Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Stockings

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

Our family Christmas stockings are more decorative than functional.  Only a couple stocking stuffers actually ever fit. 

My stocking was made by my mother from a pattern that she drew herself.  The fabric is a heavy cotton, maybe a good quality of muslin, certainly not as heavy as canvas.  She cut out a tree and star from felt and sewed them on by hand.  She attached some plastic berries, pinecones encased in yarn, and a jingle bell for the toe.  There is no loop for hanging, so the stocking simply lay on the hearth.  On Christmas morning the stocking was placed among the Santa gifts to distinguish my gifts from my sister’s gifts. 

Momma’s sewing and crafting skills obviously improved greatly over the years.  When the grandkids came along, she made them some fancy shmancy stockings.  She smocked my girls’ names on the top part of the stocking made from red and white polka dotted fabric.  White eyelet lace and a jingle bell completed the look.

Santa stuffs what he can into the stocking -- maybe new mascara, bath gel, lip gloss -- but on Christmas morning, the stockings can be found placed among other Santa gifts to distinguish one girl's pile from the other's. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Happenings

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.  Today’s theme focuses on a family member who has a December birthday.

My maternal grandfather Orvin Owen Davis was born December 12, 1899, in Shenandoah, Virginia.  If he were living today, he would have just celebrated his 112th birthday.  I don’t think I ever knew his birth date until I read it on his funeral card in 1963.  Certainly no birthday celebration stands out.  Then again, I don’t recall ever celebrating anyone’s birthday.  Except for kids’ parties, birthdays went largely unnoticed until I was an adult when birthday parties became an excuse to get together for dinner.

But enough about that.  This is supposed to be a tribute to Granddaddy Davis.  He was the second child born to Mary Frances Jollett Davis and Walter Beriah Sylvester Davis.  (You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Dec 12, 1899 - Oct 16, 1963

They lived in a two-story white house on the corner of North Third Street and Williams Avenue in Shenandoah, Virginia. 

Later on his father built a Sears Craftsman house on Sixth Street.

Orvin and Lucille Davis 1925
standing on the right side yard of the house
on Sixth Street in Shenandoah, VA

Apparently Granddaddy was a good student, but he didn’t finish school.  Great-granddaddy Davis made the boys quit school and go to work in the family store, but the girls not only finished high school, they both graduated from college as well.

Just 2 of the monthly reports in a booklet. 

Granddaddy owned a garage in Shenandoah, Virginia, but during World War II, he moved his family to Portsmouth, Virginia, to work in the shipyard.  Granddaddy died when I was 12, but a few memories are vivid:

1.       His cigar  -- You have to look closely.  Granddaddy is on the right holding my uncle Orvin, Jr.  I don't know the other father and son.
2.       His straw hat.    It's in the previous picture along with these:

Grandaddy is almost hidden by the Sullivan girls' Easter hats.

I have Grandaddy's hat.  The top is broken.

3.       Riding in his Buick to the drug store to buy penny candy and a coke after school 
My cousin Glenn on the hood of the Buick
4.       Granddaddy calling Grandma “Old Woman” which always made me mad.  I’d fuss at him saying, “She’s not Old Woman.  She’s Grandma!” 

Check Granddaddy's hair. 
It's just like his hair in his baby picture. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Blog Caroling - Mary, Did You Know?

Apparently there are many family historians who want to have a little fun, especially here at Christmastime.  So I’m joining footnoteMaven and others for a little Blog Caroling.  Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings has expanded on this event by making it his Saturday Night Fun Challenge. 

One of my favorite songs is “Mary, Did You Know?” by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene.  Probably the most popular version is by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd, and that’s the one I have selected.  But if you prefer someone else like Reba McIntire, Rascal Flatts, Clay Aiken, David Archuleta, Kathy Matea, Donny Osmond, Jordin Sparks, or Neville Peter, head on over to YouTube.  Over 400 recordings have been made.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am.

