Articles & Stories

Following are two articles that appeared in the "I Remember" section of the December 13/January 2014 issue of The Kentucky Explorer.

A Miracle On
Christmas Day, 1939

When we were kids we were taught that if we prayed, God would send miracles. It was Christmas Eve, and we sure needed a miracle. This was during the Great Depression. There weren't any jobs, and very few people had any money. People were literally starving. We weren't starving, but eating soup beans, cornbread, and buttermilk left something for young people to desire. We didn't understand that this was a blessing. This had been a very bad time for Mom and Dad. We were just too young to know what a bad state our country was in. We had seen the hundreds of men working at building the road in front of our house. They worked for the WPA. They were paid $21 a month. That wasn't a lot of money, but most of the time it was more than we had, because Dad didn't get to work but about six or seven days a month; and if you owed the company money on a lease, they took out their part first, and this left very little to feed 13 people. Mom would send us to the store, and sometimes they might let us have 25 or 50 cents to buy the very basic things we needed; such as lard, sugar, flour, and meal. When we didn't can a lot of food in the summer, we didn't have much during the winter.
I could see the sadness in Mom's and Dad's eyes for days. Christmas was coming, and there wouldn't be any of the things we usually had. Mom would have been making candy, and my sisters, Goldia and Amanda, would have been making pies and cakes. We would be thinking about opening our toys or whatever Dad could afford. My brother, Mitchell, and I usually got a wagon, which we shared. We would have fruit, stick candy, and chocolate drops, but today there wasn't anything but sadness.
The weather outside was dark and dreary. The snow hung on every tree like a shroud on a ghost, and the wind whistling through the cracks around the windows made it seem worse. We had an old Philco radio, but it seemed to have forgotten Christmas, too. There wasn't any "Jingle Bells" or "Here Comes Santa Claus;" the music that usually lifted our spirits just wasn't there. At other times, we would have been playing checkers or telling stories, but we were all in despair. Everything was gloomy. We had a feeling of being lost in time without control. It was a time where young minds couldn't separate want, desire, and beauty; they could only see the hurt in their eyes. We had forgotten the reason for the season. This was suppose to be a celebration of the greatest miracle in history, the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. We didn't know that another miracle would come our way this night.
We thought we had been abandoned, for real, when Dad lit his old carbide light and started out the door with Mom. They thought maybe if we went to bed, it would be better. Mom had told us that when things get bad sleep could help. Mom and Dad had gone looking for a miracle.
We were awakened by the dogs barking. We didn't know what was happening. We opened the door, and there was Mom and Dad with more toys, fruit, and candy than we had ever seen. A miracle had come to Thealka, Johnson County, Kentucky, this Christmas. To us this was truly a miracle. Mr. Miller and Mr. Thomas had become angels. They allowed the poor miners' families to come to the store on Christmas Eve and buy food and toys for their unhappy children. We feasted until daybreak, and then we went out to the barn, to see if it was true, that the animals prayed on Christmas Day.
This imprinted in the minds of the miners' families, of a miracle birth, and a never forgotten miracle on Christmas Eve.
Paul C. Preston
3461 Seaboard Drive
Dayton, OH 45414

