The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 16 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1988

Issue: December, 1988

Editor's Note: This is a serialized, true story of a poor Ozark family in the 1930's through the eyes of one of their children; experience their hardships and heart warming togetherness as they struggle through and celebrate life in the Ozark Mountains.

It was two days until Christmas Eve. That was two days of pure excitement and mystery for Jonathon and me, and I guess the older children too. Together all of us must have asked Mama and Papa thousands of questions about who tried to steal our hams and bacon and how come they lost the letter they said they got from Santa Claus from the North Pole. But they couldn't answer either question for sure. So each of us made up our own ideas of what really happened.

We all decided that the letter from Santa got lost out of Papa's pocket along the road and blew into the woods somewhere. So every little while we'd ask Mama and Papa to tell us again what Santa wrote in the letter. They said the letter said if we'd all be good and go to sleep on the night of Christmas Eve, that Santa would come down our chimney and leave each one of us a present. But he didn't say what the presents would be. So there was wild speculation as to what we'd find in our stockings on Christmas morning.

We were sure glad that Mama and Papa had gone shopping at the county seat for they bought us some new stockings and socks. On Christmas Eve, just as soon as supper was over with, we coaxed Papa and the big boys to hang our stockings and sock on the mantel over the fireplace in the kitchen. We were so proud as we stood back to view them and we tried to figure out which stocking or sock Santa would see first.

We'd ask Papa if he was sure Santa would have enough presents to put something in each of our stockings. He assured us Santa would have and that he might even have more than one present for each of us. Jonathon and I would go down the line of stockings and socks and count them to be sure there was one for each of us eight children and Papa and Mama too.

That was a mighty fine looking row of stockings and socks hanging there and not even one of them had been darned or even had any holes in them that needed darning. We were sure that Santa would think that it was the finest mantel of stockings in the whole world.

We begged Papa not to put any fresh logs on the fireplace so Santa wouldn't get burned when he came down the chimney and we wanted to put some hay up on the roof so all of his reindeer would eat while Santa put our presents in our stockings; but Papa said Santa's reindeer never ate on Christmas Eve, for it would spoil their appetite and they couldn't eat the special hay Santa gave them for Christmas dinner when they got back to the North Pole. Finally, out of desperation, I guess, from all of our questions, we were told to go to bed.

Our log house when Papa and Mama first moved there was just two big rooms-the parlor and the kitchen with an attic above and a front porch and a back porch at the kitchen door that connected to the smoke house also. Then years later when all us children arrived, Papa added a lean-to to first one side of the parlor then he added another to the other side of the parlor. There were two big tall wooden bedsteads in each lean-to; the boys slept in one and us girls slept in the other lean-to; Papa and Mama slept in the parlor.

Jonathon and Andy always had at least one dispute after they went to bed that required Mama or Papa to settle. Jonathon would pull the covers from Andy or Andy would hog more than his half of the bed; there would be loud complaints about all that and one night Jonathon was crying because he said he got a splinter in his toe when he got in bed. Sure enough, when Mama went to investigate there was a splinter in his toe; there was also a straight row of splintery sticks of wood down the center of the bed underneath the covers. They were put there by Andy, he said, so he'd be sure not to hog part of Jonathon's half of the bed. Sometime Jonathon and Andy would cause complaints from Ben and Earl because of all their scrappiness. One night Earl let out a loud yell when he got in his bed. Papa went in to see what the trouble was; Earl was sitting there looking at a mouse trap dangling from his big toe. After much questioning, Andy and Jonathon admitted to putting it in Earl's bed because he wouldn't loan them his slingshot.

But on that Christmas Eve there was no quarreling or complaining from the boy's lean-to after they went to bed but there was loud whispers from Jonathon and Andy's bed and trips to the window to peak out to look for Santa Claus. So finally Papa went to their room and told them if Santa found them awake, he wouldn't even come down their chimney. After that their room was quiet and still.

My eye lids kept falling down over my eyes; I propped one eye open with a finger, but in spite of that, I dozed off. Then sleepily I heard a noise and thought it was Santa but it was only Mama or Papa sitting up in the attic checking, I guessed to see if all the cans, boxes and sacks of food stuff up there was covered enough to keep from freezing.

