by Sally Kirk Goodman-
We waved goodbye as Daddy left for Tiptonville just like he did every Christmas Eve. My mother’s parents, Big Momma and Big Daddy lived there, and Daddy always went to pick them up for our Christmas celebration. It was the only time of year they would spend the night with us and the only time of year Daddy wouldn’t take us with him. We’d beg to go, but the answer was always the same. He assured us we’d get to go with him next time as we ran back into our warm house. We were blessed to have our Grandmother Kirk live with us all the time, and she and Momma were busy preparing for Christmas in the kitchen. A whole myriad of smells greeted us as we ran back inside – citrus, peppermint, and vanilla wafted through the entire house. Cakes baking in the oven lent their aroma, too, as Momma created her specialties like her dried apple cake. The recipe made so much Momma had to pour the leftover batter into a small iron skillet – the perfect size to share with four excited kids on Christmas Eve. Before he left, Daddy had busted a coconut with a hammer but only after he had used an ice pick to pierce the little soft spots on the end. From those little holes, he poured out the coconut milk called for in Momma’s recipe. She would grate the fresh coconut for her layer cake topped with divinity icing and the delicate flakes of coconut. We could barely comprehend the bounty that was Christmas! And Big Daddy and Big Momma would join us soon.
Life on Buck Escue Road was always magical for us, but Christmas time, well, Christmas time was almost indescribable. There were the traditional decorations like our cedar tree with lots of cherished ornaments including those that came from the yearly collection four kids made in school, and of course, there were stockings. Momma made them from felt and let us decorate them with holiday sequins and glitter. We loved hanging them up each year even though we knew Santa would put our goodies in old Melmac soup bowls placed under them. We would discover years later that our Santa didn’t want to mess up the stockings our mother had worked so hard to make. Santa was special that way. As exciting and wonderful as all of this was, the best part of Christmas was having all of our grandparents with us.
It wasn’t long until Grandmother would say, “Y’all are going to have to get out from underfoot.” She and Momma had a lot to do before supper time. My brother Bennett being the oldest would help create a diversion for us. He was like a wizard and could turn the simplest objects like blankets into tents and pillows into forts. He could even turn our couch into a beautiful sleigh. He’d arrange us on it like a jigsaw puzzle, so we’d all fit comfortably. You didn’t want anyone falling out of the sleigh – at least not at first. He and our baby sister Patty would sit on one end while our little sister Reba would sit by me on the opposite end. We’d sing all our favorites carols and songs as loud as we could. We loved all the season favorites, but we really rocked out to “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
When we finally tired of singing, or Momma and Grandmother finally tired of our singing, we were invited to help set the table and tidy up for supper. When we finished, we were shooed back into the living room to watch for Daddy and our other grandparents. The picture window was the only one Momma and Grandmother would let us look out. One time I was able to sneak a peek out the back porch window, and I witnessed the oddest thing. I saw Daddy and Big Daddy going into our old well house with things covered in blankets. Grandmother interrupted my pondering with, “Sally, they are just putting the water filter salt in there. You need to get in there with the rest of the children.” By this time, I didn’t care because Big Momma and Big Daddy were coming in the front door, and a lot of hugging and kissing had to take place.
Big Momma was always first with her sweet, gentle hugs; then Big Daddy would put his face close to our cheeks and sniff several times like he was making sure we smelled good enough to kiss. When he’d decided we did, he’d always say, “Best sugar I ever listened to.” And the fun was on.
We’d all go to the living room as Momma and my grandmothers put supper on the table. We had to wait for them to call us in to take our seats – Daddy at the head, Momma just to his left with Patty in the high chair between them. Big Momma took the seat by Momma then Bennett, and Grandmother always sat at the opposite end from Daddy. Reba and I sat on either side of Big Daddy on the remaining side. A place I’d have paid good money to sit – right between Daddy and Big Daddy, the two men I loved most in the world. Then Daddy would ask us to bow our heads, but before he could start to pray, Big Daddy would say, “Bless the peas, darn the juice, find a bug, turn him loose!” Of course, giggles would erupt, and Big Momma would scold him with a “Jess!” which brought on even more giggles. No one ever scolded us for laughing at the table, though. It was expected and enjoyed. We didn’t know it then, but I understand now we were sitting in the presence of the five people who loved us most in this world. When we quietened down, Daddy would thank God for our blessings and the beautiful meal we were about to receive. He always closed with “And bless the hands that prepared it. Amen.” I always marveled at that because I knew how hard Momma and Grandmother had worked on supper but here was Daddy asking God to bless their hands. Wow! I hoped someday someone would ask for my hands to be blessed. As I raised my head from prayer, I looked around our old table with wonder. There was so much joy and love crowded into that kitchen. It was my first time experiencing what it meant to be “sippin’ from my saucer ‘cause my cup has overflowed.” With full stomachs and full hearts, the conversation would always turn to “The Old Man” coming. “The Old Man” was Big Daddy’s name for Santa Claus. To say he got us wound up was an understatement, but then it didn’t take much.
