By Wayne Easter © 2014
Online: December, 2014
By mid-December, things had slowed down considerably, and we were no longer dying in the hot summer fields, the tobacco was sold, the bills were paid, and we had money again. After going barefoot all summer, we had new shoes, and one tobacco-selling day around 1940; I ate my first hamburger on Market Street in Mt Airy. It was right up there with fried chicken. With the big rush over, we had time to think again, and there was great satisfaction in knowing we'd done our best. We'd followed the moon signs like God intended, and everything considered, we'd had a good year. With the basement full of can-stuff, the granary full of corn, fatback and black walnuts from the creek bottoms, and a barn full of food for the animals, nobody or nothing would go hungry on our hill. The wolf would have to find himself another door to scratch at.
As the year deepened into winter, young people's minds turned to Christmas, Santa, and trying to be good. We searched far woods, found a small cedar tree and decorated it with paper chains and popcorn strung on a string. We made wreaths of running cedar and holly, and hung them where Santa would be sure to see them. With craft paper from School, flour paste and scissors, we made Christmas Cards for the whole family and Santa. We wore the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues dog-eared, and bent certain people's ears: telling them about all the great things Santa would bring. Chances of getting much were slim, but it was great to daydream, and you could never tell when a miracle might happen.
Just like every other year, we were told, "Things ain't looking too good this year boys, and Santa may not come at all, so don't look for much." Our thinking on the subject, "But we've been good this whole year, and he's gotta' come. Surely he'll remember all that water we toted from the spring, all that stove wood we toted in, all them chickens we fed, all them times we slopped the hog and all them miles of corn rows we hoed all summer." We didn't have much on our hill worth stealing, and never locked the doors. Then all of a sudden, to add to our problems, we began doing so, especially at night. I wondered if we had valuables I didn't know about, because Pa began locking the granary door about the same time. (I later learned he'd found a new place to stash his jug of moonshine.)
Everybody knew how Santa worked: he came streaking across the sky from the North Pole, landed on the roof, came down the chimney, and in through the fireplace. We had a small chimney for the heater and a stovepipe for the cook stove, but no fireplace. On top of that, the chimney was way too small for even an ordinary person, let along somebody as big as Santa. With a too-little chimney, no fireplace and all the doors locked, we had ourselves a huge problem.
Pa didn't help matters any at all, "If Santa comes down my chimney, I'm gonna' shoot him with my shotgun." I almost believed him, because the shotgun was very much a part of our lives. When neighbors shot firecrackers at Christmas, (which we couldn't afford) Pa answered with his shotgun and yelled, "Hurrah for Doc Hatfield, by Dotey, whoopee." I never knew what Pa would do next: shotgun, or no shotgun, but one thing for certain, if I ever had a house, it would have a big chimney and fireplace, no locks on the doors, maybe not even any doors, and Santa would be welcome anytime. As the days dragged on, I thought Christmas would never come, and with the too-little chimney, and so many other problems, it didn't matter much anyway. Then, as if we didn't already have enough to worry about, along came something even worse.
One dark gloomy day in mid-December, what little peace and quiet we had, jumped out the window and headed for the hills. Wearing black hats, black beards, and red faces, Hellfire and Damnation came roaring down the hill in a muddy open-top black "skeeter' that looked like a nightmare. It spewed a white cloud of radiator steam into the air, backfired all the way, and sounded like a war had begun. It was the most terrifying sight I'd ever seen. A preacher had once told us he was making a "Christian Endeavor" to get people to go to his new church, and if we didn't, we would see fire and brimstone and burn in the fiery furnace. Experts that we were on big words, we decided right off, "We ain't goin' to no church with none of them "Christian Devils," and we didn't. When the calamity came roaring down our hill that December day, I knew right away, we'd made the wrong decision about church and there would be you-know-what to pay. Right out of the blue, there were two of them devils right there before my very eyes, and I could already smell smoke. Here I was, already doing the best I knew how for Christmas, and bad things were not supposed to happen to good guys like me. It was easy to see that something had gone badly wrong somewhere, right at Christmas time. All of a sudden, going to church seemed like a great idea, but Sunday was days away, and this was now, and it was far too late to run.
