Saturday, December 19, 2015

Singleton relates the story of an old-timey, country Christmas

George 'Buster' Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “A story of a country Christmas,” was originally published in the Dec. 24, 1997 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

This is the story of a house built in the early 1800s in what used to be a thriving country community. This old house tells its story of happier times:

“Though I am old and have been deserted for many years, it has not always been this way. My yards are grown over with weeds and brush, and the only sound I hear is the sighing wind through the broken windows and the creaking of my foundation as it settles to the decay of time.

“My hearths are cold, because there is no one to kindle the fires to keep out the chill. My family, that built me, lie sleeping in the old church cemetery up the road aways. I am alone now, but there was a time when I knew the sound of laughter and the patter of little feet in my hallways. These walls hold many memories – dear memories that will dwell within until the foundations crumble. But before this happens, let me tell of happier times.

“Of all that I remember, I think the happiest times I recall were at Christmas.

“I remember the huge cedar tree that was brought out of the woods and trimmed to perfection before it was placed in the front room. The front room was where all the company was received. The nicest bed, the best chairs, the sofa, and the piano were in the front room.

“After the tree was in place, decorations were made and pine cones, painted all different colors, were placed on the tree. Sweetgum burrs were dipped in silver paint to look like huge snowflakes hanging in the windows. There were also the Indian corn with the many colored ears hanging in clusters at each end of the mantel.

“I could never forget the colorful paper chains looped about the tree, with handmade little paper bells hanging everywhere. Always, there was the silver star, made from tin foil saved from the chewing gum wrappers, in the top of the tree. The star was always packed away after the holidays, so it could be used again the next year.

“Oh yes, I almost forgot about the bunch of mistletoe tacked up in the hallway, just outside the front room door. All the young men would try to catch the young ladies under it where they would try to kiss them.

“I remember the little ones who were looking for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Each would place a box or a hat, and on occasion, the dishpan under the tree, for old Santa to put the candy and fruit in.

“There was always a fire left to burn in the huge fireplace for Santa to warm his hands and feet. The coffee pot was placed beside the fireplace, so that all Santa had to do was to pull out a few coals with the fire poker and warm the coffee left for him.

“After supper, all the little ones were sent off to bed in the loft. For the next two or three hours threatening calls would come from the fireside telling them that if they didn’t go to sleep, Santa wasn’t coming. Finally, when there were no more sounds from the loft, a hurried trip was made out to the smokehouse for a taste of homemade blackberry wine. This would help pass the hours while waiting for Santa Claus.

“The next morning was really rough on me, but I really didn’t mind. The little ones would wake up early and nearly knock down the stairs coming down to see what they had in their Christmas boxes.

“After the morning breakfast was over, preparations would begin for the company that would start arriving around nine o’clock.

“After the meal was over, everyone would gather around that heavy piano and sing Christmas carols. That piano had a sound unlike any in the county. That after dinner singing was something to remember.

“I knew the day was about to end when I heard the rattle of the harnesses and the sounds of wagon wheels on the gravel outside.

“Many seasons have passed since I have felt the warmth of Christmas within me. Perhaps in time, someone will come and claim me again and laughter and warmth will abide again within these walls so Christmas will come again. But, until that time, I will wait and remember.”

 (Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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