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Daddy Said He Looked Like Santa Claus and He was Right
Christmas in the Blue Ridge
A Sunday Morning Hike
Growing up in the cotton mill village of Tuxedo my dad rarely had a decent automobile. Of course, having an automobile was not a necessity since we lived in a mill owned house like many of the others who worked for Green River Mill. Mill workers paid a small rent for the houses and the electric bill. Few had hot water or bathrooms but to my knowldege all had cold water supplied from reservoirs nearby.
The mill had a community store where groceries and almost anything one might need could be purchased. Coal and kerosene were available during the winter months. Our lives were quite simple and revolved around the mill in this tight knit community of kindred spirits where folk had learned to appreciate small blessings.
Sunday's were always regarded as a special day and reverenced by folks who attended one of the small area churches to worship and visit family. My dad had grown up on Mount Olivet which is not very far from Tuxedo, a distance of about five miles, much less as the crow flies through the trails up the rolling mountain side some walked daily to work in the cotton mill or hunt coons and possums at night.
Like most families here, Sunday was the day siblings would go back to the homeplace to visit and share a big Sunday dinner of chicken and dumplings and a table of vittles fit for kings. One of those Sunday's stands out in my memory when daddy took me and my oldest sister on a Sunday morning hike up the mountain to our Grandparents. Daddy told us,"You might get to see Santa Claus this morning!" We were so excited with this news een though Christmas was a long time away on the calendar.
We had seen the Jolly old Elf on several occasions when Green River Mill gave Christmas boxes to all the children whose parents worked in the cotton mill. We would meet at Tuxedo Elementary School and Santa would hand out those boxes of fruit, candy and a toy to each of us. For many, this would be the only Christmas gift they would receive. We loved the apple and oranges and sometimes a tangerine and hard candies and savored each piece.
We left our house in the village and began our journey through the woods. The trail was well marked and with daddy in the lead, our shorter legs would soon tire and we would ask daddy to stop so we could rest. "Just a little further an we will be at Santa Claus house," words that gave us a much needed shot of adrenaline with anticipation.
As we reached a plateau, daddy said, "Now, you mind your manners!" We were greeted by an old dog who seemed so happy to see us and never even barked. He reminded me of Old Yaller. Daddy knocked on the door of a rustic mountain home which from appearances was in much need of some tender loving care. With the thoughts and anticipation of seeing Santa Claus, our eyes were wide open as we peeped our heads standing behind our daddy. When he opened the door the hinges creaked, almost eeriely. Our mouths flew open in sheer amazement and astonishment. Standing there in all his glory was Santa Claus!!!!
His eyes had a twinkle which seemed to sparkle like big diamonds behind his spectacles. The full white whiskers on his face were stained with tobacco. We looked him over from head to foot and for two small children, daddy surely had told us the truth. Santa knew daddy! "Well, Wilkie, what are you doing up here this early in the morning? I'm just now eating my breakfast, have a seat and rest a spell. Are these your younguns?"
My sister and I were dumbfounded and you better believe "we minded our manners." We watched as he continued to eat off an old oak board he was using for a table. On his plate were fried eggs and what looked like some kind of pork and corn bread. He was drinking his coffee out of a tin cup. I don't remember if he offered us any but it really didn't matter we were caught up in the moment as if we were in make believe world living a fantasy.
Our visit lasted only a few minutes and we were back on our way to Grandpas and had made it to the old road where the school bus ran a route each weekday morning to bring the kids from Mount Olivet to Tuxedo Elementry School. Along the way we came upon a family in an old A model. Daddy knew them, them, It was Earnest and Emily Jones and their family. We would later go to school woth the children, Kimsey,Kathleen but Galileo, who was the oldest would be far ahead of us in school.
The A-Model which had a trundle seat had quit running and Earnest was attempting to start it again with a hand crank. he had not had any success and daddy also tried to no avail. "Daddy told Earnest to get in and we would try to push the car and see if he could pop the clutch to start the car. We all got behind and started pushing and luckily the old A-Model began to purr like a sewing machine. Earnest thanked daddy and soon we were walking towards Grandpa's again.
We arrived at Grndpa's just in time for dinner. Folks who had been to church arrived and as always the dinner was so good. At Grandpas those Sunday dinners were in shifts around a checkerboard red table cloth and Grandma would say,"Dinners ready, you men folks come on and eat!" The women and kids always ate last as was the family custom but there was always plenty of food. This particular Sunday, the food was especially good for two younguns who had stories to tell about meeting Santa Claus.
Our memories of our childhood are precious and the people who impacted us have earned a special place. The Santa we met on our Sunday morning hike with our daddy was Mr. Willey Jones. Willey at this time of his life journey was an old man. Folks tell me he had retired from the railroad. Many men in this area had worked for the railroad doing hard labor and were strong. Legends abound about the strength of Mr, Jones. One story was how he carried a hundred pound bag of feed all night from the community store having fell in with a group of coon hunters.
The following is a story shared with one of my friends who also had the pleasure of meeting Santa Claus in much the same manner as my sister and myself. Each Saturday, we have a bluegrass jam at Helms Barber Shop near Hendersonville, North Carolina. We play music and spins yarns and tell tales. I knew this man we called Santa Claus who was a legend, at least in some of our eyes.
The old man's beard was white and full. His steel blue eyes twinkled behind wire rimmed spectacles making him to resemble Santa Claus. He lived in a modest house and the front yard was filled with the sun bleached bones of wild critters the old man had eaten over the years,rabbit, coon and possum.
The pole bed on which the old man slept was rough leaving one to imagine just how could anyone sleep on such a bed, no doubt the huge feather stuffed pillow made it tolerable. It did not seem to matter to him since the old mans chickens roosted at the foot of the bed. The old man's life had been one that had survived many a hardship yet he seemed content and happy with the meager fare of his life's journey.
One day he felt a large lump underneath his heavy white whiskers that had not been there. He thought to himself,"I must have cancer." When he was able, the old man went down the mountain to see old Doc Funteroy.
Old Doc was a good-un and had chort a many a sick person in his day with yarbs and herbs. "Let me take a look," Doc told the old man as he carefully pulled the thick whiskers apart for a closer look. Old Doc's eyes lit up like a candle as he quickly diagnosed the old mans ailment. "You don't have cancer! It appears a dirt dobber has built a nest on your face.