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DECEMBER 29, 2017

Anyone remember rendering lard? What about mending a torn shirt? Making a quilt to keep your family warm? Did you know that these were community events?

My name is Tabitha Wallen and I am a Pike County native, currently living in Floyd County. I have been married for almost 8 years and have two boys, Austin and Lawrence. I have spent the last 15 years compiling my own family research and re-learning the old ways my grandmothers were unable to teach me. We farm pigs and chickens and try to live as close to how our ancestors did 150 years ago as we can. I have an extensive cookbook collection that I adore and love the history, culture and heritage of this region. My name is Tabitha Wallen and I am a Pike County native, currently living in Floyd County. I have been married for almost 8 years and have two boys, Austin and Lawrence. I have spent the last 15 years compiling my own family research and re-learning the old ways my grandmothers were unable to teach me. We farm pigs and chickens and try to live as close to how our ancestors did 150 years ago as we can. I have an extensive cookbook collection that I adore and love the history, culture and heritage of this region. Neighbors would gather to slaughter half dozen pigs, process the animals and share in the meat. A few women would get together to mend shirts and piece together quilts for the winter. Hunting parties would go out and all families involved would share in the hunt. I can remember shucking corn and shelling beans with my great grandmothers as a small child and helping make quilts.

The ways of our ancestors are being forgotten or lost every day with the death of someone’s grandparents. Rendering lard, cooking from scratch, mending or making your own clothes and communicating face to face are a dying art.

Old men would tell stories to the kids, old women would shoo mischievous boys out of the kitchen and away from the food while showing little girls how to cook without a recipe using dashes and pinches.

Family histories were shared over dinner and many of us found out that we had outlaws and famous people related to us! My husband’s great-great-great grandmother shot and killed two men at age 17. The men had come to arrest her father for bootlegging, shot her brother and had beaten her mother with the butt of a gun. She grabbed her father’s gun, shot and killed both men. She was later acquitted because the judge couldn’t believe that a woman who cried during the entire trial could be possible of murder. My own great-great-great grandfather, while a Union soldier during the War Between the States, was a poker buddy of Confederate and Logan Wildcat leader, Devil Anse Hatfield. His brother swore in Garfield as Brigadier General of the Union Army at Pikeville.

This column will focus on Appalachian cooking and history and I am open to any and all suggestions. Remember your grandmothers making something, but don’t have a recipe? Let me know, I may just have it. Want to learn how to quilt or mend a sock? Just wait, it’s coming. Ready to learn little known histories of this area? That’s coming too.


How to render lardHow to render lardRENDERING LARD...

Rendering lard has been around for centuries. Pigs are a cheap and easy animal to raise. They will eat anything, reproduce prolifically, and mature quickly.

Once processed, one animal could supplement a family’s food larder for an entire year when coupled with other domesticated animals and wild game.

My family has been raising hogs for almost 5 years now. Breeds most common to this area are Red Duroc, similar to strawberry blond or red hair, Yorkshire, the big white pigs, Elisted, the black pigs with white bands and most recently, Hereford, cinnamon-red like the Duroc but with a white face and temperament similar to a Labrador Retriever. Yorkshire’s have a reputation of having more fat overall but it all really depends on their living conditions. Many people feed their animals anything and everything including dog food, cereal, table scraps and while they will eat it, it isn’t what’s best for the animal. You get out of the pig what you put into them; if it’s junk, you will get fatty meat that isn’t the best. Feed them good quality feed, veggie scraps and give them lots of attention for the best tasting pork you will ever have. Same as Wagu beef; there is a reason it’s the most expensive meat on the market.