Grandma's Christmas Tree
The day before Christmas, we had worked hard feeding the livestock and chickens. James, Mutt, and I were playing on the hillside. We heard Grandma call out, "Boys, it's time to come in for the night."
When we came into the house, Grandma said, "Time to take baths, boys. Ralph you bathe first being the oldest." "Ok! Grandma," I said. She called back, "Wash behind your ears." I thought to myself I have a bowl haircut, the kind that hangs over my ears. Clean ears to Grandma were a big thing. I went off to the little room where the curtain hung over the door. I saw the long washtub filled with warm, clean water. I took off my clothes and long johns and jumped into the water.
Grandma called out to me, "Use soap." "Ok, I will." I picked up the little cooker and began to pour water over my head. The water felt so good as it began to run over my eyes and down my face. Then I picked up the bar of homemade soap Grandma made from hog fat and lye in the fall. The soap lathered so nice in my hands. Therefore, I put hands full of soap on my hair and began to wash away.
Then I started daydreaming, as I always did while taking a bath. Grandma knew me well, since she called out, "Ralph, time to stop daydreaming and get out of the tub, so the other boys can take a bath."
After everyone had taken a bath and eaten supper, it was time for bed. James, Mutt, and I always slept in the same bed. I slept by the window, so I could look out into the night.
Before I went off to sleep, I looked around the room. There were two beds in the room. My uncles, L. A. and Virgil, were in the other bed. I noticed the big fire in the fireplace, as sparks floated up the chimney. The cracking and popping and the smell of hardwood burning filled the room. I saw the stockings as they hung over the fireplace. I wondered how Santa Claus could come down the chimney with the fire so big.
After awhile I turned over, pulled back the curtain, and looked out into the night, watching the snowflakes as they fell to the ground. I begin to pray, "God take care of my family, the ones here and the ones far away. God please remember Uncle Sylvan, who is off in North Africa fighting in the Army."
After praying, I moved my body so it would sink into the featherbed. Then I drifted off to sleep in that world where everyone treated me like "wonder boy." When we awoke in the morning, the fire in the fireplace had gone out. Our stockings were all hanging full over the fireplace. I could see the fruit and peppermint stick in the top of my stocking. I pulled the stocking down from the fireplace.
I threw the fruit and candy onto the bed, looking for a toy that might be in the bottom of the big stocking. At that moment I heard my uncles say, "We got a jackknife." "What's in my stocking?" I said. I pulled out a bag of marbles and a shiny red whistle. James and Mutt got the same toys as I.
All of us boys ran into the kitchen in our long johns to show our toys to Grandma. She said, "You boys get back in the bedroom and put on some clothes. Can't you see there are girls in the room?" After breakfast, we sat around the big fireplace waiting for it to get daylight, so we could feed the animals and milk the cow.
I blew my whistle and liked the sound of it. As it was breaking day, we heard a truck coming up the road. I ran out onto the porch to see if it was Daddy and Mother. It was Daddy's truck coming up that old dirt road bouncing over every hole.
Later in the day the rest of my uncles and aunts came up the road in their cars. The whole Johnson clan would be here for the dinner, except Uncle Sylvan. When the entire family was home, Grandma said to Daddy, "Harold, I am sorry your father died over the summer and cannot be with us today." A tear came to his eyes as he said, "Thank you, Melissa, for caring."
After we ate a most wonderful dinner, it was time for laughter and tears, as stories would be told since last Christmas. We talked for awhile, and L. A. said, "You small boys go out and ride your sleds while we have snow." We went behind the house and took down the homemade sleds that hung on the 20-penny nails beside the washtubs.
We made a few trips sliding down the little hill that ran beside the creek bed. We heard music from inside the house. Mutt said, "I am cold. We need to go warm by the fire." We took our sleds, hung them back on the nails, and went in the house. Daddy was playing the guitar, James Wells the fiddle, and L. A. was playing the mandolin. Aunt Vercie (?) was doing the singing.
When the singing was over, Grandma said, "It is time to go into the big room and see the Christmas tree." When we walked into the big bedroom, the seven-foot tree sat between the double windows in the room. The light through the windows seemed to light up the tree. A popcorn rope was wrapped around the tree, and the bows were made from red, blue, and white ribbon. Peppermints sticks and gingerbread boys Grandma had made hung from the tree, while long strips of ribbon of many colors hung from the tree and draped the floor.
We had a wonderful time that Christmas Day. Four o'clock came too soon. Mother said, "It is time to gather up our stuff and go home now. As we climbed into the truck for the ride down the holler, I could tell Daddy was lit up like a Christmas tree. I saw him and James Wells behind the house taking a nip from a Mason jar of moonshine. He sang all the way home, "Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream.
That Christmas Day will always be in my mind; the red whistle, the little bag of marbles Santa placed in my stocking, Grandma and her Christmas tree that outshines the sun, Daddy and his song, and my wonderful mother, who took such good care of Mutt and me.
Grandma's tree took center place that Christmas, so long ago. I can picture her face when we walked into the big room. I remember the smile on her face as she said, "Do you all like my tree?" It just might have been the best day in all my life. Today, when I hear, "Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches," my mind goes back to the day so long ago in the hills of Eastern Kentucky on our old family farm.
Rev. Ralph Hall
42 Hayes Branch Road
Hi Hat, KY 41636