That’s The Way It Way! Christmas – 19 ?
By Bill Shepard
The place- the old cotton mill village in Darlington; more specific, that part of the village often specifically referred to as, “over the creek.” The time- any one of the years of the mid twenties or early thirties, more the days just before Christmas! Reminisce with me!
School was out and over with until next year! That is the way the principal had said it while addressing the students and faculty on that last day, before dismissing for the holidays. For some, that in itself would be considered the best part of Christmas. Of course, next year was only two weeks away, but the kind old school master had a way of making it sound like a much longer time.
So much could and would be done in those two weeks; the one before, and the one after Christmas.
The annual Christmas parade was over with. This much looked forward to event was the prelude to Santa’s arrival and the official opening of the Christmas season. Pictures and posters of the jolly little man in his red and white suit could now be seen in all the store windows around the town square. The shopping area had been transformed over night into a holiday showcase. Strings of Christmas lights had been wrapped around the light posts along the streets and the huge Christmas tree that had been hauled to the town square was decorated with hundreds of brightly colored lights. This would be the busiest time of year for all the merchants in the small town.
McClellan’s Dime Store, the only one in Darlington at that time, had its display of Christmas toys neatly arranged in the windows, with pictures of Santa conveniently stationed nearby. For the girls there were pretty porcelain dolls with long curls flowing down their backs, and with eyes that would open and close. Some would actually cry when they were turned over on their stomach! Unbelievable! Surely that was a miracle that only Santa could perform. There were tea sets and make-up kits with mirror, brush, and comb. There were jack-stones and small trinkets of all kinds, and much, much more.
For the boys, there were cap-pistols and holsters bearing the names of the most popular cowboys seen at the old Liberty Theater across the street. There was not a boy on the village that would not be proud to strap one around his waist and go strolling down the village street. Names like – Hoot Gibson, Time McCoy, Bob Steel, Ken Maynard, and no list of cowboys would be complete without the mention of Buck Jones and Hop-A-long Cassidy. Also among the enticements there were Red Ryder gloves, aviator caps with goggles and ear muffs, ric-rac, paddles, and two bladed pocket- knives. To cap it all off, for those who could afford one, there were Daisy Air Rifles that would hold a hundred B Bs at once! It was Christmas just to stand in front of the display window and dream!
Farther down the street other merchants had their windows filled also. At the Drug Store, one would see items such as cosmetics, perfume sets, and pretty boxes of candy. In the window at Coggeshalls and Witcovers one would see display of fine furs and clothing. Mill village folk couldn’t afford such expensive clothing, not even at Christmas. There were other stores of course and each in its own way was decorated to get the attention of the shoppers. No one had to guess that the Christmas Season had arrived and was on the minds of merchants and shoppers as well.
Back on the village, things were a-stir also. Money was needed to purchase the gifts that Santa might not deliver. Every boy needed an arsenal of fireworks. They would be needed to awaken the sleeping villagers on Christmas morning. Wood had already been gathered for the large bon-fire that would bum all night on Christmas Eve. The fire would be built in the open field near the village. All night long there would be potato roasting, singing, story telling, just waiting for the break of dawn when sleepy-eyed boys would invade the village streets with their barrage of fireworks.
A number of things could be done to earn the money needed. It would not take much, but money was scarce! One might go from house to house inquiring about chores to be done in exchange for a small amount of cash. There were no lawns that needed mowing, but perhaps someone would pay to have their yard swept free from leaves that had fallen. Firewood might need cutting and stacking to dry; everyone on the village used firewood for cooking and heating in those times. As a last resort, one might go to the nearby woods in search of a small pine tree that could be cut and used for a Christmas tree. Surely someone would pay a quarter for a tree at Christmas time!
Where there is a will, there is a way, and speaking for myself, I could always come up with a way to earn enough money for my Christmas needs. A dollar would do! I could spend a dollar at the Dime Store and come away with a gift for everyone in the Shepard house and have a few pennies left for myself. The days before Christmas were filled with anticipation of Santa’s arrival. The day would arrive with a bang, literally, and everyone would join in a day of celebrating and feasting on the best-prepared foods of the entire year.
New Year’s Eve would arrive under less fanfare; however, a day of feasting on the traditional black-eye peas, hog jowl, collard greens, and corn bread would be enjoyed by all. The old calendar on the wall would be replaced by a new one, and with memories of the year just ended tucked away, life would repeat itself on the village! The mill whistle would blow summoning the workers to their place of labor; the school bell would ring and the children would return wearing the pretty new clothes they had received at Christmas. A new year had begun.
And that’s the way that it was! I remember!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C. 29673.