To render lard, you must first process the animal. Some people only use the leaf fat attached to the kidneys but when lard is all you use, you will process all the fat from the animal. When we process an animal, we typically get about 30 pounds of fat from one pig with a hanging weight of 350 pounds. The old timey way to render was to toss every bit of fat into a pot as soon as it’s cut from the animal. Now, when you pick up the animal from the slaughterhouse, all the fat is frozen so cutting it up is a must. A butcher knife is needed to cut chunks off the big piece and then a small paring knife to cut the chunk into nickel sized pieces. Fill a pot with about 2 cups of water and set your heat to low. Add the pieces to the pot and stir frequently. Do not over fill the pot as the pieces will stick and the solids will settle to the bottom.

As the lard renders down, the solids will separate and need to be strained. Scoop the solids into a cheesecloth lined strainer and squeeze out all the liquid. There may be remaining pieces of fat that can be placed back in the pot to continue rendering. The solids are now called cracklins and are a great treat on their own or baked into cornbread. This is an all-day process and is best done when the weather isn’t hot as having your stove on all day will make your house hotter, that’s one of the reasons why animals are slaughtered in late fall.

The beginningThe beginning

Once you have all your fat melted down and cracklins separated, spread the cracklins on a baking sheet and bake at 200° to dry out. Eat them alone or mix into cornbread batter for a real treat. Let the liquid lard cool to just warm and pour into clean mason jars. Place lid on and let cool completely. It will solidify to a nice, creamy white color with no odor. While it may look solid, it actually has a soft, spreadable texture and can be melted and used in place of oil or butter in any recipe. Many bakers swear by it for the flakiest pie crust and I can attest that it makes the best fried chicken. If you cook with cast iron cookware, lard is the go-to for seasoning. Clean your pots and pans well and place 2 heaping tablespoons in the pan. Place in a moderate oven until melted and tilt the pan to coat. Let cool until warm enough to handle and use a paper towel to spread the oil over the entire pan. Return to the cooling oven and leave it overnight. If there is a white film in the bottom of the pan, slowly heat the pan over low heat and swirl the pan until fully coated.

Lard has many household uses as well. Squeaky door hinge? Smear on with your fingers and work the hinge until it no longer squeaks. Gum in your kids hair? Work a small amount into the gum and the oil will break up the gum. Want to seal wooden cutting boards? Rub the board with your fingers until a thin coat is applied. Let try and then wipe with a damp cloth.

 

Growing up in LouisaChristmas Seasons Past!  

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

 

Who can read Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and not mentally run through their own memories of Christmases Past? Hopefully, we won’t see too many things we regret, as did Ebenezer Scrooge’s experience with the ghost of Christmas Past. Perhaps more importantly, since we are still among the living, (I presume,) then perhaps we, too, can have another chance to do better. Writing this column requires that I take frequent trips into the memory-banks of the past. I’ve found that nothing is more sobering than to remember our mistakes. At the same time, there’s something kind of romantic about revisiting the warmth of pleasant times. At my age, the image is more like a fairy-tale dream. I have many Christmas memories of the town I loved. Here are some I will share so you might also recall those times during quiet, yet festive, days of winter. Certainly, times have passed, and things have changed, but our memories have a life of their own.   

Christmas brings back loads of memories. How could it not? It was the biggest event of the year. It had its own traditions, foods, celebrations, performances, and visitations. At this time of year, I picture Louisa all dressed up in its finest holiday attire. Each telephone pole and streetlight downtown had green sprigs, or ropes of pine, or holly. I think at least one year a swag of greenery was placed across the streets connecting each side with the other, creating a tunnel effect for those underneath. I remember one season, or maybe more, that a cutout of Santa’s reflected a theme that would be repeated inside the stores up and down the business district. Other years representations of Christmas bells were displayed.