The lyrics grew out of a monologue Mark Lowry wrote for his church Christmas play in 1984.  He wanted to put into words the very things we can’t understand about the birth of Jesus.  He began thinking of questions he would like to ask Mary if he could sit down and have coffee with her.  Lowry knew the words would become a song one day, but it took seven years before he found the right music.  Ironically, Buddy Greene came up with a winning tune in just 30 minutes.

Advent Calendar - Charitable Work

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

My dad never wore a red velvet suit.  He never grew a long white beard.  But he was Santa to many needy people at Christmas time. 

For many years, Daddy bought and delivered hams to a financially strapped nursing home that served the poorest of the black community.  He also took them some old clothes, probably his and Momma’s. 

I recall one Christmas in particular when he took my sister and me to St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children to pick up two little Downs Syndrome girls.  We took them shopping at Sears where Daddy worked as a department manager for a time.  We bought complete outfits and some toys and then returned the little girls to St. Mary’s.  I doubt we would be able to do anything like that today, what with privacy laws and perverts running amuck disguised as nice people. 

Marie showing off her new coat
to the nuns at St. Mary's in Norfolk, Virginia

Through these small acts of charity, Daddy introduced us to worlds we had never known.  What did we know of being poor, being black, being physically handicapped, having nowhere to go?  But in those strange and dark worlds were people offering amazing love and care. 

At Christmas especially we try to step outside ourselves for a bit to bring hope in situations that seem hopeless.  Our family supports the Shoebox ministry at our church by filling two shoeboxes with toys, one for a girl and one for a boy.  We also fulfill (or partially fulfill) the wish list of a foster child through Chesapeake Social Services.   I like to sign up for a teenager because most people don’t want them; they prefer to buy cute toys for cute little ones.  From my experience as a teacher, teens NEED that “normal” Christmas more than a child does. 

I’m not trying to shine light on my good works or hold our family up as an example.  It's just something we do, part of our traditions.  Quite honestly, we don’t do enough.  Daddy instilled in my sister and me the need to carry on the tradition, one which we hope our children will continue as well.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Calendar - Other Traditions

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

Opening gifts on Christmas morning takes us HOURS.  Yes, HOURS.  But we love it and would never change it.  We are always bent double with laughter and our sides ache for much of the day.  That’s because of our gift tags.  No “Love, Mom & Dad” or “Merry Christmas from Wendy” or “No peeking! From Aunt Kek” for us.  That’s kid’s stuff. 

Years ago my mother, weary from signing “Love Momma and Daddy” on countless gift tags, began our tradition of giving clues to the contents of the box.  Her first offerings were simple.  A red, white, and blue skirt and sweater set was signed “From the Patriots.”  The next year, clues got more sophisticated.  A box of underwear was signed “From Chapmans,” a company that made seat covers.  Get it? 

As everyone quickly caught on to those “obvious” clues, the next level of difficulty required recipients to make logical connections.  Consider a gift signed “FBI.”  Hmm.  FBI à Undercover agents à Ah ha – UNDERWEAR! 

Oh, but even that is WAY too simple by our standards today.  Can you guess what was in the box from these clues?  I’ll start you off with some easy ones:
1.       From Roger Bannister
2.       From Jesse Owens
3.       From Helen speaks
4.       From the Nazis
5.       From the quotable Judy Carne
6.       From Sitting out a year

I’ll give you a minute to think.

