THE PURSE - A Christmas Story
It was Christmastime in Dawson and Dawson was just another small Texas town in the midst
of The Great Depression. Jobs for adults had been scarce that year and
non-existent for children.
I was twelve and had never given my Mother a true Christmas gift. Oh there had been those
little gifts made at school of colored construction paper or cigar boxes which Mother made
on over...but they were not "real" Christmas gifts.
Preparations for the town Christmas were almost complete. A Huge cedar tree, cut from some
nearby pasture, stood in the center of Main Street and I watched with childish excitement
as volunteers strung the last of the cedar boughs. Christmas was just three days
An older cousin, who had found employment in Dallas, drove into town and when I ran to
greet him, he ask if I would be interested in selling some fireworks he had brought with
him. I would receive a nickel for every dollar collected. Deal! I would
begin the next morning. I had been to Hampton's Dry Goods store several times and
had found a brown imitation leather purse that seemed perfect for a Mother's gift.
It was the prettiest purse I had ever seen. It was, also, the most expensive. The
price was one dollar and fifty cents...two days pay for a man chopping cotton the previous
summer. Now, with a job, I had visions of earning one dollar and fifty cents
and the purse would be mine to give. What a joyful Christmas this would be. I
could give my Mother a "real" Christmas Gift.
The sound of my voice yelling "Fireworks..fireworks" could be heard from a block
away, but sales were slow. Farm boys who had picked cotton for "seventy-five
cents a hundred" that fall were not eager to part with the nickels and dimes still
remaining in the pockets of their overalls.
It was Christmas Eve and people were beginning to go home. Stores were closing and I
was still yelling "Fireworks!" I had collected $19.00 from the sale
of fireworks and had earned ninety-five cents...not nearly enough for the purse.
I returned to Hampton's store, almost hoping that someone else had bought the purse for
their mother. But there it was...and the price remained the same...One Dollar and
Fifty Cents. I was the only customer in the store and looking hard for a gift that
cost less than a dollar. but nothing seemed to take the place of the purse.
Mrs. Hampton reminded me that the store was closing and I inquired if they had considered
placing the purse on sale. Well, they might let it go for $1.25. I confessed
that I didn't have that much and she wanted to know just how much money I had. I
told her and she said she would sell the purse for ninety-five cents. I told her
that I would take it if she would wrap it in Christmas paper. She shook her head
with unbelief....placed the imitation leather purse in a box...wrapped it in beautiful
Mother died forty years later. Daddy had died the year before and we were cleaning
out the house where they had lived. One bureau drawer was filled with an assortment
of what appeared to be items for the trash. There it was....the brown imitation
leather purse. The imitation leather was almost all peeled away, and the purse was dusty
and flat. I had forgotten until I saw it. Tears moistened my eyes as I realized that
the simple gift had brought joy to my Mother for forty years. Now...it brought
joy to me.
"You get a line and I'll get a pole...Honey"
"You get a line and I'll get a pole....Babe!
You get a line and I'll get a pole
We'll go down to the crawdad hole,
Honey...Babe be mine!
Most children have never heard that "Old Crawdad Song" and fewer still have
experienced the joys of actually going "crawfishing."
Retha Majors gave a birthday party for a five-year-old relative who had come for a visit
and, since I was near that age and lived nearby, I was invited. Most birthday
parties in Dawson were semi dressup affairs where games were played in a front yard while
all the participants wondered when the "Ice Cream and Cake" would be served.
Retha Majors, one of Dawson "Unclaimed Blessings," would "throw"
a crawfishing party for her nephew. She scouted the area and on the appointed
day gathered up five or six small boys in her Model A Ford and drove to the very north
part of Dawson and parked on the back side of the old football field near the
Dillihay house. Retha then led her troops over the fence and through the high
weeds until we came to a little branch that, except for one deep hole, was completely dry.
The Texas sun was hot, but a large tree over the hold gave shade and created the perfect
setting for the school teacher to practice teaching the Art of Crawdad Fishing to little
boys. Retha had brought most of the necessary items required.
First, Retha brought out a large kitchen knife and led us to where some willow shoots were
growing and proceeded to cut the pencil-sized shoots into three to four foot
lengths..one for each boy...and one for Retha. These....were "fishin'
Back under the tree Retha helped us tie one end of a length of string to the end of the
willow poles and the other around the heavy skin of a piece of "Fat Back."
Armed with our fishing equipment we marched to the edge of the fishing
hold, admonished to be careful not to fall in, and instructed in the fine art of
Retha demonstrated just how to lower the "fat back skin" into the water until it
reached the shallow bottom. The "ole crawdads" were hungry that
morning and much to our surprise Retha announced that she had one. The carded
had sunk his pinchers into the fat back skin and ready for a meal. Retha lifted the
fatback skin and Mr. Crawdad held on for deal life and soon Retha had him on the bank.
He was BIG...with scary huge pinchers extending from an dirty orange to
white body. The tail that waved was at least an inch long. Soon all the
little boys were bringing more crawdads to the bank and by noon we had caught a
Retha cleaned the meat from under the tail, washed them carefully, and fried them in a
large black skillet filled with bacon grease. She had brought potatoes to fry
as well...and light bread, and butter, and iced tea. We had been fishing hard all
morning and we were hungry. The crawdad tails were delicious..
And it was time to go home. Retha's party had been a huge
success. Nap time, probably, came quickly to some homes in Dawson that
AND THERE WAS MUSIC IN DAWSON
Our church was The First Baptist Church in Dawson after Mother and Daddy joined.
Mrs. Houston Akers, one of the most God like people I ever knew, lived across
the street from us and encouraged Mother to take part in all that went on at the church.
Mother sang in the choir and meant she was at choir practice after the Wednesday evening
prayer services. I enjoyed choir practice which, to a five year old, was like
watchin "He Haw" on television.
The Baptist Church choir included, other than Mother, Miss Katholine Edwards and her Uncle
Jim; Ora McReynolds, Herbert McReynolds; Mr. Mosely and his daughters, Lillian and Leona;
Mrs. Akers and her daughters, Jimmy Sue and Lady Beth; and others. Ralph Akers
often played the piano. The choir had fun in their pratcie sessions and there was plenty
of laughter. I thought some of their singing was pretty funny myself.
