By RUTH MORGAN
This is Part One of the “We Remember Christmas” booklet written by local notable historians and genealogists for OCHGS. Part Two will appear next week. This is the first time it has appeared in print and will make excellent story time for children of Christmas memories of long ago. You may wish to save it as a keepsake to remember stories of Christmas during war times also.
In 1985, the Oktibbeha County Historical and Genealogical Society had a project, “We Remember Christmas.” The program was chaired by Mozelle Leach, and stories were collected from the following people: Caroline Weir Bennett, Marjorie Blocker, Mary Chafee, Doris B. Cooper, Katie Prince Ward Esker, Austin Hughes, Nellie Ward Hughes, Lois Logsdon Kaufman, Mozelle Leach, Virginia Nash, Dora Mae Oswalt, Bill and HelenSue Parrish and Frances Scales. A book of the stories was presented to the Starkville Public Library. Not included in the book, but at the beginning of this article, is my remembrance of Miss Kitty Mosley, a teacher at Overstreet Elementary School who probably had the first animated Christmas decorations displayed on her lawn.
Kitty Mosley — A Teacher Remembered for Animated Christmas Decorations
Miss Kitty Mosley was a sixth grade teacher at Overstreet Elementary School for 30 years. Her students loved her and many others wanted to be in her class. I was not so lucky, but my oldest sister, Peggy, was. Miss Kitty loved Christmas. She was unique, to say the least, and very artistic. She had probably the first Starkville home to have animated scenes in her yard and my dad would usually do the electrical and mechanical set up for her since we lived a block away. She displayed the Christmas scene in her classroom for her students to enjoy before setting them up on her lawn. Each year she would let her students make something special out of a square piece of wood. The year, 1950, Peggy made a calendar. It had a photo of Miss Kitty seated at her desk along with the decorations in the room plus an animated Santa Claus. On the backside, each child in the class signed their name. She made Christmas a “special” time for her students. A copy of the calendar can be seen at the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum.
Miss Kitty lived at 806 East Main Street (now University Drive) near the college gates and her home is still in existence. Her sister, Daude, lived in the house also and had a roundtable where faculty and students would come eat meals. So all the college professors and students also got to enjoy Miss Kitty’s unique Christmas decorations. Mrs. Leota Cardwell in a meeting of the Kappa Delta Pi Educational Fraternity last year was giving the history of the organization and asked those in attendance how many remembered Miss Kitty Mosley and several raised their hands and she showed them a letter that Miss Kitty had received from National which she kept. Mrs. Cardwell also said that every year Miss Kitty would have several teachers to her home during the Christmas Season and served them refreshments. Miss Kitty taught all of Mrs. Cardwell’s children.
Caroline Weir Bennett — Our Christmas Tree
The first Christmas tree that I can remember in our home in Durant on Magnolia Street was during World War I in December 1917 when I was six years old. It was a holly tree and had real wax candles on it. The tree was placed in the southeast corner of our parlor which had a ten-foot ceiling. We did not go into the parlor until Christmas morning. I did peep through the lower glass as the two north windows reached to the floor.
My Aunt Katherine Hooper Clark and three-year old daughter, Agnes Julia, were spending the winter with us while Uncle Frank Clark was stationed at Camp Pike while serving as a dentist in the Army near Little Rock, Arkansas. He came to Durant for a few days during the Christmas holidays. It was a very happy time for us. Grandmother Julia Hooper was living with us. I do not remember my gifts, but I do remember a beautiful basket that Uncle Frank brought to my mother. She always kept it on the hall tree.
Marjorie Blocker — Oktoc Tour of Homes, A Favorite Christmas Memory
To tell the story of the Oktoc Christmas Tour is to go a long, long way back — back to the early 1940s when the tour began. For in the rural areas, it was still the days of kerosene lamps, wood stoves, doing the wash by scrubbing, wringing, and hanging out the laundry. It was still the day of heating irons by the fireplace, lowering foods to be cooled into the cistern especially dug for that purpose and hand churning. All these tasks were suddenly lightened or erased from every day life by the marvel of electricity brought to our area by the R.E.A. Now we were freed from drudgery and suddenly brought into the light!
For years we had made excursions during December to Starkville and neighboring towns to see the lighted decorations at night. Then one of our community ladies thought how nice it would be if we could have our own display of lights. This flame of enthusiasm by Mrs. Kathleen Gaston sent sparks flying over the whole neighorbhood. Carefully the officers of the Oktoc Garden Club made plans for the Christmas Lights Tour. It would be on Dec. 25 because everybody would then be through with the Christmas rush and also a few choice gifts could be on display. Refreshments would be served if the hosts desired to do so, but most importantly, the lighted decorations would be observed. At the last house visited, everybody would vote on the best decorations using lights.
