Bradford Christmas Memories


(The writer was a long-time secretary of the White County Historical Society and widow of former president Walter Wisdom. She grew up near Bradford in eastern White County and lives today in Searcy, Arkansas.)



hristmas in the late 1930s on the farm just south of Bradford was usually a happy time without so much stress and confusion of the present. It was a time of doing things for others and showing our love for one another. We didn’t have money for store-bought things. I remember how, all through the year, we collected tinfoil from gum wrappers or any bright colored paper we could find to cover sweetgum balls and pinecones for ornaments. Almost everything we used to decorate our Christmas tree was “home made.”

Selecting the tree required a great deal of thought. Sherry, Bob, Merle -- my brother and sisters -- and I played all over the farm, so all during the summer we kept an eye out for a cedar tree of just the right size and shape. When we found the one, it was marked to make sure we could find it again. Bob or Daddy would cut the tree and we all helped carry it to the house.

After we got the tree set up in the living room we sprinkled it with water then dusted it with flour to make it look like snow. All the ornaments that we had made were hung on the tree, along with strings of carefully strung red berries, popcorn and streamers of red and green crepe paper. I can still see that old box of tinsel we used every year. Each strand of tinsel was draped over the branches one at a time until the tree was bright and shining. When Christmas was over each strand was taken off and put back in the box for next year. It always makes me feel sad when I see a tree thrown out with the tinsel on it.

After the tree was decorated we started on the living room. Branches of cedar or pine and limbs from red berry bushes were arranged over the windows. Red and green crepe paper streamers were fastened in each corner of the room and brought together in the center where was hung a big red paper bell that we used every Christmas for many years. I remember the smell of cedar throughout the house during the holidays. I suppose to some people it didn’t look like much but to us it was beautiful.

Christmas was the only time we got “store-bought” fruit and hard candy. The house was full of the delicious smell of oranges and how much fun it was to open the fresh coconut and drink the milk. We didn’t get many toys because there wasn’t much money for things like that. I remember one Christmas things were pretty bad but Mother always managed to get something for us. She took some of her best laying hens to town and traded them for our Christmas.

Another Christmas memory brings smiles though at the time it wasn’t so funny. Mother bought the hard candy early and hid it in the attic so we wouldn’t find it. When she went to get it to put under the tree there was nothing left except empty packages. Some little mice had a feast on our candy but Mother made some good “home-made” candy, which was better anyway.

My step-dad (I called him Daddy) always made Christmas a lot of fun for us. His childhood was not a happy one and Christmas was not celebrated much. He loved playing Santa for us. Christmas morning was a noisy jolly time. We always had a special present for him and, of course, he knew we were playing a joke on him but he would go along with it. The presents were put under the tree a day or two before Christmas so Daddy would pick out his present and shake it and make a big deal out of wondering what it was while we watched gleefully. Christmas morning he would be so surprised when he opened the package. We spent a lot of time trying to find an unusual gift for him every year.

Even the grandchildren liked to give Granddaddy Norman funny presents. The Christmas before Anita was born, we spent the holidays in Newport with Mother and Daddy. We had hoped to have a new baby for Christmas but Anita didn’t come along until January.

Nonnie, my nephew, wanted to get a gift for Granddaddy so Merle and Dean helped him pick out some comic books and wrapped them up in a big box. Of course, Daddy shook the box and guessed all kinds of things to Nonnie’s delight. I got some real good pictures Christmas morning of Nonnie watching his Granddaddy opening his gift.

Christmas was a time of sharing with people in need. Though we didn’t have a lot, what we had we shared with our neighbors. One family comes to mind for they really were in need. The mother died a short time before Christmas, leaving several small children. Mother fixed several baskets of food so each of us could carry something to this family. I will never forget the sight of those hungry children. They didn’t even have enough clothes to keep warm. We went away feeling very well off.

Our first “city” Christmas was a great adventure. We were very excited when our father, Doyal Wyatt, (I called him Dad) told us he planned to take us to Indiana to spend Christmas with him and our stepmother, Frances. We could hardly wait for the day that they were to come to get us.

My sister Sherry was married and living in Evansville near Dad and Frances, so it was just Bob, Merle and me. Can you

My Dad, Doyal Wyatt, is second from the right among the men standing in this 1924 photo of Missouri Pacific section hands from Bradford, taken before he and my Mom divorced and he moved to Indiana. Standing from left to right – John Knight or Wid Wilkerson, Edd Sparkman, Tom Webb, Garland Whitley, Henry Scroggins, Buddy Namby, ? Robinson, unknown, unknown, Buddy Durham, Doyal Wyatt, foreman Moffet Cox. Seated from left – Golden McCartney, E.E. Floyd (Red), ? Robinson, John Scroggins, Jim Camel, unknown, unknown.

Imagine? Three country kids who had never talked on a telephone, never seen milk delivered in a bottle or eaten donuts from a bakery. We were all eyes as we came into the city. The buildings were huge and there were so many streets with lots of cars going in all directions. All the houses were so close together with very small yards.

When we got to Dad’s house there was a big spruce Christmas tree already decorated with fancy “store-bought” ornaments and bright colored lights. It was really pretty. We had never seen anything like it.

Instead of waiting until Christmas morning we got to open our gifts Christmas Eve. Bob got his first bicycle. He was so proud of it. Dad put it in the bedroom by his bed. He went to sleep with his hand on the foot pedal. Merle and I got baby dolls and riding outfits complete with boots, riding pants and twin sweaters. We sure were dressed up.

That trip gave us a lot to tell our friends for a long time. We had a wonderful time and we really did appreciate what Dad and Frances did for us. It was an experience I will never forget, but when I look back at all those happy times my fondest memories are of those Christmases on the farm with the old-fashioned cedar Christmas tree with its “home-made” decorations.