One of my fondest memories of the magic of Christmas began when I was a small child while visiting with my grandparents, Wesley and Beulah Thompson Stanley, in the piney woods of East Texas. My aunt, uncles, cousins and our family always gathered at Granny and Pop Paw’s for Christmas.
Pop Paw worked at the lumber mill and had scouted out trees days in advance. On that particular day, a cool crisp one, he told us that if we didn’t go get a tree, Santa wouldn’t come. We eagerly jumped into the back of his old truck and headed out in search of the perfect tree.
Being small children, we would have chopped down any tree if that was all it took for Santa to come, but Wes had something special in mind. We searched and searched. We looked at pines, which he said weren’t shaped right. We looked at cedars and he said their limbs were too flimsy and difficult to decorate. Finally he led us to the perfect tree!
It was a holly, straight, tall and loaded with bright red berries. Everyone agreed it WAS the perfect tree. He sawed it down, threw it in the back of the truck with all the kids sitting around the edge of the bed imaging what Santa would place beneath it.
Granny didn’t have much as far as decorations go; a few tangled, wrinkled icicles left over from Christmases past and some glass balls that time had faded and had very little color. But we decorated it in style! We made a paste from flour and water for glue and made paper chains for garlands, cut out paper lanterns, and the berries complimented the homemade decorations. When it was completely decorated, we were all in agreement. It was magical! Surely Santa would appreciate our handiwork and bring something special. We sang Christmas carols as the aroma of Granny’s specialty, fried apple pies, came from the cast iron stove in the kitchen.
I don’t even remember what Santa brought; I think only apples, oranges and nuts. But that tree and the fellowship we shared instilled in me the love of Christmas and family to share the magic with.
After marriage, Don and I would go to his parents on Christmas Eve to exchange family gifts. Afterwards, my sister-in-law and I would load the kids into a car and take them to see Christmas lights while Don and his brother were busy at our houses putting bikes together and the toys from Santa under the tree which we had gone to the woods and cut down. To the kids, the ride was magical to see the lights others had decorated their yards and homes with. The children never caught on as to why the dads didn’t go with us.
As years passed we set aside one afternoon a couple of weeks prior Christmas to go to the woods and, as Wes would do, chop down a special tree. The kids were almost as excited as I. Usually we cut down a cedar.
But the one thing that had changed was that I now had fallen for flocked trees. Don and Steve would flock the tree as Kelly and I covered our ears from the words Don would utter as the flocker stopped up or the vacuum hose would crimp and the flock would either come out in gobs or not at all. Nevertheless, we had flocked trees. And the bigger the better! Most times they had to be tied to the beams of the den to stand erect after being heavily decorated. Sometimes we made paper chains. Sometimes we baked gingerbread men for ornaments. And despite all of Don’s fussing about having to flock the tree, when it was fully decorated, he never failed to say, “It’s the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had.”
Santa always came on Christmas Eve when the kids were small therefore they only had a gift or two from Mom and Dad. After they had outgrown that stage, I would wrap and put the gifts under the tree, where they would shake, rattle, smell and make a million guesses.
Some of the magical moments that are dear to me are granddaughter Rachel’s first
Emy’s visit with Santa.
And the happy faces of Christmas.
Surprises always came packaged differently and one never knew if your big gift would be under the tree, in your stocking, or in the form of something warm and fuzzy.
Don and I always had an Open House where a roaring fire on Christmas Eve warmed friends who would stop by for a bowl of gumbo and beverage. Sometimes we had to wait until they left before Santa came. Sometimes they stayed to see what surprises he would deliver to the Hemperley kids.
I have so many magical memories of Christmas in my lifetime; like the year we were so broke that all Don could afford for me was a pair of house shoes. I don t think I gave him anything.
Or, our first Christmas after he returned home from Japan and we were stationed in Maryland. Maryland had a record snow fall that year, so we bundled up Steve, who was about a year and a half, and played in the snow building a snowman and having snowball fights.
Or the year he surprised me with a color TV and I sat up well after the three stations we could receive went off air and watched the test pattern until the wee hours!
Or many Christmases when the house was so full of relatives, home for the holidays, that we would run out of beds and couches for them to sleep on. Santa must have had a difficult time delivering gifts for there were pallets or sleeping bags on every inch of floor.
Much has changed in my celebration of Christmas. Some loved ones are now gone. I no longer go to the woods for a tree to flock. In fact, this year I put up a flocked fake tree!!!
My kids now have kids and are now Santa!
We still open gifts on Christmas Eve and have gumbo for supper. However, Kelly now cooks it and I can sit back and enjoy the night.
I no longer have kids sniffing or sleeping under the tree. My dog has taken over that job!
The magic of my Christmases began many years ago with my grandfather taking all the grandkids to cut a tree. It’s in my heart. It’s in my memories. It’s with my family. It’s who I am and where I came from.
May we all remember the true meaning of Christmas. May we all remember the past, cherish the present, and look forward to a Christmas that is magical this and every year.