Sunday, December 18, 2016

December Memories

Dear Reader,
It's 2016. I'm reviewing a blog post from December 2010. Christmas draws the Bussey children together in special ways of the heart--even as we age and can't see each other at Christmas anymore, our hearts and memories are always in unison during this cold December holiday. Cold was different in those days in that place, wasn't it?

December 12, 2010
I'm thinking of winter in David,Kentucky, my Appalachian Coal Camp home. By now we would have exchanged names for gifts at school with a price limit of 50 cents. Mother always tried to buy something fun for us to give--like a wind-up toy or a good rubber ball, for example. She complained if we got a box of chocolate covered cherries.

The Company Store would have filled the upstairs area with all kinds of Christmas toys. Virgil Warrix, Ruth Burchett, Grace Moore,Clayton Wills, not to mention the store staff, the PECCO office staff, and first Claude Allen then Lily Price, our post-masters (we weren't pc back then), and George, the butcher probably purely dreaded time of year. The oiled hardwood steps went straight up beside the butcher shop so George would have heard every step and all our excited shouts.

Remember all those little wind up toys that scooted all over the place until they wound down. Erector sets. Guns, bows and arrows, cowboy and cowgirl suits, and those beautiful dolls I loved so much. All we could do was dream about what we might get!

Miners' wives could shop there and "charge it". The charge would be taken out of the miner's next check. Daddy hated this because sometimes, more often than not, he'd "go in the hole". His check would be Zero. We dreaded payday because we also charged Bobby Pins, Kotex, Lucky Star filler paper (everyone saved Lucky Stars), writing tablets, pop, and sometimes, lunch at the fountain. Mother was a little too lenient and we took advantage when we could. She didn't worry until payday, when Daddy would discover how far 'in the hole" he'd gone. Then the dreaded fight. The Fountain __Ethel Wills, Ora Bussey, Dot Crauswell, Carolyn Howard, Pattie Clark (Mollette), and others who worked there over the years--made the best chili and hot dogs ever. Later in life, I've decided that the great flavor was also enhanced by wrapping the hot-dogs in waxed paper --such a specia taste. .

Of course other days, we walked home to a lunch of cheese sandwiches, fried bologna sandwiches,canned pork and beans, or wieners sliced in half and fried brown in a skillet of bacon grease. Delicious on bread with a little mustard or mayonnaise. We loved the fountain, though, and the few times a month we dared go in and say "charge it".

Once a girlfriend, took a whole gang of us in and charged our lunches to her Daddy. She was a little rebel and this was a daresome thing to do!

We wrote lists for Santa and sent them up the stove pipes of our Warm Morning coal heater.I asked for stuff like diamond rings, gowns, watches, and whatever doll was the big name that year. One year it was bride dolls. I never got these requests, but Mother always managed to get us something. Once we were past the age of "believing' we didn't get special gifts. Maybe one little thing was wrapped for us. It was a great milestone in high school to have a boyfriend at Christmastime, knowing they would have to buy you a gift. I bet some of them had hard times buying those gifts. Mother was generous with Daddy's money and if our 25 cents per hour babysitting money wouldn't cover it, she'd help us buy presents for our boyfriends-if we had one!

We could always count on our socks hanging on the wall to be filled with oranges, apples, walnuts, saw-log peppermint candy, horehound candy for Daddy.The nuts weren't hulled, of course and we could never find a hammer, so we got heavy rocks from outside and cracked the nuts right on the living room floor. There were nut hulls and orange peels everywhere. We enjoyed the Christmas goodies. Mother even let us skate in the house, anything to keep us occupied.

My older brother, Rodney, had his Christmas fun cut short when, as a mere 9 year old, he started playing Santa for us three younger ones. Not fair, but he has fond memories of doing so much for us. I think Mother asked him to help because he was so kind and sensitive and she knew he'd understand. Reminds me of a poem mother wrote about her getting a doll with torn lace because, as her father told her, "Santa knew you'd understand, honey". So many life's lessons we learned through all these things.

Daddy made sure we got a real coconut to share. He poked a hole in it so we could drink the "monkey pee" inside. He would laugh and laugh after we drank it and he told us what it was.

Always, just when Mother couldn't handle one more thing, Daddy would come through the door with a big "Boo" and proudly deliver her a freshly severed hogs head--a gift from one of our Middle Creek farm families. Don't ask me how she learned to make "souse meat", but she did it. I've since learned that "sousing" is an old English tradition and considered a true delicacy. I don't remember any of us helping her with this Christmas project for Daddy. The older ones usually have different memories. Another Christmas delicacy she made, just for Daddy, was oyster stew. We had never tasted oysters and none of us would try the dish.Daddy loved it, though, and she made it only at Christmas.

Mother always decorated the porch for Christmas. She'd go into the hills in Mid-December and cut pine branches to nail all around the front door and the front porch banister. She worked really hard at this and we had to help her. One year blue lights were all the rage and Mother got some--probably "charged" them.We loved those blue lights, too. There was no electrical outlet on the porch, so Mother ran the cord through the living room window. She never won the annual prize, but we voted for her anyway.