There were several people who took their places in the choir who never knew
they couldn't sing, but they "made a joyful noise." I was usually
asleep on the front pew when they finished practice.
MUSIC ON THE RADIO
Nobody had heard of television and very few people had a radio. We had
an Atwater-Kent radio which consisted of a large wooden box filled with large glass
enclosed tubes and a speaker that sat on top of the box that resembled a large bass horn.
The front of the wooden box was filled with an array of sqitches and knobs
which nobody seemed to know how to operate properly. It seemed that the contraption would
work a day or two and be overcome with static. Daddy would call Percy Gable
who would arrive a day or two later to "jiggle" the wires, check the antenna,
and put in new tubes. I liked Percy Gable except for the time he stepped on and
broke the paper mache snake that I had obtained at the rodeo at Coolidge.
Musical sounds from the Atwater-Kent in its better moments left much to be desired.
Someone had "rigged" up a radio with a powerful speaker which was located in
front of Mike Hoge's Garage. The huge speaker must have been five feet long and the
bell three feet across. The speaker rested on a base made of heavy wood two-by-fours
and had wheels so that it could be rolled inside at night. Some people said that it
would be heard three or four miles away.
Mr. Garner, who lived on the corner across the street from the fire station, has a
"crystal set" that could be listened to only with earphones. He
permitted me to listen to "Amos and Andy" one evening and I was amazed that
someone could speak through that small contracption.
MUSIC AT REVIVALS
Real music was to be found at the "Revival Meetings" that were conducted at the
Tabernacle located across the street from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and TheDawson
Herald which was operated Mr. F H Butler. The Tabernacle was open on four
sides to catch any evening breezes and the roof was held up by large round posts set in
the ground. There was a large platform across the south side of the
Tabernacle that held a pulpit at its center which was backed up by three or four crude
local made pews for the choir. More of the crude local made pews sat on the
dirt floor and seated, perhaps, four hundred. Overflow crows would stand
on the outside.
Early lighting was, no doubt, supplied by kerosene lamps and lanterns, but by the 1920's
the Tabernacle had been wired for electricity. White porcelain
insulators nailed to the exposed rafters held copper wire wrapped with black cover.
White porcelain connectors held a bare cord the had a bare light bulb
at the end. One summer evening as a visiting evangelist "waxed
eloquently" a large Chicken Snake that had hidden in the rafters slithered onto the
cord immediately above the head of the evangelist, apparently intent upon catching some of
the many bugs which surrounded the bare bulb. The evangelist, unaware of what was
just two or three feet above his head, continued to preach, unaware that he had lost
Center Stage to a Chicken Snake.
Tabernacle Revivals drew people from most all the white churches in Dawson with the
exception of the Church of Christ. That group objected to the use of
musical instruments in a worship service the same way the Baptist objected to dancing,
going to "picture shows," opening a store for business on Sunday,
having visitors partake of The Lord's Supper, drinking homebrew. playing cards,
mixed swimming, smoking cigarettes, gossiping, and something they called fornication which
nobody ever wanted to explain; and dancing.
Imported "Song Leaders" were rare in Dawson due to the extra expense involved.
Local "Tune Heisters" were well known and some had been to the
"Singing Schools" that were conducted in the Dawson area in the last part of the
1800's and the early 1900's. Singing Schools were lead by "Gifted"
singers who had supposedly had some musical training in some far away place.
There was a charge for admissiion to the schools, but the real money
was made selling songbooks that each student just had to have. Songbooks were
printed with "Shaped Notes" and the teaching method was sometimes referred to as
"Sacred Harp" singing.
Churches in Dawson and in the rural areas all had members who loved to sing or thought
they could sing or didn't know they couldn't sing who always sang in the choir during the
Tabernacle revival meetings regardless of what denomination was sponsoring the event.
Everyone in Western Navarro County knew who those "High Powered"
singers were and part of the "show" was watching the steps employed each night
to form the choir. The "High Powered" singers would arrive early, dressed
in their Sunday best which was sometimes a white shirt and tie, sometimes "bib
Over halls" and a blue shirt buttoned at the neck. The never went to the
choir area on the platform. Instead they took seats in the congregation area
smiled, nodded their heads at acquaintances, and reared back with their arms on the
back of the local made pews.
Meanwhile, the local "Tune Heister" has been busy placing the Shaped Note
songbooks on the choir pews and when he looks out at the congregation he spies several of
the "High Powered" singers and immediagtely makes his way to where "Old Joe
Singer" sat and the "recruitment" process began. He would issue
an invitation for Joe to take his place in the choir and Joe would shake his head.
The "Tune Heister" would began his pleading, begging, cajoling
finest skills. Joe would shake his head some more and smile some more,
glancing around now and then to make sure the congregation that had gathered was watching.
Everybody knew that Joe would eventually make his way to the platform and the
choir area. At length, Joe would reluctantly, stand to his feet, look at his wife,
grin! The "Tune Heister" would give him a pat on the back
and send him on his way to where he wanted to go in the first place
to join the
faithful choir members who didn't play the "git me up thee" game.
MUSIC AT FUNERALS
Funeral music was another specialty in Dawson, but funerals required the "elite"
of Dawson's musical talent. Dawson was so small that when someone died everyone in
town knew them and any death was like having someone in the immediate family.
Female soloists often performed at funerals, but I was not fond of hearing their singing
because most had a "quivering" in their voices brought on by inexperience,
fright, and the emotion of the moment. Sometimes they just broke down and
cried. I was sympathetic when they cried and a lump came in my throat.
My favorite funeral singer was Joe Davis who had a deep voice, had had some
voice training, who hit most of the notes, and never showed any emotion. Joe
Davis was a real professional funeral singer. His specialty was "In the
Garden." Some families had special request like, "In the Sweet Bye
and Bye" and "Tell Mother I'll be There" and "Precious Memories."
When I hear those great hymns today my memory calls for sadness, sobbing, and
the smell of crushed roses and gardenia. People would have felt better if the
"Booster Band" had sung their version of "When the Saints Go Marching
MUSIC AT SCHOOL
The Dawson Public Schools provided another opportunity for the expression of musical
expressions. School began each day with the recitation of the Lord's Prayer,
the the Pledge of Allegience to the Flag of the united States of America, and the singing
of "My Country Tis of Thee." Sometimes, on rainy and/or
cold days when playground activity was impossible, teachers would lead pupils in singing
the old time favorites of Dawson. Songs like "O I Come from Alabama with
my Banjo on my Knee" or "Old Black Joe" or "Way Down Upon the Suwanee
River" and several patriotic songs. And there were Christmas Carols.
