We wus poor, real poor, but shucks we did not know it; we felt we were well off. Daddy worked at the mine and momma took care of us kids, did the garden and milked the cows. In the summer she put up as much stuff as she could, well what we did not eat she put up. Lord a mercy, just thought about fried apple pies. Man oh man it has been a long time since I had me a mess of home fried apple pies.
I will git back to what it was I was going to talk about after I tell you a little story, well it just shows how momma took care of us. I finished school and tried to join the Marines but my teeth were too bad, so I worked for six months for the Dentist, ole Doc Rucker and he fixed them up so I could join up. Anyhow after boot camp, then done sent me to Florida to a school that learns a man about airplanes, then after the school, if you do OK, then you go on to an airplane school or you go to Camp Jejune to advanced infantry school. Well me I had a ball in that school and they sent me off to Memphis to a year school in airplane electronics. They told us that how you finished this here school was how you selected your next duty assignment, so I busted a gut and finished third. I volunteered for Korea. Anyhow, after I finished school, they gave me leave and I went home.
I was going to ride the train clear across the country and I had my ticket but only had three dollars spending money so momma she said don’t fret. She killed two fryers, and did them up, then she made a batch of fried apple pies. I had bought me one of them aviator B-4 bags and one side I filled with my eatings. Fried chicken and fried apple pies. Shucks I surely did not get hungry on my train ride to California. That was how my momma was, god rest her soul.
Anyhow, I remember when I started to school, poppa as I said worked in the mines and John L. Lewis was the big union man. Well we lived about four mile from the mine, up Bodunker holler, poppa had bought the land when he come back from the army, 57.73 acres of land on the side of the mountain and 57 acres of it straight up and down and the point 73 acres of flat ground. We, but it was ours and if the bottomland did not flood we had one heck of a good garden and that meant we ate good all winter. WE had two cows and two hogs, plus a pretty good size chicken house so with the garden and of course fruit trees we did not hurt too much.
I was seven year old and Billy MacDougal had a harmonica, boy did I wanted me one. So I asked for it for Christmas and momma said, “Joshua,” everybody else called me Josh, “We will see, we will see,” which meant most likely if things went right I might get it. But then the first of December poppa busted his leg and could not work. Back then, if you did not work, you did not get paid, so the day poppa busted his leg, was the last day of pay he got until he could go back to work.
I tried to help, honest I did, I minded the others and toted water and firewood. Momma said everything would be OK, for the lord will show us a way, “Shucks we got a big bank of taters and stuff, plus we got lots of canned goods. We just need to be able to pay the electric bill, things will be OK.” So I rushed out to the coal bin and got my prince Albert tobacco tin that had my stash, my stash for a cap gun and a harmonica and a pony and a . . ., you know what I mean. I had seventeen cents and I gave it to momma to help out. She hugged me tightly and asked me to take Luke and bring more coal from our mine.
Now these here mountains were filled with coal and poppa had found a small vein just up the hill from the house, so he dug it to provide us with winter, heating and cooking fuel. Poppa had just blasted out two big charges afore he got busted up, so Luke and me, we took our red wagon and would load the wagon and haul the coal to just outside the back door. We built a good size pile afore supper. I wanted to split kindling wood, but both momma and poppa said I was not old enough to use that double bit axe poppa had.
Saturday morning was nice and warm; poppa says that is how it gets afore we have a great big snowstorm. I got a bright idea and got Luke and Janey, then we started dragging dead wood down off the side of the mountain and close to the door. Luke and Janey were not much help but we worked all day Saturday dragging wood momma could break and use for kindling.
Coming home from school I got to blow Billy’s harmonica, man I sure did want me a harmonica, maybe next summer I could find work and make enough to buy me a harmonica. Sure enough, it snowed, snowed like three feet. Momma kept us at home in the house cause she could not shovel the snow down to the road, cause she had to shovel so she could get to the stock and chickens. We had so much fun, we popped corn and took flour paste and made hats and little silly things. I had three books and I had memorized them so I would set the others down and read to them. “Josh, you can’t read, how you know what that book says?” Luke kept asking me. “Momma, Josh says he can read, but when he reads the book, he has his eyes closed, momma, Josh ain’t telling the truth.” And so it went.
Momma, being so busy tending to us, poppa, the livestock and everything, forgot all about Christmas, but not poppa. “You take that little bow saw and go cut a pine, cut one you height and be careful with my bow saw, real careful cause I just filed it,” Poppa told me. I felt big cause I was the man of the house until poppa got well. “You get a nice little tree,” Poppa said as I was tall as poppa and felt real good, cause he done give me a job, a Christmas job to do.
The snow melted right fast and so I came back with a scraggledy little long leaf pine that was up next to the coal mine. After supper, we put our little paper thingys on the tree and then we popped corn and strung it. Well momma strung the corn, me and Luke and Janey, we just ate a lot and laughed as we took the strings of white popcorn and wrapped it around the tree.