She put pine branches around the living room bookshelf--a luxury item built by Ashland Shepherd, the Company carpenter into some of the houses. We were proud of that amenity. Our time-payment World Book encyclopedias were displayed prominently.Over the years, We read every word in them, cut out pictures for school reports and Mother never seemed to mind that we wore them out. She thought it helped us learn.

One year Mother & Mrs Wilson (Leona--we always used the proper Mr. and Mrs.) learned to make candles by whipping heated paraffin wax and mixing in gold or silver glitter. They made all shapes and sizes by molding them into cups, glasses, tin cans, milk cartons, and anything else they could find. I bet Mrs. Wilson kept her house pretty neat but Mother kept the house messed up and discovered she really enjoyed creating things. She would place these beautiful, glittery candles throughout the pine decor and we were always wondering what she would do next. Aerosol spray was invented in the mid 40s, I think, and when gold and silver spray paint hit the company store in the early 50s,wow, did they have a great time. Christmas took on a whole new shine! They even picked "weeds" up in the hills, sprayed them beautiful colors, created arrangements and sold some to a florist in Prestonsburg. Big Time!,

Nights were cold in December. Ice would freeze on the inside of the windows. There were no storm windows in those days. We had heavy quilts to keep us warm and usually a sibling or two helping warm up the bed--remember when someone would take a little of your "warm spot" and you had to lie on pure cold for a while. Mother hung quilts over the doors between the living room and the kitchen to divert most of the heat in the direction of the bedrooms. There was no heat in any of the rooms except the living room. There sat the Warm Morning coal stove taking up an entire corner, but leaving enough room so that we could sit--all six of us, I guess--up against the wall behind it. That corner was warmer than anywhere in the house and we liked to put on our socks and shoes there. Sometimes Mother handed us a plate of cornbread and gravy to eat back there, sometimes a biscuit.

Mother would arise about 3AM and sneak out of bed. (Daddy would be upset if he woke up and found her gone, so this was a big deal). She'd stoke up the fire, take down the quilt barrier and stoke up the laundry stove in the kitchen. The laundry stove heated our water and she managed to get it a little warm before we got up. She'd make Daddy's lunch for his bucket and brew their coffee by pouring boiling water into the wonderful old drip-o-later (I still use one) and find some quiet time-her favorite time of the day-for her writing and a cigarette or two before waking us up.To this day, I don't think Daddy knew Mother was a writer and an artist--he just knew she was eccentric and broke all the norms.

In grade school, we walked to school with headscarves on and our bangs would freeze. I'd love to see a picture of us in those headscarves...looking like the rural women of Bosnia and the Ukraine--not like the look Jackie Kennedy made famous. Can you believe we wore headscarves?

In high school, the bus ran at 7 AM--always before daylight. We got to Prestonsburg about 7:30-7:45 and waited at the Black Cat drive in for classes to start around 8:30. Those mornings are memorable. The boys with money played the jukebox. We had a quarter for lunch at the cafeteria but if we spent a dime on a coke, we only had 15 cents left and couldn't afford to eat. Tough decisions. Bruce Howard, my future brother-in-law, always had extra money and sometimes played the jukebox for us or bought me a coke occasionally. When brother Rod had money to spare, he made sure I had some too. I was so proud of Bruce & Rodney--both Black Cat varsity athletes and fine boys..

The David Middle Creekers were always the first to arrive at PHS and the last to leave--rarely getting home before 5 Pm, when it was already dark in the winter. The bus would pull in at the Company Store and we were always glad if it was still open so we could run in and buy our necessities. I know Grace Moore and Ruth Burchett dreaded us. There was no privacy for us when shopping because we had to go up to the clerk behind the counter and ask for everything.

Once I had to ask for a box of Kotex and was so embarrassed I told Ruth, "They're not for me, they're for Toby". Rod said he felt the same way once when Mother told him to ask Ruth if they had anymore "chalkies". I won't elaborate but home some of you may remember what a "chalkie" was.

So, December is reminding me of cold days, cold house, icicles hanging on the front porch, snow cream, sleigh rides down Boy Scout Cabin cabin hill, socks for gloves, childhood fun, hard work, Mother's creativity, who will receive gifts, who won't have any, the company store, and "going in the hole". Through it all we learned there were people less fortunate than we and that Christmas was for giving to others. Somehow we managed that too.

Thanks for letting me share these December thoughts.
All that's left is life,


  1. Dear Judy,

    ....another great story....

    Every Christmas Season of my adult life I remember my excitement when the Company Store workers would stock the upstairs display area with "toys"...

    As I remember they did this after Thanksgiving .........we would watch through the windows and dreammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.....!

    Then on Monday after school we would run to the store so we could go upstairs and look, smell, touch, hear, and metaphorically taste Christmas.....and dreammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....!

    More than once Mother bought a YO-YO for me as soon as they were stocked so I would stop dreammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmming and requesting so much...( and probably stop aggravating her)

    But you know.....somehow we knew it was OK to dreammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm......and yet we were taught to be "age appropriate" realistic...

    What great memories and I would not trade them for all the World's Toys or a new set of World Book Encyclopedias!!

    Love to all,


  2. Brenda Hughes VanderpoolDecember 12, 2010 at 7:29 PM

    Love your stories!!! Reminds me a lot of my own childhood! Such wonderful memories!! Write more!!