Several new songs were introduced in 1935 to be used for the Texas Centennial the
following year. "Texas, our Texas
All Hail the Mighty State, Texas,
so wonderful, so great"
ended with, "God Bless you
Texas..and Keep you brave and strong, that you may grow in power and worth..throughout the
ages Long!" Someone at the Metropolitan Opera in New York must have written the
music. And then there was, "Beautiful, Beautiful, Texas
where the Bluebonets grow, We're proud of our ancestors who fought at the Alamo."
A Miss Griffith came to Dawson as the first music teacher I could remember.
She was a large and very pretty lady who had a big smile and a gentle disposition. I
liked her. She could sing quite well, played the piano beautifully, and beat time with a
ruler. One of her duties was to monitor the room where those who had to remain
after school as punishment for misbehaving. One day I had to stay and she had
me learn a new song I had never heard before. "O Mary, don't
you weep don' t you moan, O Mary, don't you weep, don you moan> Pharoah's
army got drownded, O Mary don't you weep." And the fact is, I haven't
heard it since.
Chapel Services were held every Thursday morning and included singing religious and
patriotic as well as traditional Southern songs. "Dixie" was
sung frequently as well as "I Wish I wuz in Dixie." We sang
"Home on the Range" with some degree of regularity. Some of the
older boys would insert some "cowlot" words in some of the songs and cut their
eyes at their buddies in crime and snicker. Sometimes a single grade would be called
upon to prepare a program and the class teacher would have the children practice for weeks
to prepare for the occasion.
The economy of Dawson, Texas in 1933 was at an all-time LOW! Jobs were not be had
and barter had become the order of the day. We lived next to the McReynolds who had
a small farm that was almost self sufficient. Their herd of cows produced milk and
meat. Wagon loads of potatoes were produced and hauled to the barn. McReynolds
corn was transformed into meal at the mill located in the blacksmith shop. And...in
the late summer...there was the molasses operation.
Molasses making began with a huge stack of sorghum stalks freshly cut in the nearby field
and stacked near a crusher. The "Crusher" consisted of two huge cast iron
gears mounted on a solid base four to five feet tall. The gears were powered by a
mule hitched to a ten to twelve foot wood sapling which was attached to the gear box.
The mule....hitched to the sapling...moved round and round lead by a rope tied to
another small sapling angled from the gear box...a system designed to keep the mule
Molasses making took place in the shade of some "Board Ark" trees that had grown
on the fence line at the top of a little rise on the back side of the McReynolds property.
The "Board Ark" trees provided some shade against the August heat...but
not much! And...the fire required to cook the sorghum liquid compounded the
heat and discomfort levels. But...nobody had air conditioning..and August heat was
expected and "tolerated" in 1933 Texas.
My Dad was invited to help with the molasses operation and he was to be paid with
molasses....however much was to be needed by our family for the next year. My job
was to keep the mule moving and in so doing...keep the gears turning and the sorghum
juices flowing into the bucket. When the mule slowed or stopped I yelled at him to
"git up." When that failed I popped him on the rear with a whip..a measure
which usually got his attention and he moved on.
Some of the older McReynolds boys fed the sorghum stalks into the gears as the mule pulled
and as the gears meshed...the sorghum stalks were crushed and a watery juice trickled into
a waiting bucket. When the bucket was filled it was carefully carried to the
"Cooker" and the contents poured into one end of a large metal pan where the
juice was heated over a blazing fire.
The cooker was a 12-15'long metal pan that sat over a long fire box sided with stone.
The metal pan had been made with "baffles" six to eight inches apart that
permitted the sorghum juice to move slowly from one side of the "Cooker" to the
other..around the baffle..and to the other side. Underneath was a wood fire that heated
the juice as it made its way through the baffles. The raw juice was a clear and
watery thin, but as it progressed through the baffles...heated by the wood fire
beneath..it gradually darkened and became thicker until it emerged on the opposite end of
the cooker as...sorghum molasses.
As the thin liquid moved along the heated pan..through the baffles...becoming thicker as
it progressed...it, also, created a foamy substance that was skimmed off the surface by
the women and girls who stood on each side of the cooker. The "skimin's"
were place in a large bucket and at the end of the day....with the August heat as it
was...and with bacteria rampant...the skimming fermented into an alcohol product which,
when fed to the pigs, created a pig pen filled with happy, carefree pigs. The
drunken pigs staggered around the pig pen with a silly grin and "oinked" at
everybody who came near.
When the thickened liquid reached the final baffle it was dipped from the vat and ladled
into large wooden barrels. The watery green fluid had now turned to a thick brown
and smelled with a heavenly aroma.
When the final cooking was completed the large barrels were loaded on a wagon and
transported to the McReyolds smokehouse and arranged in a horizontal position on wooden
racks. The sorghum molasses would run freely from the barrel in the early fall, but
in January the molasses became so thick that a knife had to be employed to disgorge the
molasses from the barrel.
More than one cold morning my Mother sent me to "fetch" a gallon of Sorghum
Molasses and I always took a flat table knife to move the candy like molasses from the
barrel into my bucket. And...it was always pleasant to return to the warm
kitchen, knowing that the molasses would be the centerpiece of our breakfast.
Mother would have prepared large biscuits in the gas fired oven of the Detroit Jewell
stove. And..there was sausage...made from the large hogs some farmer had brought
Dad..to "Pay on the bill." There were eggs from the Rhode Island Red hens
that Mother tended so carefully. And there was the yellow butter churned from milk
that I "stroked" each morning and night from the cow.
The heavy sorghum molasses were mixed with the cold, hard butter, and spread on the
steaming biscuits....and, when combined with the aging sausage and the fresh
eggs...resulted in a culinary delight, rarely...if ever...equaled!
And to this very day...I continue to enjoy sorghum molasses..sausage...biscuits and eggs.