 As a young person, it was very exciting to stand on tiptoes to see the window displays filled with artificial snow. I knew instinctively that it was really layers of cotton batting, but the magic of the time helped me pretend. Some storekeepers sprayed an artificial snow around the windows. This framed the display and drew the customer’s attention to the merchandise featured that day. Some stores set up tiny village scenes that reminded me of Currier and Ives pictures of fancy Victorian streetscapes. One trick was to put small mirrors underneath the cotton to show just enough to imitate a frozen pond. One used miniature figures that appeared to be ice-skating, while others watched from the side. Smart merchants would strategically place shiny new toys, sparkling jewelry, or a display of Christmas cards to further extend their decorations. They promoted certain items that would draw the customers into their stores and that would build on the excitement. Inside, they put up decorations of white, green and red crepe paper strategically in every nook. This continually reminded shoppers that it was only ‘X’ days until Christmas. Some had installed clever animated displays, or even had demonstrations of new ‘miracle’ products that hopefully would induce even more sales. Customers were excited, not only for the season, but its promises of fun and pleasures. We also looked forward to having rare guests of relatives from out of town. The list of visitors would be long in the social section of the Big Sandy News. I still have copies of some of those wherein my family was mentioned.

While every store had Christmas displays and decorations, they also added to the spirit by playing well-known traditional Christmas Carols. Favorites were sung over and over reminding even the most casual shopper of the Christmas story.  Proclamations of ‘Peace on Earth’ and ‘Goodwill Toward Men,’ directed us to exhale and allow ourselves to soften our attitudes and warm our hearts to remember the Christmas message. We listened over and over again to the stories of the shepherds of long ago and the wise-men as they called upon the Christ child found lying in a manger.

If you were outside, you could hear the carols that were also broadcasted from the rooftop of the Methodist Church just there, on the corner of Main Cross and Madison Streets. The church played both recordings, and their chimes and bells, to send a blanket of sound out over the speakers. That music traveled over the rooftops that the whole town could hear.

Close by, next to the church on the courthouse green, a drama took place. The Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) held a live nativity play for the crowds of on-lookers. A local farmer had loaned a donkey, a lamb, and perhaps other livestock for the occasion. The youth of the church dressed up in Mideastern garb to play their assigned roles while the minister read the Christmas story from Luke 2. One lucky girl played the role of Mary, while a young man stood aside as Joseph. Across the street, mom, dad and the actor’s younger siblings proudly watched the scene that would be repeated with new actors each successive year.

 The five and dime store that was across the street and a few doorways north, played a record of ‘Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer,’ as sung by its cowboy author, Gene Autry.

My friend Bernard Nelson wrote last week that he worked for Mr. Van at the ‘Ten-cent Store,’ playing Santa at least one year. I was already too big to have sat on his lap to tell him what I wanted for Christmas, but it’s possible that more than a few readers did just that.

The store also played more secular carols like ‘Jingle Bells,’ and Bing Crosby singing, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

That message wasn’t lost on many, for sure. I wanted to have a white Christmas, too. As if thinking the same thing, many anxious eyes up and down the street looked skyward trying to see the season’s first snowflake. Of course, it didn’t happen every year, but when it did, the townsfolk were filled with the Christmas spirit and a warm feeling of well-being. Later, during marketing classes in college, I was told that a light snow usually made the cash registers ring. It helped people get into the holiday spirit. I didn’t know it then, but the merchants wanted snow as much as me. Even the hardware stores benefited when their snow shovel inventories were reduced to nothing by the onrush of sales.

I remember times that my mom dragged me along downtown as she bounced from store to store buying gifts for the family. Of course, she didn’t buy anything on that trip for me or my cousins, since I would see what was being bought. That would spoil the surprise. She made me promise ‘not to tell’ and to keep what I knew to myself. I imagined that telling such a thing would bring me certain dishonor and shame. Mom knew she could depend on me to bite my lip and keep the secret. Besides, it was likely that I wasn’t sure what she’d bought, anyway. You see, mom didn’t have to worry because I rarely paid attention to what she was doing. I stayed busy watching everyone else.