Time’s up.  Here are the answers:
1.       White sweater  (Bannister was the first to break the 4-minute mile.  He probably  sweat.  And he was white.)
2.       Black sweater (famous black track & field athlete.  He probably sweat too.)
3.       Wawa gift card (reference to Helen Keller’s first spoken words when she finally associated water with fingerspelling – you had to see the movie “The Miracle Worker” to appreciate this clue.)
4.       Brown shirt (reference to the uniforms worn by the paramilitary organization)
5.       Socks (are you old enough to remember “Sock it to me – Sock it to me”?)
6.       Red shirt

You have to be a master Googler to correctly guess what’s in a box from “Tattersall’s horse market” or “The Irish and Canadian fascists.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Gifts

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

Judging by the number of gifts under our tree any given year, we’re a selfish and greedy bunch.  But let me defend my family here.  When we were growing up, Christmas was when we got ALL our new clothes for the year.  We didn’t shop a little here and a little there throughout the year.  I don’t know why that was – it just was.

When my sister and I became adults and were on our own, our parents continued to give us many presents at Christmas.  And believe it or not, Santa continued to bring a stocking.  However, our stocking was no longer a stocking.

It was a shopping bag.  A big one.

Mary gets a cocktail shaker.
The bag is always adorned with a special new ornament too.

The bag could be filled with any variety of goodies from hand lotion to earrings to slippers to kitchen gadgets to underwear to frying pans.  Many years we got underwear and a frying pan.  Shopping bag gifts are not necessarily small nor necessarily cheap.

Yumm -- a Vera Bradley wallet!

After our parents passed away, my sister and I decided to continue the Shopping Bag tradition because that was truly our most anticipated gift to open on Christmas morning.  What would be in that bag?  Some flavored coffee?  New gardening gloves?  A piece of our china?  Vintage pillow cases?  A bell jar?  Maybe underwear and a frying pan.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sepia Saturday: Mother and Child

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday challenge is a simple photo of mother and child.  If there’s a prize for “the most similar photo,” then I should win!

Just look.  Little boys are on the left and the mothers are on the right.  Both women are wearing a hat. 

This is my maternal grandfather’s cousin Reba Coleman Morris (1896-1994) and one of her sons, but I’m not sure which.  I’ll guess it’s James Mitchell Morris, Jr. who was born in 1924.  Reba’s son Maxon lived only a year, but this child appears older than that. 

Most of my grandparents’ cousins are only vague memories, but Reba is vivid because of one questionable decision she made.  One of our relatives in Shenandoah, Virginia, had died.  It was a 4-hour drive to Shenandoah for the funeral, so Reba asked if she could ride with my parents.  Sure, come on.  The morning of the funeral, Reba announced she was going to the beauty parlor to get a permanent.  I don't know if she didn't think about the time required for a perm or if she didn't care, but as you can no doubt guess, she missed the funeral.  Grandma was furious and fussed about Reba for months afterwards and then forever.  “Going all that way just to get your hair done. Hrmph.”

It’s so ridiculous – what can you do but laugh?

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cookies

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

Christmas cookies were Grandma Davis’s domain.  Momma was probably too busy with schoolwork and sewing to develop those culinary skills.  But why would she need to?  Grandma was right next door.  And I was her constant helper.

My favorite cookie to make was a decorated sugar cookie cut into Christmas shapes.  It wasn’t the taste of the cookie that I liked so much as the fun of playing with icing and sugary sprinkles.  The ultimate decoration though was the silver dragee.

Image Source:  Google Images

A dragee on every point of a star, plus 1 or 2 or 5 in the center.

A dragee for Santa’s eyes.

Dragees here and there on Santa’s beard.

Dragees to create garland for the trees.

So pretty.  So shiny.  Have you ever tried to eat a dragee?  They’re best swallowed whole.  They’ll break your teeth. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Calendar - Santa Claus

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

Even when my friends were casting doubts about Santa’s identity, I knew he was real.  That’s because one Christmas morning – I guess I was about 4 years old –  my dad actually saw Santa and his sleigh just as he was leaving.  Daddy came running into my room, calling for me to get up and HURRY.  “Quick.  Santa just left.  If you hurry, you’ll see him up in the sky.”  Did I run!  I looked out the living room window.  But I was too late.  I even ran outside and searched the sky in all directions, but I guess Santa was too far above the clouds for me to see.  If only I had woken up a few seconds earlier!