SPRING HILL CEMETERY CELEBRATES
Dawson, Navarro County, Texas
Dawson, Texas, Springtime had arrived in Giles Co. Tennessee in
1845 and the Webb Family wagon began the five hundred fifty miles journey to Fort Franklin
in the new State of Texas. Wagon travel, averaging twelve miles per day would
consume a month and one half, but that did not include repairs, resting on weekends,
visits with friends along the way, and sicknesses.
Most wagon travel was in groups which provided a measure of safety as well as social and
physical support. The usual route of travel from Giles Co. would be to Memphis, down to
Little Rock, through present day Texarkana, Marshall, Henderson,and on to Fort Franklin.
The Webb Family, for some reason, was traveling alone in the late summer and, probably,
parted with their group at Marshall and headed almost due West.
The Webb Family had reached the Spring Hill area by August and had camped under the Oak
Trees, just North of the Trading Post recently constructed by Dr. George Washington
Sarah Webb lay seriously ill in the wagon.
Dr. Hill had received medical training, but had, from all accounts,never practiced. He had
served, briefly, in a medical capacity in Milam Co. in the 1830's, but his full time from
1836 to 1816 had been given to serving The Republic of Texas.
He was thirty-four when he married the widow of his friend, Francis Slaughter, who had
died in 1842. The wedding date was November 17, 1847.
Minerva Katherine Matthews Slaughter had become the third wife of Francis Slaughter in a
July 1835 marriage in Maury Co. Tennessee. The Slaughters had arrived at Fort
Franklin December 1, 1835 in company with Robert Harve Matthews, brother of Minerva, and
several family servants. Francis Slaughter was serving as Chief Magistrate at Franklin at
the time of his death..
Dr. Hill, his wife and her three children, Robert Harve Matthews, and the family servants,
probably, made the move to the Indian Springs soon after the marriage in November 1847.
The Webb Family, learning that Dr. Hill had settled at the Indian Springs, may have
directed their journey to Spring Hill searching for a doctor to treat Sarah's illness.
The nature of that illness is not not known, but it exceeded the capabilities
of Dr. Hill, and she died.
The Webb Family requested and received permission to bury Sara where they had camped and
where she had died. After the funeral the Webb Family hitched the wagon and
continued on their journey.
They may have planned to join Jesse Webb who lived near Frankln and who had sold Francis
Slaughter 778 acres of land prior to 1842. Forty-five Webb families were listed in the
1850 Census. The names George and Duska were on her stone marker. Dr. Hill's will
provided for two acres surrounding her grave e be used for a cemetery.
Those who "Lie in Peace" at Spring Hill Cemetery have descendents scattered all
over this nation today. Descendent names include Ammonette, Barber, Barnes, Berry,
Breedlove, Cates, Clemons, Cleveland,Coffey, Cottengame, Davidson, Dickson, Freeland,
Fullerton, Hargis, Henry, Hill, Kirksey, Langford, McCullough, McSpadden, Marsh, Martin,
Matthews, Miller, Moore, Morgan, Mount, Odell, Parrish, Pierce, Pollard, Porter, Prater,
Priddy, Rockenbaugh, Rucker, Sellers, Shaw, Shepard, Sidwell, Slaughter, Smith, Staaden,
Stockard, Terry, Thomas, Walker, Webb, Wilkerson, Wilson, Wright, Young, and Younger.
A 150th Anniversary for Spring Hill Cemetery will be held September 19, 1998 at Dawson,
Texas. A procession will leave Dawson at 10:00 AM and will include a buggy of
retired Texas Rangers, horse drawn wagons, mounted horsemen, and individuals dressed in
The program at Spring hill Cemetery at 10:30 AM with The Pelham "Homecoming"
Choir singing a medly of spirituals and old time Gospel favorites Many of
those in the group will be descendents of slaves buried at Spring Hill Cemetery.
Wreaths will be placed at the graves of Dr G W. Hill (1814-1860) by an official of the
State of Texas, at the grave of Ranger R H Matthews (1814-1894) by retired Texas Rangers,
and at the grave of Squire Porter who was buried 1866.
Printed booklets are being prepared and will present a brief history of the cemetery and
alphabetical and chronological lists of those buried there.
Descendents of those buried there are urged to be present for this celebration and to
forward genealogical and any other family information to to Carl W. Matthews, POB 454,
Roswell GA 30077. (770 587 4350)
I REMEMBER CHRISTMAS
I REMEMBER CHRISTMAS 1928
Christmas in 1928 was my
first to remember. A cedar tree, perhaps twenty feet tall, had been cut from
some farmer's field,
My Father and I had made
several trips to the huge inside of The Dawson Lumber Co. where several men were
constructing a heavy wooden slide that was to serve as a "Christmas Sleigh." The
men had constructed a large seat with a backrest and there was a large rack in
back for presents.
It was near dusk on Christmas Eve when my parents and I returned to the
lumberyard. There, AS BIG AS LIFE, was Santa Clause sitting in the sleigh. He
was dressed in a red suit and had a long white beard and was full of "Ho Ho
Ho's." The rack back of the seat was filled with beautifully wrapped presents.
His reindeer were two of Spart Berry's white mules and each mule had been fitted
with the horns of an unfortunate white-tailed deer.
Mr. & Mrs. Wilhite, who
operated The Variety Store, soon arrived with their cute little girl, Wanda Sue.
Our parents informed us that Wanda Sue and I would sit on either side of Santa
Claus as he drove the sleigh to the Dawson Christmas Tree.
The Annual Dawson Christmas Tree had drawn hundreds of people, not only from
Dawson, but from the communities that dotted the countryside surrounding the
town. The crowd lined the sidewalks of Main Street and waited excitedly for
Santa Claus to make his appearance.
Finally, the "Magic Hour"
arrived and some men opened the huge doors of the Dawson Lumber Company and
Santa drove his "reindeer' on to Main Street and turned north. The huge crowd
cheered and clapped as the heavy wooden sleigh slid over the graveled Main
Street. Wanda Sue and I had been instructed to smile and wave at the people and
The sleigh moved passed The
Green Hut, H. Silbert's dry good store, Wilhte’s Variety Store, Lawlers
Grocery, Conners Dry goods Store, one of the two banks and the telephone office
located above the bank, V. T. Matthews' Grocery, and Wince Lancaster's Barber
shop and Mr. Holloway's Grocery where Frank Hopkins worked.