 I was especially interested in watching the teen girls wrap packages, but not for the reasons you think. These girls were so good at wrapping gifts! I watched them carefully and learned just how they made them turn out so well. When I grew older, my mom was surprised at how I could do a decent job of gift-wrapping. That is a skill that very few males have. I especially loved watching the magic when the girls pulled the brightly colored ribbon from the large roll, or spindle, and then wrapped it around the package. It was amazing when they made a bow with several fast loops, but even better they would take the edge of their scissors and curl the loose ends. Wow! I know when I got home I wasted a lot of ribbon learning to repeat that trick. Mom didn’t get mad at me. She went ahead and used the ample supply of curly ribbon as best she could.

Kids learn soon enough to shake the gifts they find under the tree prior to Christmas morning. They will be certain to try and guess the contents of each package. Soft and hard items were easy for me to distinguish, but identifying anything else was harder. A rattle was pretty much a dead giveaway that it was a toy, jewelry, or broken glass. Oops! One trick mom used was to fill the box with cotton so nothing could move about, or rattle. (This was way before foam peanuts, or bubble wrap.) We figured that anything soft usually meant we were getting clothing. That isn’t what a child wants to hear. I mean, pajamas are okay, but a toy, or some sports equipment was always much better.

Every year there came a time when it was my turn to go to the store and buy mom something. I’m sure the clerk at the department stores loved it when I had them show me every scarf, or handkerchief, they had in my price range. Even then, to me those items were boring so after the demonstration, I’d shake my head and leave. I knew to not look back.

A trip to Land’s Sundry had me smelling perfume (couldn’t afford the good stuff), but they also carried Whitman’s Sampler candies. They had various sized boxes so I was sure to find one that matched my budget. I had to carefully watch them wrap it, though. When they went to wrap the box, the paper sometimes was transparent enough to allow one to read the Whitman label right through the wrapper. That meant that we had to choose a heavier print, or a darker paper, or use several more layers. Also, having watched the wrapping operations when I was with mom, I knew the ribbon had to be ‘just so.’ I know they loved waiting on me because I could tell them exactly what they were doing wrong. Upon leaving the store my mission was accomplished. That was a relief. I’d been dreading picking out something for mom. I hoped that she would like my gift to her, but maybe if she didn’t then she could share it. Yum!

We all looked forward to various holiday events around town. The hosts almost always served light snacks of homemade cookies, candy canes, or hard Christmas candies, cider, or hot chocolate. For me, making cookies was a highlight of the season. I remember once mom had this aluminum tube with a plunger that pressed the dough through various-shaped templates to make shapes like: stars, trees, Santa, Elves, and circles. When they were finally baked and hot out of the oven, we would put colored sugar on them, or sometimes icing. I always got to sample any cookies that didn’t turn out just right. I knew that the shape had little to do with taste so even a lopsided tree was good to eat. Today, I’d probably suggest the phenomenon that rejected cookies don’t have any calories. That clearly meant that more rejections were a good thing. Then, there was the three second rule, another wonder, unless the dog beat you to whatever was dropped.

 As the big day approached and school was finally let out, the adults in my family were ‘all a tither.’ They were wrapped up with talking about or making pumpkin pies, sweet potato pies, pecan pies, chocolate pies, custard pies, and cherry pies. They were busy making angel food cake, pound cake, devil’s food cake, yellow cake, and white cake. What with all those cookies, candy, pies, and cakes, I was one, real, happy kid, but wait a minute! They also talked about ham, turkey, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, greens, beans, yams, and all kinds of salads, like Waldorf, and Jell-O, and who knows what else. They might have been in a ‘tither,’ but all this talk was making me feel right hollow, as in hungry.     

What with TV specials (see my recent article), the Christmas music, the school and church programs, the decorations, and the crowds of happy shoppers running into each other in the stores and on the streets, this season became a very big thing in our young lives. Add to that the prospect of possibly getting new toys and lots of food, including sweets, this had to be like heaven. It was more than a simple break from school. It was THE time to celebrate a whole season. It was a time to visit and eat, or maybe enjoy eggnog, hot apple cider, or a steamy cup of hot chocolate. That’s always a super good idea.