Bare in mind this tour covered all of the Oktoc Community, and often the group was midnight getting home after having traveled some 20 miles. Everyone wanted an opportunity to vote — even the children — so no one dropped by the wayside during the evening. After all, the children had helped with all the preparations. We judged the “heart of the home,” lighted mantle pieces, decorations of tiny blue, red and white lights — all twinkling. All these things brought delight to the heart as we celebrated the Christmas Tour.
Nowadays, there is no such occasion in Oktoc, but the spirit is still there in the gathering of folks at the Community Club Christmas tree, and the Oktoc Garden Club Christmas Party. It is the same neighbor-to-neighbor feeling as Christmas comes and goes with new memories to be added to those already stored away.
Mary Chafee — Yesteryear Memories
My personal memories of Christmas were great and wonderful. Stringing popcorn to decorate the tree, making cutouts in all shapes and sizes, going with my father into the woods to select a tree, but most of all, the wonderful odors coming from the kitchen. All of our Christmas presents, except what Santa brought us, were homemade by all family members. The love and work was a great feeling. My first real memory of a gift was from an aunt who made me a blue pillow for my high chair. She made a crochet top that had a little lamb woven into the pattern. Then Christmas morning at grandmothers house when she gave it to me, she sang “Mary Had A Little Lamb” to me. I remember the deep snow of Nov. 11, 1918. That was the year that my brother and I were very, very sure that we found Santa Claus's sleigh tracks in the yard and all the way out to the street!
We had a very close-knit family. My father and my uncle would always buy oranges, apples, raisins, peppermint candy, and old-fashioned chocolates. They put them in the pantry and we were allowed to get our choice so long as we did not waste any. My brother would always say, “Thank you to the Sack,” and I well remember one Christmas at about five years of age when I ate too many chocolates and they made me sick. I haven’t wanted one since. We always had a songfest with my mother playing the organ and all huddled around singing. Memories are great of yesteryear.
Doris B. Cooper (Mrs. Gerald Cooper) — Christmas Trees, Christmas Trees
Our first Christmas tree in El Paso, Texas, was beautiful to a newly married couple far removed from family hearths. It was a fir tree approximately four to five feet tall-just right to be spotlighted on the desk in our living room. No ornaments? They were not available during World War II. However, our tree reflected the snow-covered scene outside as each branch was covered with deep snow — snow made with whipped Ivory Flakes and water.
Later, when we returned to Starkville and two lovely little girls graced our home, our Christmas trees became larger and were laden with ornaments — ornaments from my childhood trees, and special ornaments from our daughters first Christmases added to the collection of annual purchases. Dee’s ornaments are very simple hand-blown glass balls of many colors with accordion folded lightweight cardboard hangers. They were the utmost of wartime decorations! June’s first Christmas tree ornaments were distinctive as they were very decorative gold trimmed balls from Germany. Our trees were homegrown cedar trees, brought to them by a friend from the country that always selected a tree with a real bird’s nest.
Finally, the Kroger store displayed live fir trees for Christmas. As the fir tree had been the Christmas tree of my childhood, we have continued to use the fir trees — tall, to sweep the ceiling — since that time.
It was fun to see the children’s letters to Santa Claus published in the weekly Starkville News. (I have one newspaper letter that my husband, Gerald, wrote when he was a little boy. The Christmas list was short in those days). Here are copies of duplicate letters to Santa Clause which were placed near the Christmas tree by our daughters:
Please bring a bike. Some beads. A mother bird. A Sweet Sue Doll — some clothes and doll trunk.
P.S. — And think (sic) you for the thing (sic) you brought me last year."
Dee was six years old when the letter was written.
"Dear Santa Claus:
I want a bike with a brown seat and I want it to be blue. And a jewelry box. I want some of my silver. I am eight years old. I want 33 doll clothes. And a stocking full of candy and nuts and fruit. I will leave you a coke. And some fire works.
I made thirty-three pieces of doll clothes.
A few years later our daughters decorated the Christmas tree to surprise me when I returned home from work. It was a lovely, sparkling, brilliant tree, but heavily laden as almost all of the ornaments were placed on the front. It lasted until Christmas day, 6 p.m. when it crashed to the floor, breaking many cherished decorations.
Now that five grandchildren have been added to our family, the decoration of the Christmas tree starts the moment they arrive from out-of-town. This might be two days before Christmas or maybe Christmas Eve. To the background of softly recorded Christmas carols, and with the clean-up assistance of our longtime helper, Hattie, the TALL FIR TREE which has been waiting nearby with boxes of ornaments and miniature lights the big lights, the bubbling lights and the reflecting lights of yesteryear have been placed aside) — suddenly becomes a Christmas tree. It is bedecked with the “Special” ornaments used throughout the years. The final touches includes the placing of the many, many glass icicles (frequently being replaced by plastic icicles) and the beautiful white angel at the tip-top point of the tree.
Then the gifts are placed around the tree.
After all the fun of decorating the tree, we pause to read the Christmas story as recorded in Luke 2:1-20. In recent years, the grandchildren have been selected to read the Bible-one child being the reader each year.