Soon we were all shooed off to the living room. We didn’t even have to help clear the table or anything. I don’t remember watching television; you didn’t need television when Big Daddy was there. He and Daddy were the entertainment for the evening with their hunting stories, ones about their younger days or of Christmases long ago. Some we’d heard a hundred times, but we didn’t care. We rolled on the floor with laughter as if we were hearing them for the very first time. Finally, everybody would be in the living room, and it was almost time to go to bed. In a four bedroom house with four kids and five adults, we had to get creative with where we slept. Of course, nobody got Momma and Daddy’s room, so that left the three remaining bedrooms to be divided among the rest of us.
Bennett, being older and long and lanky, was put on the roll away bed at the foot of his bed which Big Momma would take. Patty usually slept with Grandmother, but Grandmother knew that she’d lose her bed buddy on Christmas Eve because we girls always piled in with Big Daddy. She never seemed to mind; I always felt like she was probably generous with us because we were together every night. Of course, it may have also been a welcome respite.
For whatever the reason, we sisters were just glad to share our room with Big Daddy. We knew there would be even more stories before we went to sleep. Momma would make pallets, but we’d only lay on them until she shut the door. As soon as she stepped away, we popped into bed with Big Daddy. Bless his heart. I know he couldn’t have rested well with three little girls piled around him like puppies, but he’d stretch his big old arms out as if they were our personal pillows. Patty and Reba would take one shoulder to sleep on, and I’d take the other. There was lots of giggling as we anticipated The Old Man coming until finally, Momma would say, “Daddy, let those girls go to sleep, or Santa won’t ever come.” Well, that shut us all up – even Big Daddy wanted to make sure Santa came!
Just when you’d think you couldn’t possibly fall asleep, you did there in the warmth and safety of Big Daddy’s arms with all that breathing around you, the Christmas smells still hanging heavily in the air and the colored lights from the tree shining under the bedroom door. Next thing we knew, Big Daddy would gently shake us and whisper, “I think The Old Man’s come.
We better get up.” But before we could, Daddy would say, “Jess, don’t wake those girls up. He hasn’t come yet!” We’d drift off to sleep again with just a few giggles, but in what felt like only a few minutes, Bennett was at our door saying, “Come on. Santa’s come.”
Soon, everyone gathered around the tree marveling at all the gifts. We excitedly played with what Santa brought, but then we passed out our gifts to our grandparents and parents. Pretty handkerchiefs were always wrapped up with lots of love and tape for Big Momma and Grandmother while Big Daddy almost always got a new can of Prince Albert tobacco. We tried a new pipe now and then for him, but he’d just put it up and smoke his old one. Daddy would receive a new belt or tie, and Momma usually wound up with a cookie jar. You could buy a big one for $2 at the Five and Dime, and we thought bigger was better. The main thing though was the love in that room. Just like God’s gift of His Son on Christmas, the love we had for each other filled our hearts, and life was so good for us there in our little world on Buck Escue Road.
The day was filled with more laughter and food and usually some much-needed naps for all. Then Big Daddy and Big Momma would be ready to go home, and we all piled into the old station wagon to carry them back to Tiptonville. More hugs and kisses were exchanged before loading back in the car for the bittersweet drive home. As we watched for Christmas lights along the way, there was very little conversation. We expected more company throughout the next week, but this paled in comparison to the beautiful Christmas Eve spent with all of us together. As the ride continued, Momma and Daddy always lifted our spirits by reminding us that there was more fun to come and we’d barely played with our new toys. By the time we got back home, Grandmother was patiently waiting for us to show her our gifts. Soon the house was filled with laughter again, and the evening was topped off with boiled custard and our choice of Christmas goodies. Later, everybody would go back to their beds to fall asleep with contented hearts.
I long ago moved from that little house on Buck Escue Road, but I’ll never forget my childhood there. More importantly, I’ll never forget the love and Christmases we shared there. My siblings and I remain close and get together on Christmas morning along with as many of our kids and grandkids that can “return home,” which is wherever we all are. Old stories, laughter, and lots of love are shared around a table that has increased to several tables and several highchairs. Buffets and tins are filled with old family recipes and new goodies shared with us as our family has increased. There are babies and young children all around, and I smile thinking how happy it would make our parents and grandparents to know they live on in our hearts, our stories, and in the faces and mannerisms of their descendants. Mostly, I believe they’d be proud to see their love has been multiplied across generations and is still shared freely – just like they taught us to oh, so long ago back on Buck Escue Road.