Without question, we certainly heard the ‘good news’ the heavenly angels were singing about when they appeared to the shepherds of old. It would be later, perhaps during Easter, when we’d have the whole message. For some of us, discovery would be during a revival, or a church service, or another time when the ‘light bulb’ came on and we’d finally understand the real cause for celebration. Others, well, maybe not so much, but nonetheless, despite the commercialism, the good news was and continues to be spread. We had the choice to do with Christmas as we wished, but either way, I cannot help but wish for you and your friends and families, the merriest of Christmases. May you understand the reason for this joyful time, too. After all, it was created especially for all of us and is reason aplenty to celebrate. 

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Growing up in Louisa – About Christmas Gifts! 

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

Many adults know that mankind’s hope is hinged on the birth of the Christ child. Kids on the other hand cannot help but think that Christmas is about grand celebrations that end with RECEIVING and giving gifts. We all put emphases on the importance of staying on Santa’s “Good List,” (masking our real motives) so we might find wonderful presents under the tree (Incentive or bribe?)

TV ads, cartoons, and even our teachers encourage a mixture of secular and traditional activities, but they are slow to explain the reason for that nativity so long ago in Bethlehem. Our courts have literally put ‘the fear of (mentioning) God’ in them. The freedom of speech for them is cloaked in the idea of separation of church and state. Indeed, the government ought not establish or favor a religion, but to deny citizens the right to communicate religious thought is a restraint of other freedoms.

The carols, or at least many of them, tell the story of Christ’s birth, but when it is mixed with fictional stories such as the Grinch, Rudolf, and the Polar Express, the truth is watered down in favor of having ‘good feelings’ kinds of stories. They are lovely stories, but they distract rather than explain, with the possible exception of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ wherein the version in Luke 2, is presented to those who are open to hear.

Back in the forties and fifties, at least in Louisa, the Christmas season kicked off right after Thanksgiving. The stores downtown went to work putting up Christmas decorations at that time. Now that day is devoted to ‘Black Friday’ sales. Of course, we didn’t have those sales, nor did we have the following ‘Cyber Monday.’ We didn’t have anything like today’s technological advances so I’m sure we’d miss the meaning of the recently coined word, ‘cyber.’ Today, the holiday season starts much earlier in hope of creating and snagging all the Christmas dollars possible for a healthy year-ending third quarter sales. This was the season that is definitive for businesses, and would spell out a ‘life or death’ sentence for those just hanging on. Investors, storekeepers, and bankers watch the marketplace carefully, holding their breath in anticipation of the results.

Then tradition demanded that stores break out their Christmas decorations and turn on the music we loved to hear year-after-year. Like Palov’s dogs, we salivated and readied ourselves for the festive times ahead. One could watch teachers rushing to help students make Christmas cards, or gifts for parents. Annual rehearsals of Christmas pageants were begun and roles were assigned. Some told the story of that first Christmas with the shepherds and wisemen, while others, such as the classic works, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ by Charles Dickens or Clement Clarke Moore’s poem (‘T was the night before Christmas,) were common themes meant to incite good behavior and a warm feeling for the season. These took us into a joyful attitude and a time emitting a preponderance of hedonistic pleasures that have continued to grow over the years. Granted, in these events, lessons of morals are taught, but the true message of Christmas continues to be ‘watered down.’ This is caused by a focus on ‘gifts’ and marketing strategies, or perhaps out of fear of being outside of constitutional limitations. What became politically correct began its move toward what is ‘legally’ correct. Makes me wonder who’s writing the laws…

Growing up in the forties and fifties, at least in hindsight, many of our families were still suffering from having just come through the Great Depression, and two world wars. In a relatively poor economy, it had become normal for many of us to turn to making hand-made gifts for our friends and family. I remember that fathers and grandfathers often worked for weeks, if not months, to secretly produce a wooden rocking horse, a new baby’s cradle, a child’s rocking chair, or maybe some new shelving for mom. Workshops were ‘off-limits’ during the fall months. They were deep in freshly made sawdust.