The sleigh moved passed W. W. Wolf's Hardware, Furniture, and Funeral Service,
and made a "U-Turn" at Ab Dickson's filling station, then south to the Christmas
Tree located between the two banks.
There, Santa climbed on a
newly constructed wood platform and began handing presents down to the waiting
crowd. First, there were packages of candy for the children. Suitors would,
sometimes, place a present at the tree for their girlfriends who would pretend
to be "sooooo surprised" when Santa Claus called their name. It was late when
all the presents had been distributed and the crowd began to break up.
We lived across the street from the Houston Akers family and two or three vacant
lots north of Cousin Will Matthews. Natural gas had not come to our part of town
and we had an open fireplace in the south front room where Mother had placed our
Our Christmas tree was a
cedar that reached almost to the ten-foot ceiling and mother had decorated every
branch. Red and green paper rope and sparkling silver looking rope were draped
over the boughs. English walnut shells had been carefully opened, their empty
halves filled with cloth scraps, were suspended with butcher twine. There were a
few colorful glass bulbs hanging, and, perhaps, twenty red wax candles rose
vertically from special candleholders that clamped to the branches.
Uncle Fred and Aunt Ennis Matthews and their children came to our house after
the downtown Christmas Tree and we all crowded into the room where our Christmas
Tree stood. Their children were Buck, Vestal Lee, Doris, Fred Jr., Dewey, Betty
Bell, Jack and Joe Kenneth who was a baby. Mother served refreshments to
everyone and when it was near the time for Uncle Fred's family to leave, Daddy
and Uncle Fred began to light the candles on the tree.
Mother switched off the bare
light bulb that was suspended from the ceiling and we watched in awe as the
candles flickered in the darkened room. It was a beautiful sight that lasted for
a few short minutes. Daddy and Uncle Fred began to extinguish the flames as they
When Uncle Fred and his
family left, there were hugs and wishes for a "Merry Christmas" for everyone.
Christmas Eve had been an
exciting day for me, and it began to end as I sat in my daddy's lap and listened
with wonder and anticipation as he told me about Santa Clause and his reindeer
and presents for little boys. And with that, I was asleep.
Note: Wanda Sue Wilhite was
the granddaughter of Dr. Livingston Barnes, long time Hubbard physician. Her
family move to west Texas the following year, and we did not see each other
until seventy years later. We h ad a nice dinner one evenng in Dallas. Wanda
Sue died 2008.
I REMEMBER CHRISTMAS
My sister, Jean LaMerle, was
born the following March and soon after that we moved to the house just east and
across the brook from the Tabernacle.
Several weeks before
Christmas, Mother was having a meeting of churchwomen in the living room. The
meeting must have been going well and, since I was not sleepy, gave me
opportunity to quietly explore.
UNCLE JOHN MORGAN
Uncle John Morgan, whose
family lived near Plano, had visited with us for several weeks that fall.
While there, he had had busied himself by building several useful items for our
One, a little stool about
thirty inches long and and ten inches wide, covered with a rich burgandy fabric
and trimmed with gold fringe secured by brass nails. It served as a kneeler
for numerous weddings in Hubbard.
Another, was a sturdy box
with a lock in which my daddy could keep his knives at Matthews Market. There
was a "holder" on top that secured a carborundum stone that my daddy used to
hone knives to razor sharpness. My son, Michael, is the present keeper of the
knife box, still filled with long steak knives, skinning kinves, boning knives,
and sword like "steel" used to place a keen edge on knives.
Uncle John built a bookcase
that had two glass doors on top, and two solid doors below that would never stay
And, then, there was the
long quiltbox, thirty inches high, thirty inches deep, six feet long, with a
The house was designed with
a bathroom, but there were no fixtures. Uncle John's quilt box had been placed
Mother's recent visits to
the quiltbox must have sparked my curosity. I tip toed to the quilt box and
raised the heavy wood cover and peeked inside. A quilt had almost covered a red,
white & blue drum. Just what I had always wanted! And there was a belt and
holster with two shiny toy pistols. And underneath, was a large round "Tinker
I strapped the pistols around my waist, looped the drum strap over my head,
picked up the two drumsticks, and paraded into the living room with a
RAT-A-TAT-TAT and, probably, beaming a big smile.
The ladies roared with
laughter, but Mother, a little narrow minded about the whole thing, relieved me
of my newly found loot, and banished me to the bed, again. I looked in the quilt
box a few days later, but the loot was gone.
It was almost dark on Christmas Eve when Daddy came home from the market and we
piled into the blue Cadillac with the cloth top and headed for "Grandmother's
Sycamore Street" house in Corsicana. Grandmother had a decorated tree in the
living room and the buffet in the Dining Room was piled high with cakes and
A large turkey was cooking
in the kitchen. There were hugs and kisses and laughter and Granddaddy's breath
bore the news that he had already found Merry Christmas in a half gallon Mason
jar recently arrived from some East Texas still.
After the Christmas Eve dinner we gathered in the Living Room to look at the
Christmas Tree and to enjoy the warmth of the fireplace. I, probably, went to
sleep in Granddaddy's lap and someone put me to bed in the back bedroom.
The next morning, Mother had
me put on my robe and house shoes, then told me that Santa Claus had come during
the night. He had found me despite the fact that we were not at our house. Sure
enough, there under the tree was a new drum, and a holster set with two shiny
pistols, and a Tinker Toy box, exactly like those I had found in the quilt box.
I REMEMBER CHRISTMAS
The next year I entered
first grade and the Christmas presents, never found in the quilt box again.
began to reflect needs associated with school. An easel, that could serve as a
chalkboard and desk, had all the ABC's printed across the top. There was a
raincoat and rubber boots for wet weather. And there was an aviators cap that
covered little ears on cold days and had a strap that buttoned under the chin.
And, can one imagine, a B-B rifle with a cocking mechanism so strong I could not
work it. Just as well!
The Great Depression arrived in Dawson, but, somehow, Christmas always survived.
Mother had purchased a string of colored electric lights for the Christmas tree
in 1930 and they were still in use when I return home from the Marines in 1945.
The red and green paper rope survived into the late 1930's and a few additional
glass bulbs and tinsel were added. Other decoration included ring ropes of red
and green strips of construction paper made at school and strings of popcorn
which we made up at home. Each year our tree looked,to me, like a work or art.
