I was born and raised in a four-room tenant house on a farm in Metcalfe County. We did without electricity, indoor toilet and running water, but I never lacked for sustenance or nurturing and love from my hard-working parents.
An especially treasured memory: Christmas season, 1950, when I was 10.
It began, as always, with Mom and me on our annual tree hunt.
With axe in hand and several feet of “grass string” on our arms, we headed for a nearby area overgrown with broom sage, brush, a couple of small thickets and a hillside of cedars.
She always gave me the pleasure of selecting our tree. I bent it a little, while Mom chopped it down.
Together, we dragged and carried our tree home. Mom made hot cocoa, and I sipped while she trimmed off the lower branches. Then I held the tree upright in a large bucket while Mom packed stones around it and positioned it in the corner of our living room.
I steadied the tree while Mom stood on a chair, tied a piece of twine to a nail in the wall, passed the twine around the upper portion of the tree, and tied the other end to a nail in the adjacent wall. Now our tree was upright and would stay that way.
Mom then brought out our box of aged and recycled Christmas decorations. A cotton-like fabric was placed on the floor around the tree. We carefully hung the fragile, almost ancient glass balls and draped the boughs in colorful roping, randomly applied tinfoil icicles, and, finally, placed a silver star on top.
Then, savoring the taste of hot cocoa and the aroma of freshly cut cedar, we stood together and admired our beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
That season, we had what was thought to be a record snowfall. I heard Dad telling Mom that the roads were impassable for our car, or even with our wagon and mules.
But Mom was determined to get to town. “I’m not going to let that boy do without Christmas,” she said, ending the conversation.
At dawn the day before Christmas, Mom dressed herself in WWII vintage olive drab wool pants, a flannel shirt and jacket, rubber galoshes over her shoes, a scarf over her fur-lined cap, a pair of Dad’s gloves and a long, heavy coat.
All I could see of her was her face, and it wore an expression of gritty determination.
Despite the cold and huge accumulation of snow, her plan was to walk more than three miles to Edmonton, buy some goods and walk back home.
I later learned that she was going to town with the hope that Mr. Witty’s store would be open. If not, she would go on to Mr. A. H. Count’s store since his family lived next door to the store. She was also hoping that Mr. Moran’s store would be open. If not, he and his wife lived on the second floor and would surely let her in, since Mom regularly sold her hand-churned butter to them.
Hours later, Mom returned home with a feed sack and basket filled with her purchases, mostly from Witty’s Grocery just before its noontime closing. She was obviously very tired and painfully cold. She put several sticks of wood in the stove, left its door open, removed several layers of clothing, and sat in a rocking chair directly in front of the flames. The warmth comforted her after hours of trudging through the snow that very cold day.
After resting, Mom began putting in place one of the finest assemblages of Christmas Eve treats imaginable. As a result of her incredible trek to town, we had hard candy, oranges, bananas, cookies, Mom’s homemade eggnog with nutmeg and my all-time favorite, chocolate drops.
We also popped popcorn, roasted and shelled peanuts, broke open hickory nut hulls and removed the nuts, and warmed some molasses — all of which Mom used to make her delicious popcorn balls.
Under the tree, three beautifully wrapped gifts added an air of anticipation to our gala.
Dad lighted the lamps, stoked the fire, and we enjoyed the delicious treats and our Christmas Eve together.
The memory of that joyful occasion has warmed my heart throughout my lifetime — an occasion made possible by my mother’s determination and an example of her love that I will always cherish.
Terry B. Simmons is a Lexington architect.