Inside many homes, mothers and grandmothers would spend long hours sewing clothing, making sock-monkeys, knitting sweaters, or mittens, or gloves, or even for that special someone, an afghan. I know I was trapped more than once when Granny had me hold a skein of yarn so she could roll it into a ball. The quilting frame told me that a new quilt would soon be stitched that would make the cold spells warmer on those cold winter’s evenings. These patchwork masterpieces added a heavy weight over the sleeping child, but felt so good.

Even felt stockings that were ‘hung by the chimney with care,’ were often handmade, either by older kids or one of the adults of the household. These gifts made with loving hands were long-cherished and kept safely away in cedar chests during the summer ‘off-season.’ Fall was an especially busy time as the holidays were anticipated with a touch of dread that everything was not yet at the ready.

Some families suffered more from the results of war, the great depression, and the ups and downs of the mining industry. Many families simply lacked enough funds to give a lot of things to their children. To many, if not most, keeping up mortgage payments and feeding everyone was often difficult. The gifts pretty much had to be homemade, or were simpler things that could be afforded. Some kids looking in their stockings found gifts of fruits, nuts, penny candy, or other small things that were useful. Toys, other than the homemade variety, weren’t always possible to obtain. Sometimes things like books of fairy tales, or hand-me-downs where saved to be passed out on Christmas morn.

I knew of one family that lived on the principle that frugality would make life easier for everyone in the long-run. While they may have had resources, they elected to remain thrifty. A daughter told me later that she was shocked when her ‘poor’ father, who always dressed in ragged overalls, took her to a car dealership and paid cash for a new family car. Up to then she had no idea her family had any money. She had always assumed they were poor, but discovered finally that they were well-to-do as compared to many others. Her father explained, “I’d rather neighbors like us for who we are than because they think we have money.”

While putting together this article, I started thinking about the things I remember getting, or things that my friends received ‘under the tree’ on Christmas morning. Later, when I was older, as a parent and grandparent, I concluded that ‘noisy’ things should be avoided at all costs. Still, every year it seemed that someone got somebody a drum for Christmas. Others got kazoos and whistles, or dolls that cried, or recited a repetitious song. These distracting devices would add to the din at Christmas. Even the ‘walkie-talkies’ promoted a disruptive environment when I desired a little ‘peace on earth.’ But then, again, it only happens once a year and after a time, the toys will break or be forgotten, and quiet will prevail.

I knew folks who collected certain kinds of things that would be displayed as seasonal decorations each year. Nativity scenes are an example. I also remember a friend from Fort Gay who treasured ‘Hallmark’ ornaments, and porcelain figures. Another family friend kept Christmas dishes, or plates. Others kept little lighted villages to grace the mantle or tabletop. One lady I knew collected different kinds of snow-globes. I remember shaking one and racing to another to keep the action going. One or two also played music when the base was wound. These seemed so magical when I was a kid. It seemed like a wintery wonderland.

 Toys for the kids over the years might have included cabbage-patch dolls, or some little hairy trolls. A girl would get a toy stroller (or pram) to give her dolls a ride. Lucky girls got a new tea set (some porcelain, some of tin, or even plastic, which relatively new.) Kid’s might get a set of Lincoln Logs, an erector set, a chemistry set (bad smells), a periscope, Wheel-lo-Matic, Slinky, a toy kitchen and bake oven, toy soldiers, an electric train, airplanes, a bike, a spinning top, or sporting goods. Whew! So many things, so little room under the tree.

I remember getting several board games such as ‘Monopoly,’ or ‘Clue.’ I got a plastic chess set once, and we were given a nice ‘nutcracker’ to share as a display under the tree. I knew folks who collected ‘Coke’ items, but they especially liked trays and Christmas-related Coke ads. These were usually pretty pictures stamped on metal trays. Some had a picture of Santa, or a pretty girl dressed in a Santa outfit.

