Dec 15 2008
07:12 am
By: WhitesCreek

By Ray Collett

Hello Readers, Christmas is right around the corner and times have certainly changed since when we were kids. David Sliger, (Class of 1954) sent me a chapter from his book, "Pine Hill Was My Home" to share with the readers about his growing up in Bradley County, Tn. Now David's childhood was very similar to ours here in the Rockwood area so I am sure it will bring back memories of our childhood Christmases. This is fairly long so it will be in two parts, but very interesting.


`When I think back on Christmases of years back, my memory returns to Pine Hill when I was a young boy growing up and just what Christmas meant to me then and how the meaning of Christmas has changed through the years until it has in essence lost it's true meaning and the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Not all Christmases were pleasant in the old days in pine Hill and one in particular stands out in my memory and the passing years have not dimmed this memory.
Now, we always had a Christmas tree at home and Mama would drag out the box of delicate hand-painted glass ornaments to decorate the live cedar tree which I had cut and drug home. She would not let me touch the glass orbs in fear that I would drop and break them. But I did get to hang the glistening icicles and colored yarn ropes on the limbs. We had no lights on the tree because there was no electricity or running water in Pine Hill in the 1940's. Daddy always managed to buy us kids a present at Christmas, and one year I got a bicycle - not a Black Beauty Schwinn with chrome fenders, but, anyway my own bicycle. Mama would cook up a variety of cookies and cakes to go along with our Christmas turkey that my grandpa raised, and I can still remember all the good smells coming from the kitchen as Mama labored over a wood-burning cook stove for hours on end for Christmas day dinner.
The two room school I attended about a mile from home in Pine Hill had a Christmas play each year put on by the students. There were eight grades taught in two rooms. The first grade through the fourth in one room, and the fifth through the eighth in the other. The rooms each had a coal burning stove and a double-sided blackboard separated the rooms. The blackboard could be raised up into the attic by pulleys making one large open room when needed for events such as the school play. We boys would go cut a big cedar tree and put it up in the school and with our teacher helping, would decorate it with mostly home-made decorations. The families of the community who could afford to, would make up brown paper bags for all the kids and in them there would be an orange, apple, different nuts and various candies. The favorite candy was the cone-shaped hard chocolate with a white inner filling, and of course all the kids loved the English walnuts. There were sever kids in Pine Hill back then whose parents barely eked out a living to provide food and clothing, so Christmas toys and such was out of the question.
The war was over, but still jobs were not plentiful; especially for an uneducated and unskilled farm laborer or sawmill worker who had lived through the Great Depression and even after that could not appreciably see any difference in the soul killing and grinding poverty that seemed to prevail. The Christmas sacks with their sparse contents were all the Christmas these kids realized, but for certain, they were thrilled over the oranges and candy. Now, our Christmas play each year was centered around the birth of Christ, and based on certain scripture from the Bible, and I don't ever recall any complaints about putting on a Christmas play in a county run public school.
Our teacher in 1947, Mrs. Kate Fitzgerald, whom we all loved and called Miz Kate, lived in Cleveland, Tn. and traveled the 12 miles back and forth each day over a terrible rutted gravel road in a 1937 black Chevrolet sedan she had bought new. Miz Kate was enthused over our Christmas play that year because the Bradley County school superintendent, Mr. Carmichael Hamontower, had promised her he would show up for the play and would pass out the sack treats to the kids. Thinking back on that day, Mr. Hamontower was elected into his position and probably saw a golden opportunity to impress the folks of Pine Hill and garner their votes. As it would be, Mr. Hamontower never received another vote from the good citizens of Pine Hill and was turned out of office at the next election. We usually had a good turnout for our Christmas play and the news of Mr. Hamontower's appearance had all us kids agog with excitement. Miz Kate stressed on us over and over that we must memorize our lines perfectly, and be at our best to impress our parents and important guest.
Now there was at the time, a boy by the name of Smitty Groggins attending Pine Hill School. Smitty came from a large family, and his daddy worked at any job he could find, which was mostly seasonal work off-bearing at this or that, saw-milling around Pine Hill. Smitty and his family lived a frugal and hard life, but not of their own making. His folks were fine, hard working but it was difficult to feed and clothe a family of nine kids on sawmill wages and Smitty's clothes were always threadbare and patched and he usually went barefooted until the first frosts of late October commenced to fall. Now, his overalls may have been worn and patched, but one thing for certain, they were always clean. You see, back in those days folks taken pride in themselves and their families, and even though they did not have much, what had was their own and I doubt if Mr. Groggins would have gone on food stamps even it such a program had been available back then. The family made do with the sawmill wages and each year, like the rest of the Pine Hill families, put out a big garden and fattened up three or four hogs for their winter meat and cooking lard. Smitty's mama, like all the other Pine Hill mamas spent many a hard and hot hour canning garden stuff over a hot wood burning stove in the summer......"We will meet Smitty next week and so how the story unfolds. I bet that you, like me, as you read this can substitute the surroundings of Pine Hill to your childhood surroundings and even some of the people in the story might even seem familiar......We will continue David's story next week...Ray

On a side note, my "Rockwood Memories Volume ll" was not quite finished last Friday and PROMISED for Wed. Dec. 17.............Until next week, Ray

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