he wind had shifted and began blowing from the North. The last of the leaves on the trees had fallen to the ground. Feeling the chill in the air, I knew where we were going when Mom called to me to get the ax. It was time to go get the Christmas tree. As long as I could remember, it had been my job to go with Mom to get the Christmas tree. We always picked the finest cedar from the woods on Grandpa’s land. Grandpa owned about 300 acres, which he had inherited from Grandma’s parents in the late 1800s. The cedars were thick and it wasn’t a real problem to find one that was the right size. But it was my job to help Mom pick out that “special tree” to be placed in the main room of our three-room house. You see, we had a big responsibility to pick out the very best tree. It seemed we had walked for miles when, just as we topped a hill on the backside of Grandpa’s pasture, Mom and I spotted the perfect tree. I ran over to it and Mom said, “Son, start a choppin’.” I chopped the tree off as close to the ground as possible and then took the ax and cut it even on the bottom. The next step was for me to climb the tallest oak tree we could find, because that is where the mistletoe was found. I cut off all I could reach with my pocketknife and let it fall to the ground. Then we looked until we found some holly berries and I cut off several limbs of them. We were ready to go home. Old Frank, our prize German shorthaired bird dog, pointed a covey of quail, but I hadn’t brought the shotgun, so Frank had to be disappointed this time. We reached home pretty close to sundown, tired and hungry ‘cause we were ready to get set for a Shiloh Christmas. While I was getting some two by fours out of the barn and sawing them to the right length, Mom and June were busy cutting strips of red, green and blue construction paper. Mom made a paste out of flour and water and we glued the strips of construction paper to make loops, which we hooked together to make a rope. We hung these colorful ropes around the tree from top to bottom once the paste dried. My next job was to put plenty of wood in the stove to get it hot for popping popcorn. We grew our own popcorn on a few rows next to the horse cornfield. Mom put plenty of hog grease (lard) in the pan and put it on the stove to get it ready to start popping popcorn. Sometimes, we melted butter in the pan and ate the popcorn. We also parched peanuts and made some popcorn balls using sorghum molasses to hold them together. That tree sure did look good in the flickering light from the fireplace, and you have not lived till you have cornbread and buttermilk with popcorn balls and parched peanuts for dessert. Then we sat around the fire and talked about what we wanted Santa to bring. When we finished eating and talking about Santa, Mom heated a couple of irons and wrapped them with paper and put them under the covers at the foot of our bed. We drifted off to sleep and dreamed about Christmas.
There were wide cracks in the floors and, with no underpinning around the edge of the house, we awoke many times to find that it had snowed during the night and the snow had sifted up through the cracks and finely covered the floor below our bed. We kept warm because Mom put lots of quilts on us, and the irons kept our feet warm, and we slept snuggled up close together.
Our toys consisted of shoeboxes for buses and people cut out of sears and Roebuck catalogs. One Christmas my older brother Wendell and I received a little toy bus together. That was about the greatest thing I could have imagined to get from Santa. The bus had a light with a little battery in it so we could push it around after Mom blew the light out. Mostly, we got oranges, apples, and nuts in our stockings, but we were happy because we knew that Santa did the best he could.
Another year, it came a big snow on Christmas Eve night and we got up the next morning to find sleigh tracks where Santa had come. I found out years later that my brother had taken a hoe and made the tracks. We didn’t know it then, but these were the happiest days of our lives in a little town in Arkansas in the Ozarks during a time called The Great Depression. vvv