Mother would wrap personal
gifts in beautiful colored paper adorned with bows and a little card printed
with "From" and "To."
The cedar trees, decorated with great care, were dismantled with equal care and
concern. Mother had a large cardboard box for the Christmas decorations and it
was carefully packed after Christmas. The twelve-bulb string of colored lights
was replaced year after year in the original box as were the colorful glass
bulbs. "Icicles,"strips of bright lead that darkened year after year, were
carefully lifted from the cedar branches and placed in a thin box. The red and
green paper rope that lasted and lasted and lasted was put in paper grocery
bags. And the special "Christmas Decorations" box was closed and put away until
the next Christmas.
As I got older it became my duty each year to secure the Christmas Tree. There
were no pine or fir trees near Dawson and we had to make do with cedar trees,
most of which did not grow into desired shapes.
As Christmas approached I
would keep an eye out for a well-formed cedar tree to prevent having to hunt one
at the last minute. My favorite Christmas Tree site was the branch behind Dr.
B.W.D . Hill's house, but, in time, the well-formed trees grew more difficult to
One year I noticed that
trees too large for indoor use had tops that were almost perfectly formed. I
would climb up the tree to the point where I wanted to make my cut and saw away.
I would drag the tree home with the pride that great hunters had when they
brought home a kill.
Christmas Eve became very
special during the days of the Great Depression. Our family would enjoy a
delicious evening meal, then gather around the gas fired Reznor heater. Mother
would unwrap the fruit cake she had made weeks earlier, cut it into small
slices, then serve it with hot chocolate. Afterwards, we listened to a special
We were without a radio for
several years after the Atwater-Kent failed and there was no money for repair.
Our next radio was purchased from "The Light Company," in 1934 for $12.00, and
paid for in installment of fifty-cents added each month to the bill.
A family tradition was
established as we listened each Christmas to the same "Lum & Abner" program
that focused on concern for, "The Widder Abernathy and them Abbernathy
youngans," who were too poor to have a decent Christmas. Lum and Abner prepared
a box filled with Christmas goodies from their "Jot-em-down" store and had their
employee, Cedrick Wehunk, brave the wind and snow to deliver it to the
Abernathy home. It was a beatiful and heart warmng story.
Times were very hard, but
Santa Clause kept coming year after year. One year my sisters received a tiny
electric stove that actually cooked food. I received a world globe suspended in
a yellow stand. The cost was twenty-five cents.
Gifts from Santa Clause were
never wrapped and were immediately seen on Christmas morning. Afterwards,
personal gifts were unwrapped one by one, exhibited, the giver thanked and
Wrapped gifts were not torn
open as happens today. Gifts were carefully unwrapped, and Mother saved all the
paper and ribbon. Afterwards, when time permitted, Mother would iron the paper
and ribbons smooth, roll them on cardboard tubes, and pack them away. Some
paper was seen for almost ten years.
Christmas was always so
I REMEMBER CHRISTMAS
My main Santa Claus gift
when I was nine was a real .22 bolt action rifle a bolt action rifle, ordered
from Montgomery Ward's catalogue for $2.88. Most bolt action rifles were
automatically cocked when the bolt was closed, but this model did not have such
a feature. There was a knob at the back of the bolt that had to be pulled before
the rifle could be fired. It was a safety feature, but I did not have sufficient
strength to pull the knob with my nine-year-old fingers. Daddy tied a leather
bootlace around the knob and I was able to operate it.
That Christmas Day I brought home my first game.
Daddy had worked on an
exploratory oil well that Lee McCulloch drilled near the Bermuda Grass pasture
the previous year. The drilling operation had been abandoned, but the wooden
derrick still stood and had become a gathering place for crows. , but each time
I got near enough for a shot, the crows flew away.
I remembered the deep ditch
the drilling crew had dug to run water away from the drilling site and I began
to crawl on my hands and knees on the now dry bed of the ditch. I was careful to
keep my head down until I was very close to the derrick. I waited until the
gathering crows began to call to each other. I had pulled the leather lace and
my weapon was cocked. I eased my new .22 Rifle over the top of the ditch and
when my head appeared the crows spotted me and began to fly away. One hesitated.
The old crow fluttered to
the ground and the hunter who bagged a trophy deer could not have been more
proud than was I.
Grandmother Coleman had gone to San Angelo to be with Aunt Nina who had cancer
and Granddaddy Coleman was spending Christmas with us. He laughed when I proudly
held up my trophy and told him I was going to eat my kill. He informed me that
the crow was old and would be tough as, “whit leather.”
Undaunted, I cleaned the
crow and Mother began to cook it in the frying pan. It did smell good, just like
fried chicken. And I was hungry. I pulled a piece of the crow meat from a leg
and began to chew. It tasted just like friend chicken. I chewed and chewed and
chewed. Mother and Daddy and Granddaddy were trying to keep a straight face as I
struggled, but they broke into laughter when I, finally, spit out the
That was the year Mother ordered a box of fireworks . Dawson merchants sold
sparklers, small and large Roman Candles, packages of small firecrackers,
torpedoes that could be thrown on concrete and explode, and Baby Giants that
made a huge noise, but could blow off a finger.
Mother's box of fireworks
had small, very small, strings of firecrackers, sparklers, small Roman Candles
and some items we had never seen, cardboard tubes inset in wood blocks.
Daddy admonished everyone to
stay back as he lighted the first one. There was a "Swisssssh" and a beautiful
paper flower emerged. Daddy had never seen anything like that and when he
lighted the second one he stood over the wood block, hands in his pockets, bent
at the waist, to see the beautiful flower.
There was a "Whoossseh!"
and a projectile rocketed straight up from the wooden block, inches from Daddy's
nose, into the air, higher than our house, and exploded with a dazzling array of
colored sparks. Daddy's head turned slowly as his gaze moved from the wooden
block to the explosion in the sky, his hands still in his pocket, his face
filled with surprise and wonderment. Mother was cracking up with laughter.
I REMEMBER CHRISTMAS
Christmas 1935 was spent at
Granddaddy Coleman's farmhouse at Navarro where there was no electricity, no
natural gas, no running water! Fifteen people gathered for four or five days.
