Do any of you remember hearing about Christmas from the "old-timers," the ones who have long ago left this world? Do you remember your father telling about getting an apple and orange and, with a lot of luck, some years there were bananas? A few times, in very good years, there was a pair of new socks or mittens and possibly one little toy. Do you remember Christmas trees that were cut right here in Chester County, filling the house with the wonderful aroma of cedar, and decorated with ornaments made by hand and treasured from one year to another? Popcorn that was strung with simple cotton thread and a needle that left dents in the middle finger?
Do any of you, the ones with wild imaginations, remember looking up at the sky and hoping with all of your heart that you would see the famous sled glide over the dark, starlit heavens? Did any of you ever hear that the cows in the pasture lie down at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, or is that just a Virginia legend? Do any of you remember thinking that you heard hoof beats on the tin roof that covered most of our dwellings? Do any of you remember those treasured pieces of ribbon candy and the heart-stopping chocolate drops that were filled with a creamy white sweetness that made your mouth water?
Do you remember the way the "lady turkey" paraded around in the chicken yard, never dreaming that soon she was to be offered up to the wonders of a Christmas meal, then to be stuffed with oyster dressing? Do you remember the fruitcakes that were made a few days before Thanksgiving, placed in decorated tin boxes that reeked of a dram or two of a fine brandy that had been poured over the great holiday delicacy?
Do you remember the wondrous two- or three-layer fresh coconut cake that was made only at that time of the year and then put aside to let the scent of the exotic coconut permeate the wondrous soft delicacy?
If you remember any of these things, you are blessed. Your head is chock full of sweet memories, for these were the years when being hospitable and generous was the call of the day. It was the greatest part of the giving season. Certainly, your nose, if not your heart, has never forgotten Blue Waltz and Evening in Paris perfume. Dusting powder that cost not more than 39 cents filled our bedrooms with the smell of gardenias in December.
Oh, yes, those days were dear to all of us. The sound, the smells, the gentle voices of one person calling to another, "Merry Christmas" and the sweet reply was always "the same to you."
Do you remember the school plays that were presented on a well-worn country school stage, where the youngest little girl always played the part of the angel that stood close to Mary and the tiny straw crib? The "little angel" smiled and paid strict attention to her task of seeming to protect this lovely holy family. Many times, that halo was slightly askew, and the teacher who produced the drama knew only too well the danger that was lurking in that little girl's head. No doubt, at any minute, that child would wave to her mother, stick her tongue out at her older brother or make a face at her cousin. But everyone knew one another. They loved to see the same play every Christmas and were ready to congratulate their children as they walked quickly home to wait for the arrival of the "Big Man."
I would like to hear simple voices that were not coached and had not been versed in exquisite harmony sing "Silent Night." It would fill my heart with simple joy to hear those singers standing around a fine old pump organ played by a lady that had the strongest legs in the county. I would love to hear the booming voice of a country preacher filling a church decorated with lovely handmade ornaments made by a gentle lady long gone from this world to a place of everlasting peace. He would tell the age-old story with much drama and excitement, explaining all the facts of that wonderful time. I would like to look longingly at the old-fashioned pictures of the little donkey carrying his precious cargo to the stable in Bethlehem. Those things remind me of Christmas. The simple calling of one friend to another and not having that friend judge you or your family by the way you dress or the make of car that you drive. However, respecting you for the talent and the heart and interest that is given freely to the community, wherever it may be.
Times have truly changed. Today a 39-cent box of powder could not even be bought. The child who was thrilled with a pair of mittens now wants a thousand-dollar computer. Truthfully, he must have it. The intellectual demands that push him make it a necessity.
But he also must have a car, a CD player, a television in his room and a strong hankering for a Harley and an iPod, but then, that is the way it is.
This is a little story of things gone by and things to come. Things to remember and others to file away to tell your children and their children in the upcoming years. If you remember, Gardenia's Dusting Power, Evening in Paris perfume, school plays and carols sung around the old organ and a preacher who let his mighty voice roll over the congregation, you have had a nice long life. I, for one, wish all of you a lot more time and many more Christmases, and I do hope you share your memories with someone willing to listen. I hope they know about the things that no longer exist, for those memories fall into a simple category that build tradition, a mighty important word and one that all of us should make a part of our lives.
Merry Christmas and best wishes for peace across the world, where one man of a different color or religion considers one, unlike him, his brother.