All year long Helen, Virginia and Mama Bryant saved colored ribbons, tinfoil from sticks of chewing gum or tobacco pouches, construction paper scraps, from school, along with the decorations they each made for the school party. William, Woodrow and Papa, on their treks to get rabbits and squirrels for the breakfast and supper table, would pick up a poke of sweet gum balls, acorns, and buckberries. The women would begin making ornaments with them, days before the tree was set, and decorate it Christmas Eve. The ornaments were homemade, but when the tree was decorated and topped with a cardboard star, cut from an Oxydol Soap box, colored with whatever there was and wired to the top with bailing wire, it was the epitome of the perfect Christmas tree. There was no electricity available, but there was a battery powered radio, on which Mama Bryant faithfully listened to every episode of the “Ma Perkins” radio show the first real “soap opera;” and, from the first time she first listened, weeping at the trials, tribulations and sufferings of Ma Perkins, she only bought Oxydol Soap. Given her charitable nature, she felt it was the least she could do to help.
After supper, and it was never called dinner, as Papa, a lay minister explained, they didn’t call Communion the Lord’s “dinner.” In my eyes, he was absolutely, right. Each family member had things to do after supper. The women prepared food for Christmas dinner on the morrow, while Papa read the Christmas story from the Bible. Dinner the next day would be simple fare by today’s standard, but lavish by the standards of the Great Depression.
There would be roast chicken, cornbread dressing, a seemingly endless assortment of jams, jellies and preserves. Homemade blackberry, grape, peach, apple, tomato preserves, corncob jelly, watermelon-rind preserves and pickles. There would be sweet pickles, bread and butter and dill pickles, pumpkin and maybe a hickory nut pie, persimmon pudding and sausage, wild game if in the larder, coffee and maybe tea. Potatoes and sweet potatoes as well as green beans, canned corn, and dried fruit would grace the table. The fruit was dried on the porch roofs during the season. After drying, they were strung on string or dowels, and kept in the pantry. Of course, there was molasses and the maple syrup which Papa collected by tapping the sap from the maple trees. Mama Bryant later boiled it down to a rich golden brown. When was there ever such a feast, fit for the governor himself!
While the ladies worked in the kitchen, the men did the evening chores. The lamps were lit about five o’clock, and the stove in the downstairs bedroom and parlor were filled with wood and lit. The girls would stay warm in their room without a stove, for the brick chimney ran through their upstairs room. The boys slept in the other upstairs room, it was colder, but they were given extra quilts. On Christmas Eve the children would listen to Papa fiddle and Woody strum the guitar. This night carols were called for, played and sang. Then the children pulled out their chairs from the table and placed them around the tree. In those days everyone had their own chair and plate. They could tell whose, was whose because, the plates and chairs didn’t match, like today. They each sat their plate on their chair and ascended the stairs to dream of Santa Claus.
Before daylight the next morning, Papa went to the barn and did the milking, ground the corn and fed the chickens. From the barn loft, he pitched hay and fodder into the cow’s mangers, and coming down, put a little extra sweet oats and salt in the feed bags for the mare and her yearling. After breaking the thin sheet of ice that covered the edges of the pond, he pumped the water buckets full, cut and brought in kindling, fetched chunk wood from the porch pile, saving Mama and the girls and boys from having outdoor chores on this special day. It was cold and had snowed during the night. Through the parlor and kitchen windows the scene was like a Currier and Ives print. Doing the family chores and the new fallen snow, was Papa’s and God’s gift to the Bryant family.
When the girls and boys came into the parlor, they found their plates full and overflowing. There was fruit on each chair, an apple, orange and the seldom seen banana. There were English walnuts, brazil nuts, filberts, and pecans not seen since Papa’s pecan tree was taken by the blight. Best of all the treats was store bought candy! It was hard candy, chocolate drops with a white center, a role of Life Savers for each child and a Hershey Bar. The boys each got a pocket- knife. William a fountain pen and Woody finger picks with which to play music. Helen, who was the writer got leaves of paper, pens and ink, and an inkwell. Virginia got a doll and both girls received ribbons for their hair. Mama got some yarn, crochet thread, and other notions. Papa received two boxes of .22 cal. short cartridges for his rifle, and a box of shotgun shells. Not much really, by today’s standards, but it was the thought and effort of everyone, and not the price of the gifts, that made it the best Christmas ever.