There was a bed for every adult, children were bedded on pallets on the living
room floor in front of the fireplace. I have no idea of how Grandmother coped
with the logistics of serving forty-five meals every day, but she appeared to
enjoy every minute and I never heard her complain.
Christmas morning was happy bedlam. Unwrapped depression era presents filled the
underside of the decorated cedar tree and parents made sure that each child
received what Santa Claus had left for him or her.
I had a new toy pistol in a
nice heavy leather holster. Granddaddy had no holster for his .38 revolver and
wanted me to trade him the holster for the new paint colt that Pet, the bay
mare, had recently foaled. No way!
I had, also, received a red
and yellow cast iron cannon that fired a small rubber ball when a firecracker,
placed inside, was lighted. We played in the corncrib and I frightened the
smaller children with animal skins that Granddaddy was drying on boards in the
Fifty-four years later I walked around in that deserted farmhouse with the
chimney fallen away. The garage that housed Granddaddy's Cadillac was gone. The
well curbing still stood by the back door. The crude wooden shelves in the
kitchen that supported fruit jars filled with tomatoes and beans and jelly were
empty and dusty. The wood stove had long since been removed. The heavy blue
paper that Uncle Jack had nailed to the ceiling in "The Middle Room" had come
loose and hung amidst the cobwebs. The house, so big to a ten-year-old boy, was
The Great Depression showed few signs of abating in Dawson, Texas and hard times
continued in the mid 1930's. One year had been especially bad and money was
scarce. Our family bought groceries, paid the "light bill" and the gas bill, and
had money for little else. I went to bed on Christmas Eve prepared to accept
nothing from Santa. But Santa did come, much to my surprise, but the most vivid
memory of that Christmas was another experience.
I had gone to bed on Christ
Eve when there was a knock on our back door. Mrs. Ruth Lawrence, a neighbor who
lived two doors east, the mother of my best friend, and one of the sweetest
ladies in all of Dawson, had knocked.
"Velma, we had this fruit
and some nuts and Christmas candy left over at the store."
The contents of the sack,
were, I am sure, enjoyed for several days, but that beautiful memory has been
enjoyed again and again more than a half century.
It was the next Christmas that a new red bicycle was delivered by Santa. Several
days before Christmas I was in town. A deliveryman from Waco stopped me and
wanted directions to the Carl Matthews house. The delivery man, not knowing who
I was, stated that he had a bicycle to deliver there. I gladly accommodated
him and he drove away.
I was elated, but there was
no bicycle there when I got home. Christmas morning I looked under the tree and
there was no bicycle. I was almost in tears when Daddy exclaimed that Santa left
something on the other side of the sofa. There was that shiny new bicycle.
Mother had told the deliveryman to take the boxed bicycle to Steve Hill's house
and Sambo Akers had assembled it.
Christmas of 1938 was the year I sold fireworks for Sparton Duke. (See "The
Purse" story)It would be our final Christmas in “Dawson.
A Christmas Story
It was Christmastime in Dawson and Dawson was just another small Texas town in
the midst of The Great Depression. Jobs for adults had been scarce that year and
non-existent for children.
I was twelve and had never given my Mother a true Christmas gift. Oh there had
been those little gifts made at school of colored construction paper or cigar
boxes which Mother made on over...but they were not "real" Christmas gifts.
Preparations for the town Christmas were almost complete. A Huge cedar tree, cut
from some nearby pasture, stood in the center of Main Street and I watched with
childish excitement as volunteers strung the last of the cedar boughs. Christmas
was just three days away.
An older cousin, who had found employment in Dallas, drove into town and when I
ran to greet him, he ask if I would be interested in selling some fireworks he
had brought with him. I would receive a nickel for every dollar collected. Deal!
I would begin the next morning.
I had been to Hampton's Dry
Goods store several times and had found a brown imitation leather purse that
seemed perfect for a Mother's gift. It was the prettiest purse I had ever seen.
It was, also, the most expensive. The price was one dollar and fifty cents...two
days pay for a man chopping cotton the previous summer. Now, with a job, I had
visions of earning one dollar and fifty cents and the purse would be mine to
give. What a joyful Christmas this would be. I could give my Mother a "real"
The sound of my voice yelling "Fireworks..fireworks" could be heard from a block
away, but sales were slow. Farm boys who had picked cotton for "seventy-five
cents a hundred" that fall were not eager to part with the few nickels and dimes
still remaining in the pockets of their overalls.
It was Christmas Eve and people were beginning to go home. Stores were closing
and I was still yelling "Fireworks!" I had collected $19.00 from the sale of
fireworks and had earned ninety-five cents...not nearly enough for the purse.
I returned to Hampton's store, almost hoping that someone else had bought the
purse for their mother. But there it was, and the price remained the same...ONE
DOLLAR AND FIFTY CENTS.
I was the only customer in
the store and looking hard for a gift that cost less than a dollar, but nothing
seemed to take the place of the purse.
Mrs. Hampton reminded me that the store was closing and I inquired if they had
considered placing the purse on sale. Well, they might let it go for $1.25. I
confessed that I didn't have that much and she wanted to know just how much
money I had. I told her and she said she would sell the purse for ninety-five
cents. I told her that I would take it if she would wrap it in Christmas paper.
She shook her head with unbelief, placed the imitation leather purse in a box,
and wrapped it in beautiful Christmas paper.
Mother died forty years later. Daddy had died the year before and we were
cleaning out the house where they had lived. One bureau drawer was filled with
an assortment of what appeared to be items for the trash.
There it was, the brown
imitation leather purse.
The imitation leather was
almost all peeled away, and the purse was dusty and flat. I had forgotten until
I saw it. Tears moistened my eyes as I realized that the simple gift had brought
joy to my Mother for forty years. Now...it brought joy to me.
I REMEMBER CHRISTMAS
1939 & ON
We moved to Hubbard in June
of 1939. I would spend two Christmases there before I joined the Marines. I had
begun to work at the grocery store where Daddy worked and had saved several
dollars by Christmas.
I wanted to have a fire in
the fireplace during the holidays and paid Mr. Freeland a dollar for a
half-wagon load of wood, which he dumped over the alley fence on to our back
yard. I brought in an armload and Grandmother Coleman and I built the fire. I
didn't know that willow would crack and pop as it burned and, sometimes, pop
small coals on the carpet. But we enjoyed it.