When my sister and I were kids, we could hardly sleep Christmas Eve night.  The excitement was just too big to contain.  We knew Santa would never let us down, letter or no letter.  But we wrote one just to be on the safe side.  My parents saved mine from 1958 (Santa must’ve dropped it in his hurry to move on to the next house).

The front of the letter is simply a list – no greeting, no “How are you” – just down to the business of naming my toy choices for the year:

Ironing board and
Dishes and a
Sleepyhead doll and a
Diaper Bag set and a
Dolly’s travel case and a
Bride doll and a
Knitting basket and a
Tune Tote and a
Beauty kit and a
Steam iron and a
Mechanic’s Bench
And that’s all
To Santa Claus

The back of the letter is where I build my case:

I meen a goog little girl

My family loves to repeat a funny story, so over the years that one little sentence had more revivals than “Oklahoma.”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cards

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

Reading last year’s Advent Calendar dedicated to Christmas cards made me realize I’m not very sentimental about cards.  Any cards.  The only reason I saved Christmas cards in the past was to fill up the bowl where I displayed them to make it look like we had tons of friends. 

When I was a child, we always displayed our cards on the staircase.  Ours was made of iron, much like you see on porches.  My contribution to Christmas decorating was running the strings in rows along the rail somewhat like little red and white clothes lines.  In fact, the card display kit included miniature red clothespins for clipping the cards onto the string. I took charge of hanging each card and rearranging them daily to avoid overlapping too much.  Tall cards were always a challenge. 

My sister's friend Gail and
my sister Mary Jollette Slade Pollock

Even though I am not that sentimental about cards, my parents saved this little gem that I must have made in kindergarten:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent Calendar - Ornaments

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

I don’t have any ornaments that came over on the Mayflower.  None from a Polish grandmother who escaped during the war. None from the Holy Lands. Not even an angel made of macaroni and glitter. Truthfully, my most treasured ornaments are younger than I am.  Some were my Grandma Davis’s ornaments and some were my mother’s.  There is nothing special about the ornaments.  They probably came from a five and dime store, maybe Roses, Grants, or Woolworths.  But they’re glass.  And fragile.  And still carry the snow that was sprayed from a can so many Christmases ago.

I put them on the tree last year, but they just got lost among the 100s of ornaments that I’ve amassed over the years.  Now I display them in a bowl where they can be enjoyed up close.  It’s fun to feel the roughness of faux snow. 

While my family did not craft homemade ornaments when I was growing up, I went through a “country Christmas” phase when I made lots of ornaments.  Christmas 1975, I invited my college roommate Ruth and a lovely widow named Mrs. Cooper who lived in the apartment above us to join me in a popcorn-stringing party. 

That's me by the window.  Mrs. Cooper is to my left.
Ruth is to her left.  I can't remember the young girl's name.
I imagine Ruth was babysitting for one of the
college professors.

We strung popcorn and cranberries probably onto fishing line.  It was lots of fun and the popcorn strings added the right touch to my country tree.

But as the holiday wore on, the cranberries created quite a mess.  That was the end of my popcorn stringing days. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Food

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

I started to skip this topic because I couldn’t think of anything special about our Christmas food.  We have no strong ethnic food connection.  No OLD recipes handed down from generation to generation. All I could remember was Christmas food seemed just like Thanksgiving food.  Then my sister rattled off a fine list of our food traditions.  (She should be writing this!)

#1 – A Smithfield Ham – duh!  I’m a Virginian.  How could I have forgotten that scrumptious salty ham that no Christmas dinner is complete without.  Momma soaked it for a day, at least, to remove some of the salt.  Ham for Christmas dinner.  Ham sandwiches for days afterwards.  Mmmmmm.   I’m getting thirsty just thinking about it.

