas and the reason for giving small presents, tokens of remembrance of the great event in the history of mankind. Such thoughts came into my mind on that night in 1920, in the Texas prairie, section 119.
The little celebration was a success, mostly due to the remembrance of a friend after 46 years, in December 1966, I still remember the folks, but have lost track of those who were children in 1920 a few departed from this earth, others moved to other states and cities, some live still in Chambers or Jefferson county. A few send me cards on Christmas, messengers of good cheer. The cards indicate that Santa Claus is still around; in fact a fellow whom I met today on the street told me confidentially that old good Santa is chuck full of business this year 1966.