I know that artistic Christmas settings or exhibits of Santa Clause and the Christmas tree cannot be mixed with the religious theme — for judging to obtain a Blue Ribbon. However, we can joyously display the nativity scene and the Christmas tree in our homes for the enjoyment of our family.
It is a festive happy time. The magical glow of the Christmas tree through Dec. 25 (after that time, the glow is not quite so brilliant), the sounds and fragrances of the holidays, the bountiful foods, the love of family and friends, causes us to pause again and again to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas — the birth of Jesus — and to know Him as our Savior.
Katie Prince Ward Esker — My First Remembered Christmas
One of my early recollections is that of my third birthday, with Christmas to follow in four days. Possibly, this would not be so clear in my mind had it not been that we left two days later to go spend Christmas with my father’s aunt in Arkansas.
We spent the first day on trains from Starkville to Memphis — my introduction to travel, and I have loved it ever since. The few hours we spent before train time next day offered all sorts of wonders — a big place called a park just to play in — buildings so high you couldn’t see the top of them, and a marvel called a streetcar which we rode on to take the train to Arkansas.
Later Christmases have been as good, I am sure, but this, my earliest one in retrospect, stands out in my memory. The Christmas tree reaching up to the ceiling, with ropes of popcorn twirled all around it, presents, red apples, candy, etc., was a wonder to behold.
This particular Christmas stands out while my later ones have faded from memory. For one thing, it came not as a single event, but twin Christmases, so to speak. Getting back home, there hanging from the mantle were three stockings. Peeping out of mine, the only thing I can remember at this late date was “Lacey” — a china headed doll, which, it seems to me, lived a rather long life, considering that she was entirely in my less than tender care. I can well remember Lacey,
Nellie Ward Hughes — The Last Christmas Tree
It was 1976. A little boy from Nashville, Tenn. was visiting his grandparents in Starkville. It was almost time to look for a tree for Christmas. The thought about how nice it would be to grow a Christmas tree. So they found two tiny cedar trees and planted them in the yard. One would be for the boy’s great grandparents who were old and could no longer hunt for a tree themselves. The little trees grew for several years, and in 1981 they were beautiful and big enough to be Christmas trees. How happy Great Grandpa and Grandma were when they heard about the tree that had been planted for them.
The boy’s grandparents cut one of the trees and took it to them. Then, they helped them put the strings of lights and Christmas on it. Great-Grandpa said it was the prettiest tree that he had ever had. They didn’t know that it was going to be his last Christmas tree.
Great Grandpa died before his next Christmas, but he will always be remembered for the happiness that he brought to others, especially at Christmas, which was a very special time for him when all of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren gathered around his tree on Christmas morning to open their presents.
Joe M. Ward died Sept. 15, 1982, at the age of 88. His great grandson, William Wells Rizor, grandson of Austin and Nellie Hughes, still has many pleasant memories of Christmas at Grandpa’s house, and the tree that Grandpa thought was the most beautiful of all.
Lois Logsdon Kaufman — Earliest Remembrances of Christmases at the Home of My Grandfather and Grandmother Logsdon in Missouri
On Dec. 24, 1914, the family filed into the parlor for our “Christmas.” It was always our custom to have the family gifts distributed the day before Dec. 25 because that day was reserved to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. One candle was lit and scripture and carols were enjoyed.
Since I was the first grandchild there was a beautifully decorated tree in the bay window of the parlor. When we came into the room that day I quote, “Lois held out her little arms and said “Doll, Doll.” I still remember the happy feeling of holding that doll. My Aunt Olive took a picture and developed it herself.
Three or four years later when my sister and brother had arrived, the three of us were taken to cut down the Christmas tree. My grandfather, mother and aunt Olive went along. We were bundled up warm; I have treasured the picture of that group.
Christmas in Mississippi with the Kaufmans
Celebrate with all the family has always been the MOTTO. We usually spent some time in Missouri and Ohio. We still have first gifts given to our son on his first Christmas in New Jersey where he received a beautiful music box. In Ohio, Harold’s mother made a sock doll which he hugged when she gave it to him. She had raised six boys and told us boys needed dolls, too.
In Missouri, Great Aunt Olive gave him a Santa in a sleigh drawn by six white reindeer. Great-Aunt Virgie made him a full-sized boy doll which Lynn promptly named “Little Brother.”
Now a part of our Christmas in Mississippi is to play the tapes made in earlier years of celebration which included family participation in carols, scripture and poems. One tape is of Lynn reading “The Littlest Angel” when he was three.
Now the most important part of Christmas is for the family to celebrate together — very little is done to emphasize gifts except making the trip to be together. Another tradition is to have a cake on Christmas Day centered by one candle called the Christ Candle. No other gifts are exchanged on Christ Day.
My Grandmother Logsdon had a birthday on December 24 and lived to be 96. A dear friend always brought her a dozen roses on her birthday. My sister’s two daughters have December birthdays too. Louise’s is on Dec. 23 and Nancy’s is on Dec.27.