The sun is shining brightly upon the hills today, while a soft wind blows warm breezes across the land. There are blue shadows on Pilot Knob where the trees stand tall and leafless, and the pine trees stand out in brilliant green. Maybe this is our Indian summer, or could it be the lull before the storm?
After the Thanksgiving holiday was over, the principal of our grade school began having us practice for the Christmas program. We were granted the use of the Methodist Church right below the school house, and every afternoon we tramped down the hill to rehearse. We just took it for granted then, but how gracious it was for them to allow us to use the church. I’m sure there were times we tracked in mud, but we never heard a complaint.
Every child had to have a part in the program. Whether it was in a skit or a play or just to recite a poem, everyone had to participate. We had sheets strung on a wire for curtains, and it was a coveted task to pull the curtains. Mr. Hinkle felt that it was good training to learn to speak in public, and although we may have missed afternoon lessons, we learned something more valuable.
I can see those rough little boys, with their dungarees and clodhoppers, standing on the stage twisting their hands in their pockets. We would drill Larry at home, over and over, until I still remember some of the poems more than sixty years later. He recited, “Little girls should speak’em, because they think it’s fun, to be upon a platform, stared at by everyone. Little boys do speak’em, but oh, I’m telling you, if they all feel like I do, they’re glad when they are through.” He bowed, and turned to walk off the stage. Running back, he recited, “Oh dear I was forgetting, what I came up to say, I’m wishing each one present, a merry Christmas Day.”
We went through torment helping Larry memorize this poem. I don’t know if he remembers it or not, but it is etched on my brain. Of course some of the students would start to recite, become overcome with stage fright, and forget their lines. They would stand there, red-faced and stuttering, until someone coached them from behind the curtain.
The annual school Christmas program was a big event. People came from miles around, until the church was packed full and many standing in the aisles. We always had a big Christmas tree standing in the upper corner, covered with decorations and gifts. One year we had Santa Claus appear and give out the gifts. Early in the month we drew names (each name written on a slip of paper and placed in a box to be drawn out by each child.) The only way you could draw again was if you got your own name.
We bought our gifts at the five and ten cent store—nothing expensive or extravagant– a box of hankies or a little bottle of perfume. Remember Blue Waltz perfume? Or Evening in Paris? It was a letdown when you received a pocket comb and you’d bought someone else a French harp.
How eagerly we looked forward to the Big Night. A Broadway production would not have generated more excitement. We usually walked to the church as we lived close, and it left more parking spaces for other people. I remember one December night in particular, when the ground was snow-covered and we stepped out in a white world. It was so cold that the snow crunched underfoot, and the sky was studded with a million stars.
Daddy carried baby Susie, and the rest of us trudged along. We were filled with excitement, along with some trepidation lest we forget our lines. When we reached the church, it was already full of expectant parents and neighbors. Mr. Hinkle was running about attending to last minute chores, and keeping the children in order.
The curtains we drawn, while we scurried about backstage. My baby brother Ronnie was just a little tot, and Avis Hanshaw lifted him up above the curtain to view the crowd. He got scared, and grabbed the wire holding the curtains and down it went. Red-faced, Mr. Hinkle said in exasperation, “I knew that doggone nail wouldn’t hold!” I don’t think anyone ever told him it was Ronnie’s doings.
With all the mishaps and snags, we put on a good program. When we sang, “Silent Night, Holy Night” a hush came over the audience. It was as if the peace of God settled down upon us, and we realized all the trappings of Christmas centered upon the tiny Babe born in a manger. And that is still true today—the Child that was born became the Son who has risen and is now the hope for all humankind. We must never let the festivities and celebrations of the season obscure the fact Christ came “to seek and save that which was lost.” He came that we may have life, and have it more abundantly.
In this pre-Christmas season, it is a good time to let God search our hearts and reveal to just exactly where we stand with Him. He is coming again, and it won’t be in the form of a little baby. The world is waxing worse and worse, and it makes a person wonder how much longer it can stand. People scoffed at Noah when he was building the ark, until the flood came and devoured them all. Many scoff now at the prophesy that Jesus is coming again, but if you read the third chapter of Second Peter, it can open your eyes.
My prayer is that each of you will discover why baby Jesus really came. It is a beautiful and moving story of the birth of Christ, and we need to rejoice—but it goes deeper than just a Babe born in a manger. When you experience the real reason, then you can truly rejoice because Jesus was sent into the world. It is our hope!
(I am now mailing out books for Christmas giving. I have “This Holler is My Home,” “Homesick for the Hills,” and “Laughter from the Hills.” They are priced at $15.33 each, which includes tax and shipping costs, or all three for $40. I can autograph them as you wish. Mailing address is Alyce Faye Bragg, 2556 Ovapa Road, Ovapa, WV 25164. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org)