In spite of a poor economy, merchants in our little town increased their inventories and displayed the latest in toys, toiletries, tools, and tinsel. The Favorite five and dime (we called it the ten-cent store), the Corner store (under the Brunswick Hotel,) Land’s Sundry, the hardware stores, Wright Brother’s Jewelry, the Bargain Store, and the several department stores, were all primed and ready should someone come in to buy a gift. Street decorations and the storefront displays set the town hopping with customers looking for just the right thing. I remember the friendly people that met on the streets and talked under the awnings while their kids mingled with peers around the supporting posts. It seemed as if music was everywhere, while all eyes were on the heavens looking for that first fluffy snowflake to make the season right.     

 I remember those heavy ‘outdoor’ lights that some strung over the evergreen bushes around their house. These were bigger than the bulbs used in-doors. We also had those bubble lights that were in fashion for a time. In those early days colors were limited to green, red, blue, and maybe a rare yellow, or orange. It would be years later before miniature lights came in single colors, such as blue or white. These have evolved to the point that some commercial businesses use them year around to add mystique to an antrium, or lobby. Even the university near my home has the trees on the walkways lit all the time. It’s as if the campus is a fairyland.

As a family, we used to pick an evening just to walk around town and see the lights. When growing up, nearly everyone had a tree in front of a window, and some had the outdoor lights, but few had the massive displays that can be found today. I doubt circuits would have allowed the use of the required electrical amps, anyway. They didn’t have inflatables in those days, and rarely had much more than maybe a static nativity display, or a plywood snowman figure in their yards. There were some churches that sent out carolers every year. Families would have some hot chocolate and cookies to share with the cold singers if they were lucky. Our church focused on ‘shut-ins’ and the elderly, and sometimes traveled in pickup trucks to reach those further away. The temperature seemed cold, but the carolers would bunch up together to block the wind in hopes of staying warm.

All in all, families of the communities worked together to make the season delightful and magical. There were those who knew, or made it a point to know, families that might be struggling. Secret gifts would appear out of the night, as if a greater power knew the need. ‘Goodwill toward men,’ seemed possible somehow in a world that wasn’t always so nice. The Grinches of those days were few and the Scrooges, if there were any, were not intrusive. Maybe peace on earth would be possible, I wondered.      

Our little Louisa became a magical place during the Christmas season. It was be that way on other holidays, too, but it was especially so during this time of year. Over time our memories built up and continued to grow in understanding and taste. As to gifts, it wasn’t the lack of things we remember most, but rather what really mattered. The townsfolk were more than friends, they seemed to be family. More than anything, we knew we had each other. Even in the worst of years we were blessed in some way, and in our hearts, we knew it. While it was normal for some of us to have disappointments, we still had each other and were prepared to stand tall for the sake of others. Christmas was, and is, special. It had a greater meaning than just gifts. The value of the season was far greater than even we knew, and it continues for those wise enough to tend to the traditions.   

The items and events I’ve shared are of things I remember. I plan to write more next week about the spirit of the town that I remember. As I’ve grown older, it follows that I’ve seen many seasons. The first of them arising from my school years at the good old Louisa grade school, and later at LHS. As might be expected, memories are somewhat crumpled together into a montage. I can no longer easily separate some of them into a single event. Still, there is a commonality that continues to repeat year after year, to confirm the worth and real reason for the season. May you, too, find it so and do what you can to keep the faith. Being happy and sharing the reason is not wrong, so be certain to share that message with others, and do what you can also to add to the magic of the season. Let’s purpose to keep it going by repeating the good news given in Bethlehem so long ago. Proclaiming peace and goodwill and remembering the child delivered in a stable may, after all, tell some child what it is all about. If so, it will be totally worth it!  Merry Christmas, my friends.

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