Christmas was special at our house. As the youngest in the family, my family probably did some things to keep it special for me. My dad worked on the roads and, I think, about the first of December, he started looking at cedar trees along the road, so he could bring just the right one home. That tree added a lot to the entire Christmas scene, because it brought the most beautiful aroma into the house.
Dad would usually cut a tree that was too big, and mom would say, “Moffett, that’s too big.” And he would cut it off and bring it in again, and sometimes he had to cut it more than once. The wonderful cedar aroma in the house was complemented by my mother’s cooking and baking. She made fruitcakes and coconut cakes and cooked old ham and made so many wonderful things to eat. It was hard not to get into the mood of Christmas at our home when I was a kid.
A star attraction was Bradford’s store, and how Boo Bradford and Jack Lillard transformed the upstairs of the store into a toyland and fantasyland for the children. If I remember correctly, it was usually the Saturday after Thanksgiving that Mr. Bradford opened up the upstairs and you walked up that long stairway from the front of the store into toyland. Even if you weren’t in the Christmas spirit, you would be when you got to the top of the stairs.
The upstairs was completely decorated for Christmas, with Christmas trees with bubble lights on them . . . which I don’t remember seeing anywhere else as a kid . . . and there were all sorts of toys arrayed all over the upstairs. And, over in the corner, there was Santa Claus, sitting in a big chair, with a bag of treats by his side. It was better than looking through the Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. You could see and touch the toys. It was wonderful.
And, the lard cans. Yes, Mr. Bradford had lard cans with many brown paper bags in each can. Each paper bag held one pound of some kind of Christmas candy. There were chocolate-covered peanuts, my favorite, and chocolate drops, and orange slices, and pink and white coconut candies, and hard candy, and just about anything else sweet that a child could imagine. How I wanted to take that lard can of chocolate covered peanuts home.
There was usually a special night at church, as well. There was singing of the favorite Christmas songs, and often a play of some kind, usually by the children in the church. I remember practicing for the Christmas play at Russie Miller’s house. I specifically remember practicing and learning the song, “The Friendly Beasts,” in which each animal in the stable with Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus told what they did for the event. I remember, “I said the donkey, shaggy and brown, I carried his mother up hill and down. I carried his mother to Bethlehem town. I said the donkey, shaggy and brown.”
We also had lots of visitors in our home. Most of them were the families of my older sisters, who would come and spend part of Christmas Day with us, and we would all have a wonderful Christmas feast that my mother had prepared. Sometimes, my grandfather Lillard would come and have Christmas dinner with us. When he was in the house, you behaved yourself and sat quietly at the dinner table (if you were old enough to eat with the adults) until Granddaddy had asked the blessing. It seemed to make my mom especially happy to have her father there on those special occasions.
From my family to yours, have a wonderful Christmas, and may God bless you and yours in the coming new year.