Momma took some eggs, butter and a sack of parsnips to town on Saturday and came back with most of the parsnips, but she did buy some brown sugar and raisins. “I made three dollars,” she said as she sat down. Momma wanted to cry but she was too strong, yes siree bob, my momma was too strong. Well that was Thursday, another nice day but that night it clouded up and when we woke up on Friday, Christmas Eve, it had snowed and was a snowing to beat the band. Momma came in from shoveling a path to the outhouse and she was all white, man, it was snowing hard. After she done did her chores, we made some candy and had hot chocolate. Man I love hot chocolate.
As I said we had pretty much forgot Christmas because of poppa, but we were happy. For supper we had tater soup; my momma made the best tater soup anywhere. Tater soup and corn ones, nice brown corn pones. After supper, momma gathered us close to poppa’s bed and he read us some Christmas stories. It was so warm and snug in our little house, snug as a bug in a rug, we used to say. We fell asleep afore poppa finished reading the night before Christmas, but I had it memorized anyway. My poppa only went to the second grade in school, but he was a good reader and man did he have a good voice that made me just sit up and listen to every word, well that is until I fell asleep.
Christmas morning, I got out of bed and ran to each window, looking to see if Santa Claus had been to our house, but all I saw was banks of white snow all around the house, well, except for the shoveled paths to the outhouse and the stock. I ran into the other room and to the little Christmas tree I had cut. I stopped and could not believe it. I could not believe it for there under that little pin tree were five small packages all wrapped in bright Christmas paper. And you know what? Man there on the floor below the tree was a box with six big oranges. I jumped up and down and started to yell and sing, and call Luke and to tell momma and poppa Santa had been here. I was so happy.
Luke came in followed by Janey, and Luke kept pointing to the big old warm morning stove there. I finally looked and there were four of poppa’s big old socks hanging on the wall behind the stove. Luke, Janey and I joined hands and started to sing and yell as we danced, pranced and jumped up and down around our little Christmas tree. Momma said nothing, she just smiled.
We ran into the bedroom, “Poppa, oh Poppa, Santa came, Santa came and left us presents and a big orange orange and socks behind the stove with stuff in them, oh poppa, if you were well it would be our best Christmas ever,” I yelled. My poppa smiled as he slid up the bed so he could sit up.
“Youngins, lets all join hands and kneel,” Poppa said. My poppa was not a religious man, but today he seemed to be. “Momma got the baby and put her on the bed, then we knelt beside the bed and poppa said a prayer.
After he finished, my poppa had to rub his eyes afore he told us, “Get those presents, and bring them in here so I can watch. Do you think Santa came, you sure you don’t have coal in my good socks?” We screamed and squealed in delight as we ran into the living room and brought the five packages back and put them on the bed.
“Momma took a box and handed it to Janey, “To Janey from Santa,” momma said. Then she gave one to Luke and then one to me; but we just sat there holding them, not moving a muscle. “Go ahead open them,” momma said as she gave the last present to poppa.
Janey had a little doll, a rag doll momma had made her and Luke got a little red metal fire engine, it was all painted up so neat. Me I slowly opened my package, knowing it was not a harmonica, but when I opened it, “I got a Jews harp, a real Jews harp,” I yelled.
Momma looked at me, “Josh if you learn to play it real well, maybe next Christmas you will get a harmonica,” I didn’t care about anything, I had me a real bone fide Jews harp. I didn’t know how to play it but I would learn, yes, I would. Poppa’s present was a pair of new work gloves. We were happy, so happy for we had Christmas, but momma didn’t get nothing, momma didn’t get no present.
“Momma, go get my shaving kit on the shelf in the closet,” poppa said to momma. She did and then poppa opened the old black leather shaving kit his daddy had left him and handed momma a little brown box.
Momma opened it and took out a pair of those leaf like earrings, those real thing little ones that are gold coated. “Momma jumped up and hugged poppa, “Thank you, thank you so much, this has been a great Christmas,” she said as she put the little gold earrings on.
“Momma what about the socks, are they for us,” I asked. Momma nodded and we went in and found each sock had a name on it. I felt real big cause I could read the names. We took them back into the bedroom and then dumped them. “Candy, oh lookie candy and a little whistle, and nuts and some candy. We just sat there all excited for this had been a great Christmas, a really great Christmas, and I will learn to play that Jews harp real quick like.
© By Tom (tomWYO@aol.com)
Watch these pages for more stories by Tom.
In the meantime, click the links below for other poems and stories by the authors at Lara's Den.
The Reason For The Season
Just A Simple Christmas
Snow Days, Fun Days
The Christmas Doll
And.......for many others, click the index image.
I took the featured photograph while on vacation in North Carolina.