When I was a girl in the '40s, we always went to church services on Christmas Eve. Our church was located deep in the piney woods of East Texas. It was a small, unpainted log house with a saw-dust floor. While the hallelujahs, singing and guitar thumpings were going on, children were allowed to prowl unattended beneath the pews, at liberty to do anything they pleased with the saw-dust. Some of them munched it. Others poured it over their heads, using a parent's shoe if they could get one. One boy buried his baby sister in it, and she could not be located until she awakened and began to cry.
Carols were sung during the services, along with old-time religious hymns. Christmas songs would often be sheared off in mid-verse by exuberant church members who would launch into foot-stomping revelations such as, 'I'll Fly Away' by Albert E. Brumley, or 'When The Saints Go Marching In' by James M. Black. I enjoyed the singing, but one song left me disconcerted, The All-seeing eye by John Melvin Henson. It went: Watching YOU, watching you. There's an ALL SEEING EYE watching you! After hearing that song, I was unable to pay attention to anything else that was happening. I was too busy looking for that BIG EYE!
Singing over, the pastor would tell the story of Baby Jesus in the manger and how He came to earth to die for our sins. Three or four boys and girls dressed as angels with white gowns and silver wings and haloes stood near the podium. After the sermon, they passed collection plates for a special Christmas donation for the poor. I suspected the donation was for our pastor. Anyone who would hang around to minister to a flock of sod-busters and wood-cutters must be poor. He was filled with the love of God and ate beans like the rest of us.
Later, Santa would appear, shuffling down the aisles, huffing and puffing, straight from the North Pole. Gifts of fruit, nuts and candy were dispensed to the children, all the while, Santa muttering, "ho, ho, ho" under his breath because he did not want to be recognized. It was widely known that he was an agnostic. He didn't want religion rubbing off on him!
The services would wind down with more prayers, singing and guitar thumping. Soon, the search would begin for coats and mittens, scarves and hats and chidren set adrift in a sea of saw-dust. Then we would pile into our old Model A Ford, a monstrosity with bared chicken wire on the inside where the previous owner had ripped out the upholstery. One window was broken.
By the time we got home, I would have to be pried from the back seat, almost too cold to move. Somehow, we got through the front door of our shotgun house. A fire would be built in our pot-bellied stove. Hot chocolate and popcorn were welcome refreshments.
Then we gathered around our Christmas tree and exchanged gifts. No matter how inexpensive our gifts were, we felt we had mostly everything we wanted. Our father worked extra hard cutting pulp-wood, to give us whatever he could afford to buy. One year I received a doll that I had been praying for. The next year it was new dresses for school.
Of course I never did receive that black pony with a red saddle that I wanted so badly. Years later, I realized that was beyond Santa's means. We were housed, fed and loved by caring parents. That was the greatest gift of all. When Christmas rolled around, we hugged each other, smiling and thanking the Good Lord for helping us make it through another year.
Published on December 7th, 2022
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