I fell asleep again only to be awakened in a little while by Jonathon yelling, "Santa Clause is here." We all jumped out of bed and ran into the kitchen; Mama was just standing there and Jonathon flung the kitchen door open and yelled Santa ran out here; but only Papa was standing out there. Jonathon yelled where is Santa? Papa said, "Why Jonathon, there he goes through our gate down the wagon road." Jonathon said, "I don't see him. Besides it's dark there by the gate." Papa said, "Well you're just a little too slow to see him for in spite of being fat, Santa can really run fast." Jonathon said, "But he don't run fast; his reindeer run fast." Papa said, "Ah well, just because about all of the snow has melted, he left his reindeer up on the town road." Papa then reached down and buttoned the trap door to Jonathon's union suit and said, "Young man, let's all go in out of the cold and see what Santa left for us."

Every stocking hanging from the mantle was bulging and full to the top. Each one of us emptied our presents on the table and it was covered with all the good things anyone could wish for. Each one of us had a sack of different colored lumps of hard candy, an orange, a banana, two sticks of gum and a pencil. Then each one of us had two other presents. Ben and Earl had a three bladed pocket knife each and a harmonica; Alice had two combs for her hair and a box of face powder; Jeannie and April had a ribbon for their hair and material for a new dress each; Andy and Jonathon had one bladed pocket knives and a sling shot a piece; and I had a sock doll with pretty embroidered eyes and a mouth and a story book about a little girl named Away-She-Go.

On the mantel was a big yellow tablet and a box with six crayolas in it. Papa said that Santa meant for all of us to share them. Papa had two cans of Prince Albert smoking tobacco and a pair of new gloves; Mama had two combs for her hair and material for a new dress. When she unfolded it to look at the color better a tablet page fell out with some writing on it. It said, "A new blue dress for a pretty Mama with pretty blue eyes." When Mama read that her face turned pink and Papa grinned. I guess he was wondering how Santa knew Mama was pretty and had blue eyes.

We sure had a lot of mighty good things for Christmas with all the things Papa and Mama brought back from the county seat. We all had new union suits, and Papa and the boys all had a pair of new overalls apiece and the material for a new shirt a piece. Mama got pink flannelette to make all us girls some pretty new underthings.

Widow Blooms as promised rode her horse over for Christmas dinner. Ben and Earl met her when she rode up and put her horse in the barn lot. She came inside carrying a flour sack and set it on the table. From it she took a big batch of cookies filled with walnut meats. Then she gave each of us a stick of candy.

Just as we finished eating all the baked chicken, dressing, mashed potatoes, turnips, carrots, pumpkin pie and cookies we could hold, Josh and Clem Garner's sister, Rebecca, came running up to the house saying, "Somebody hurry up and ride into town; Oh please hurry, for my brother Josh is dying." Papa asked her what happened and she said he got shot and Clem couldn't get the coupe started to go to town. Then she put her hands over her face and started crying real loud.

Papa hurried putting on his blanket lined jumper and cap and rode off as fast as he could get a horse saddled to get Doctor Gilbert. Mama and Widow Blooms tried to quiet Rebecca but she just kept crying. All us little ones just stood and looked at her. I'd only seen her a few times when she and her mama went with Josh and Clem to town. But I'd heard folks talk about her. She was past twenty-one, she was doomed to be an old maid for sure. Some folks said she was particular and fussy. But Mama said she was a right smart girl; only she was just timid and shy. She and her brother didn't go to church very often. Clem and Josh did though, but they mostly just stood looking in the window.

Rebecca was still crying; Mama asked her if she would eat some of our Christmas dinner. She said she wasn't hungry; then Mama asked her if she had already eaten at home. She said they were too busy tending to Josh to cook anything. Then she cried on.

Mama told Ben to hitch old Maud to the buggy and she and Widow Blooms packed a lot of our still warm Christmas food and took Rebecca home to see if they could be any help to Josh or and of the family while they waited for the doctor.

Josh almost died in spite of Doctor Gilbert sitting by his bedside for two days and nights and Bro. Miller and Widow Pollard both praying over him too; so everyone in the neighborhood was wondering about the miracle when he started recovering, but they were wondering even more how he got shot in the left side with a shotgun. For his mother, Clem, and Rebecca all three told a different story to the doctor about how he got shot. After he got well, Doctor Gilbert asked Papa to drive him back to town.