#2 – With ham we always had to have potato salad.  But not just any potato salad would do.  Grandma Davis’s and Momma’s recipe is the BEST.  You won’t catch us buying potato salad in a plastic carton or even from a deli.  We admit it proudly – we are potato salad snobs.

#3 – Typically some sort of seafood was part of our Christmas dinner.  Sometimes we had fried oysters or scalloped oysters.  (Bleh)  If things were going my way, we had crab imperial. 

#4 – Collards.  They’re best when harvested AFTER a frost, so we always have collards Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It doesn’t matter what else is on the menu.  It doesn’t matter whether collards go with the main dish.  There WILL be collards or somebody’s gonna get hurt.

#5 – Coconut cake.  Grandma Davis always made one for Christmas.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe to make up for the fruitcake that she also made.  Nice to have a choice. 

Sepia Saturday: A Woman in Uniform

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week the Sepia Saturday prompt is a photo of a nurse in uniform standing beside an official car marked “Health – Nursing” parked on a city street.  Since I have no nurses in my family, my thoughts went to uniforms and I thought about my maternal grandmother, Lucille Rucker Davis.  She was not a nurse, but her jobs always required a uniform. 

As a kid growing up, I was used to seeing her in the crisp white button-front uniform of a grocery store clerk at Colonial Store.

My grandmother is the last one on the middle row.
Wonder what's in the envelope?  A bonus?

Doesn’t that white uniform say, “Clean.  Professional.  At your service”?

But when I saw this next picture I was really confused.

My grandmother is the first woman kneeling on the front row.

The back of the picture gives the date and names of all the women pictured.  I knew my grandmother lived in Shenandoah, Virginia, at the time the picture was taken, but I didn’t know she had a job that required a uniform.   The building looks like a school – was she a cafeteria worker?  No.  It turns out, this is the knitting mill.  Fancy that – uniforms for factory workers.    

I’ve noticed that in all three photos, women’s uniforms are basic shirt-waist dresses that button in the front.  No commentary -- Just an observation.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Tree Memories

Geneabloggers is once again hosting the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories encouraging family historians to write about their holiday traditions.

Ahh – Christmas tree memories.  How much time do you have?  

Just hearing the words “Christmas tree” conjures up the distinct look of my mother’s tree.  I say “my mother’s tree” because no one I ever knew decorated a tree the way she did.  Everyone who came to visit seemed to study the tree before commenting on how different it was.  What made the tree unique was the amount of tinsel, or icicles as we called them.

1952 - Me at the piano - very talented at a young age.

For many years my sister and I were not allowed to put icicles on the tree because Momma had a special technique that required patience and precision.  Momma would take a large handful of tinsel and spread the thin silvery strips of foil along her left arm, as if her arm were a branch.  Then she’d carefully transfer the tinsel to the branches, a handful at a time.   

Late 1960s -- Notice how neatly Momma
hung the tinsel.  Each branch was full.

The result was a beautiful icy tree.  You could barely see the ornaments, but that was part of the allure –- catching some sparkling striped ball or a Santa peeking through the forest of icicles. 

Most of my memories are of a beautiful tree, but then there was this year:

1972 - Branches rubbed the ceiling.

Daddy bought a tree that was too tall.  Instead of cutting off the bottom, he cut off the top.  Who does that?  Momma was furious.  We always said the tree looked like it was shrugging its shoulders as if it had given up.

Another strong memory of Christmas trees past is shopping for a tree.  The Band Parents at my high school sold trees as a major fund-raiser.  We made every effort to support them, but we were not content to pick one and go home.  No, we had to drive to every lot known to man to compare trees.  Part of the excitement?  Maybe.  However, MOST years the day my dad finally decided to take us tree shopping would be the coldest, rainiest, most miserable day on record.  No one felt like getting out of the car to inspect a tree or check for gaps in the branches or judge whether it would fit in our living room.  Now over 40 years later when it is cold and miserable out, my sister and I will say, “This is the perfect day to buy a Christmas tree.”