I watched from behind the house, as the "skeeter" clattered to a stop, made one last loud bang, and sat there spewing steam. All the while, two of the meanest looking people I'd ever seen sat there and glared at me. Real Devils with pitchforks wouldn't have scared me any worse. They had a shotgun, a big pistol, and a jug of moonshine, and were ready for anything that came their way. It was said moonshine would cure every ailment known to mankind: including cold weather, snake bites, bad luck and bad news. Whatever the case, they were loaded for bear and feared no man. I looked close, didn't see any pitchforks or forked tails and hoped they were not as bad as they looked. As it came to be, they were two of Pa's drinking buddies from over yonder in "Gyarbrawley," as Pa said it. When they offered him a snort from their fruit jar, Pa took no chances on getting snake-bitten and told them, "You all light and come in."
I never knew if their red faces were caused by the cold, or the moonshine, but they were getting a head start on Christmas and feeling no pains. After passing the fruit jar around a few times, Pa was feeling no pains either. They had a great time telling tall tales, while they tried to shoot the top out of a white pine tree with the pistol. With all the smoke, noise, and commotion, I knew for sure, Santa would never come to our house again. They drank a while, laughed a while, sang a while, and shot a while. The tree was never in much danger, but Little Sid Marshall might have been, because they were shooting toward his house across the valley. After what seemed like a week, the moonshine ran out, and they went chic-a-lacking and banging back up the hill to wherever they came from. The next time I heard a car coming, I hid behind the house, again.
After a half lifetime of waiting, Christmas Eve came at last, and I watched the sky toward the North Pole, because that was where Santa came from. I could almost see him up there among the stars and knew he had to be a fast mover to visit every house in the world in the same night. Just thinking about all those toys put magic into the air, and my brother and I tried to stay up all night to see what happened. "You boys better get to sleep, because Santa ain't comin' 'til you do." It was very hard to go to bed, but somehow, someway, far in the night, we slept.
Christmas was the only day of the year, when nobody had to chase us out of bed, and we came out at daylight. It was a rat race to get to the tree to see if Santa had made it down our little chimney. Just as we'd known all along, he'd made it, and we had apples, candy, oranges and new toys under the tree. We told our parents, "See? We told you Santa would come." We didn't get everything in the Sears Roebuck catalogue, but what we did get was worth all the waiting and anticipation. With new toys on hand, there was almost no time for chores, but after a threat of hickory switches, we worked everything into our busy schedule, including breakfast. One special Christmas, Santa brought a pair of six-shooters on a gun-belt and Wild Bill Easter headed west. While practicing fast-draw, one of the guns broke and being made of sawdust and glue, I glued it back together, and it wiped out the outlaws just like before.
Kinfolks came for Christmas Day dinner and we ate chicken and dumplings, home made pies, fruitcakes, and all kinds of good stuff. Everybody ate like it was their last meal and when everybody was stuffed; the women washed the dishes, swapped the latest gossip and recipes, and bragged about how smart their kids were. The younger kids played with new toys, fought corncob wars, and played cowboys and Indians. Just like at Thanksgiving, the older boys hid behind the barn, smoked rabbit tobacco and talked about girls.
The men headed for the granary to do some long-range weather forecasting. With a jug of moonshine hidden inside, the process took a bunch of time and had to be done just right. They came outside often to check the sky and wind direction, but most of the important work was done inside. As the day wore on, they became happier and happier, and the weather reports got better and better. By the end of the day, there was no doubt in their minds; next year would be one heck of a good year.
Just like Foot-washing Day at Crooked Oak Church, time flew by on Christmas Day and all too soon, the sun went down behind Fisher's Peak, and everybody went home. It was a sad time, because we'd had such a great time on a day that should have lasted forever. If I had my way, it would be Christmas Day, every day.