When Papa returned home, he called Mama and all us children around the table and said he was going to tell us what really happened to Josh. He said he was telling us little ones too for we had in an unbeknown way been a part of it.

He said Doctor Gilbert said Josh was so feverish he almost died and that he talked a lot before he got any better. So one night while he was tending to him, Josh told how he was shot while trying to steal hams from our smokehouse. Dr. Gilbert said he knew Josh had been wounded three or four days before Christmas as soon as he saw the wounds; but all Josh's family had insisted it had happened on Christmas Day. So when Josh came out of his brief fever and knew what he was really saying he told Dr. Gilbert again what happened in the presence of all his family.

He told Dr. Gilbert how he and Clem watched from our stack of wood on the road as Papa and Mama both left for the county seat and that when they didn't get back by dark they decided to steal hams for they figured they would be safe with only us children there. He said he knew Jonathon saw him through the kitchen window, but he went on in the smokehouse for he didn't think any of us could hit him even if we shot at him. But he told the Doctor he no sooner stumbled into the washtub until he was shot at and hit. Then Dr. Gilbert asked Papa which one of us shot Josh so Papa told him Earl was holding the gun and Jonathon fell off the bed on the gun causing it to go off.

After Josh told Dr. Gilbert about getting shot on our porch he told an even more surprising story which help clear up something that had puzzled and worried Mama longer than I could remember.

Josh told Dr. Gilbert, Mama had shot his brother Clem several years before but he had recovered without the help of a doctor or anyone's help but the family, therefore, nobody ever found out about it.

When Papa said that, Mama turned pale for she had often wondered if she had really shot someone and maybe even killed them. The big children had told us little ones about it lots of times. It happened when Papa was working at a saw mill when I was a baby.

They said that winter Papa would ride a horse about fifteen miles to a saw mill to work every Monday. He would stay all the week there with several other men in a bunkhouse. Then on Saturdays he would ride home to see how Mama and us children were and to spend Sunday with us.

Papa had stored some sacks of dried beans, black eyed peas and peanuts and other food stuff that year in the hay loft. One week on a dark night while Papa was gone, Mama thought she heard someone in the barn. Sure enough the next day she checked and a lot of the food stuff was gone. When Papa came home he taught her how to shoot the shotgun and told her if she heard or saw anyone prowling around to shoot them.

A week or so later she heard the horses whinnying like there was someone in the barn and the barn lot gate was swinging back and forth in the wind and she knew it had been opened. So with eyes closed and gun loaded she pointed it at the door and shot up toward the barn loft so as not to hit any of the livestock. There was a loud cry of pain. Then in a little while there was a horse galloping up the road. The next day she went out to look around and found some of the beans and peanuts in a strange looking sack lying on the ground like it had fallen out of the loft. And there was splatters of blood all around. So now after all of these years Mama knew who she had shot.

After Josh recovered sufficiently, he and his whole family went to church and they all knelt down and confessed their sinful ways for trying to steal. The boys' Mama said she knew she was wrong to lie about her son's stealing and getting shot but she was afraid they'd be put in jail and she didn't want to lose them for she had lost their Papa somewheres in a place called Germany way off, them Government fellers said, over the ocean.

When Josh stood up to testify in church he said he was only alive because of Dr. Gilbert's medicine and Bro. Miller and Widow Pollard's prayers. Mr. Tucker began shouting "Praise the Good Lord" when Josh said that and in no time just about everyone in the church was singing the Old Time Religion. Then Widow Pollard said a prayer. It was the shortest prayer she had ever said or perhaps anyone else in the church. She knelt down just as she always did propping her elbows on the bench and looking up towards the rafters and said, "Thank you Lord up there for sending us this batch of sinners to get churched up and if shooting will send more of them hill folk to church please let them get hit too when they get shot at. Amen."

As we got in our wagon to go home Josh called to Papa to wait. He came up and asked Papa if he'd forgive him and his brother for what they had tried to do. Papa shook hands with him and said, "Yes, Josh, I'll forgive you and your brother too. That is just as long as you don't sneak around in the dark in my barn and smokehouse stealing what my wife and I have worked for and put away for our family." Josh said, "Me and Clem are going to start planting and cultivating our Pappy's farm and raise food stuff just like he used to do." Papa said, "Josh, if you boys do that you won't have any need to go thieving around in the dark getting shot at anymore."