Christmas of 1940 Santa brought a beautiful brown tweed suit. And there were
parties at Mae Horn's, at the Reeve's, and at the Anderson's who lived north of
town. I had bought presents for Mother and Daddy, for my sisters, and for
Grandmother Coleman who lived with us. I had sent Grandfather Coleman a large
can of Prince Albert. And I bought a glass cream and sugar set for Mrs. Reaves
for fifteen cents at Blounts Variety. That would be my last Christmas at home
for four years.
Christmas 1941 was spent in the barracks at Camp Elliott near San Diego as The
8th Marine Regiment and the 2nd Marine Brigade prepared to leave January 6,1942
The Fall of 1942 I had
returned from Samoa and on Christmas morning I rode a bus to downtown San Diego.
I could no believe my eyes when I spotted J. R.Hoge, a first grade classmate
from Dawson, Texas. We had a great day together. We had breakfast down town,
went to a movie, viewed a captured Japanese submarine, and had dinner at an
The next year Bill Lawrence
and I had Christmas Dinner together at Camp Pendleton just before we both left
the states with the 4th Marine Division. I was wounded at Saipan in July, was
home on leave that Fall, and on a bus bound for Quantico, Virginia on Christmas
I was a student at Baylor in 1946 and it was wonderful to experience the warmth
of family at Christmas. The streets of Hubbard were filled with well wishers on
Christmas Eve and we went to Christmas church services, grateful that the war
years had ended.
Elaine and I lived in Connecticut for ten years when the children were small and
there were memorable Christmases there. The children were always excited as we
tromped through the snow to cut a tree behind our house, more excited as we
decorated the tree with large pine cones sprayed with red paint and with large
One year we had stashed
Santa Clause at the farm house up the hill. On Christmas Eve, after we checked
to see the children were sound asleep, I went to get the presents. When I
returned, I slid into a snow bank in our drive and the car became stuck.
I was loading presents on a
large toboggan, one of the presents, when I looked up to see Elaine walking
through the snow to help. We pulled the loaded toboggan to the front door.
We established a tradition of attending Christmas Eve Midnight Services at the
Congregational Church in Washington, Connecticut. The choir would sing, the
pastor would present the Christmas story, and, when the electric lights were
turned off, a single candle burned in the darkness.
That single flame was given
to light a second candle and the process continued until all who had come for
worship held a lighted candle in their hand. The church was, again, filled with
The Choir and congregation
sang "Joy to the World" as we filed out the front door and into the snow.
Lighted candles filled the church yard and we could still hear the choir as the
church chimes pealed the Midnight Hour and announced that it was Christmas Day.
I loved Christmas then. I love Christmas now. But it wasn't the gifts or the
fire burning in the fireplace, or the fruitcakes or turkey dinners that made me
I loved the warmth of
family, the laughter of my Grandmother, the mischievous smile in my Daddy's eye,
the joy that my Mother received in giving, the true fellowship of friends, the
expressions of love for one another and mankind.
I DON'T NEED FINE GIFTS AT CHRISTMAS
JUST GIVE ME AN HONEST HUG
JUST TELL ME YOU LOVE ME.
Uncle John Ponder came each day to Matthews Market to order hamburger meat and to prepare
the meat for use at The Green Hut. Uncle John would bring a small white porcelain pan and
some corn meal. He would visit while he rolled the hamburger meat into small balls and
rolled the balls in the corn meal. Each little balls was rolled with exactness and stacked
carefully in the white porcelain pan. Uncle John usually related stories from the
"Olden Days" and they were often interesting and humorous.
"The Green Hut" was for many years an institution in Dawson. It was one of
several mobile "restaurants" in use in Dawson in the early years of the 1900's.
"Uncle Steve" Hill and his family had built and operated one for some
time and, later, used it for a chicken house at their place located on the western edge of
town. The units were originally used on Saturdays when they were pulled into
position by teams of horses and pulled away after the day's business was completed.
The "Green Hut", always operated by the Ponder family, outlasted the others and,
apparently, began to operate throughout the week. It was a chore to move the units
and "The Green Hut" began to be left in place overnight.
The original unit...mounted on a wagon bed...was, perhaps, six feet wide and fourteen feet
long. Tall people could not stand erect inside because of the low ceiling.
Food...hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, etc. was prepared inside and served to customers who
stood outside. Kerosene lamps and lanterns lighted the inside and outside and a smelly
kerosene stove cooked the food. The unit was parked paralleled to the sidewalk and
was entered by employees by means of high steps at the rear.
The height of the unit was inconvenient for customers and employees and one week the
wheels came off and the unit lowered to the street. "The Green Hut" became
a permanent fixture on the street in Dawson. An inside serving counter was installed
that had room for five or six persons, but sales through the serving windows was always
brisk, especially on Saturdays.
"The Green Hut" eventually was wired for electricity and when natural gas came
to Dawson in the 1920's gas was installed. "The Green Hut" was, by then,
an institution whose fame had extended far beyond the limits of the little town of Dawson.
It was located on the main road...let's not call it a highway...between Corsicana
and Waco. People who traveled that road began to make a point of stopping at
"The Green Hut."
"The Green Hut" was showing its age in the 1930's and the Ponder Family had a
new building constructed and moved it on the same spot where the old one had stood for
many, many years. The old unit was moved to the Ponder's back yard. I was with
Paul Ponder when he began dismantling the inside. It was a gold mine. Nickels and
dimes and quarters and..sometimes..half dollars had been dropped through the years into
the cracks of moldings and under the counter. Paul would not permit me to have any of the
"The Green Hut" existed for, perhaps, forty or fifty years. It sat on the
street. It was wired for electricity. It was piped for natural gas and water.
Dish water was thrown on the street. Years passed before anyone
happened to think about the fact that "The Green Hut" existed without paying any
city or county taxes. It existed without having a recorded deed. It had
operated for all those years on "Squatters Rights" and was eventually closed.
"The Green Hut," however, remains in the memory of those who knew it as that
little building that sat on the street in Dawson, Texas, across from The Dawson
Lumber Company..and just north of the Cotton Belt Depot..and...that never..in all the
world was there a hamburger as good as those created..at "The Green Hut."
Submitted by Carl W