By Michael Brannon
In 1997 my brother, John William (Buddy) and I wrote an article for The Commercial Appeal about our Christmas memories .. .his thoughts and mine. Read it and drift back.
Christmas Images Remembered
By Michael and John Brannon
John’s Memory: We were a large family, spanning many years from child one to child 11. Myself, the ninth, and Mike, the 11th. The first was born before the Great Depression, the last after World War II.
Having become a parent of three children myself, I think I caught a glimpse of what’s involved in raising 11. In this day and time – no, in any day and time – it’s a scary prospect. I’m not going to snow you by saying we never fussed and fought. We did, vigorously.
We also had problems and heartaches similar to other families. But, there were good times and lots of happiness, too. Especially around the table at Christmas. By its very nature, a large family generates its own memorable moments, little patchwork reflections of the whole quilt. Not all have to do with the kids getting into some kind of devilment, and God knows we had plenty of that.
Memorable moments may originate in any setting at any time of year. Some of my fondest are at Christmas. I think that’s when I fell head-over-heels for those little orange-colored slices of soft sugared candy. On Christmas morning they’d be crammed amongst apples, oranges, peanuts, gum and other goodies in an old makeshift stocking hung from the mantelpiece some time in the quiet of the night.
Each of us had his or her own stocking, fat with candy-counter confections. It was OK to sit down, explore, pick and choose, and gorge ourselves to happy oblivion. Truly, it came only once a year, that benevolent binge.
About 2 p.m. on Christmas Day, we would all sit down together for Christmas dinner. As sacred as Sunday dinner is down South, it was both a seasonal and family event. There’d they be: Daddy at one end of the table, mother at the other, the rest of us crowded in-between. If we were lucky, older brothers and sisters, maybe in-laws and cousins, would be there, too.
When we first sat down at that sumptuous spread, my first impulse was to reach out and grab. But, I knew better. Thou shalt not touch one morsel until we have all paused with heads bowed and given thanks. Only then could we get on with the tasty business at hand, and I wanted some of it all.
There was the legendary chicken and dressing as only mother could make it. There was roast or fat ham or plump turkey, it, too, stuffed with cornbread dressing. There were creamed potatoes and brown gravy, giblet gravy, English peas, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, tomato salad, hot biscuits or cornbread, both baked to perfection with just the right crust. There was coconut cake or pie, chocolate pie, pecan pie and egg custard pie.
But, all these delights paled in comparison to her glorious, glorious ambrosia, always heaped in a big bowl, always out of my reach. For me, the ambrosia was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. During the rest of the year, mother’s steaming, hot stuffed bell peppers were a pleasant first alternate. It was then and is now a genuine wonder that she could cook so much so well so long for so many.
I remember standing tiptoe once, peering around her elbow as her floured hand dipped another piece of chicken into a pan of hot, bubbling grease. Her words spoken then are as clear to me now as though she were standing across the room: “I don’t go by a recipe, I just cook.”
And cook she did, with seeming grace and ease. Yet she still found time to sit down with us at the table, talk, laugh and enjoy the meal and glow of the family gathering. Time goes on its way though.
I am now on the far side of 50, and standing toe-to-toe with 60. These memories date back to the late 1940s and 1950s when I delivered The Commercial Appeal each morning, and when you could see a Saturday afternoon movie for a dime.
Memorable moments in one’s life, such as a large family gathering end and pass on to wherever events large and small gather, perhaps somewhere beyond the universe. We can’t recall them as easily as we press a button and rewind a tape, but, we can summon them from somewhere on the horizon line of precious memories.
Michael’s Memory: As for myself, I try to keep my parents alive on a daily basis, much like my brother John. But, Christmastime seems to yank at the heartstrings a little more than the rest of the year. Looking below the surface of what was achieved with so little back in those days, makes life seem downhill now.
The trips to the store so each child could receive something from Santa, and our stockings would be filled on those cold Christmas mornings. Dad got up early and built the fire, those in the fireplace, and the one in the woodstove on which mother cooked all those years.
Much effort goes into creating memories for children. Some came from mother and daddy, and some came from the older brothers and sisters, who knew what it took to create that Christmas morning scene to bring joy to a younger child.
On Christmas morning in 1952, I awoke to find a Roy Rogers cowboy outfit with double holsters, hat with a braided chin strap to hold it on, (in case I got to riding my “mop horse” too fast), black pants and jacket, which was placed under the tree that night by my older sister, Lucy, who, at that time was married and living in Memphis. Of course, I thought Santa was responsible. It came from her at a time when I would not even consider asking for such a gift.
Up until that time, I usually got one toy, a small car or truck, and the stocking with apples, oranges, firecrackers, sparklers, Brazil nuts, gum and candy. Each Christmas when I relive my memories, I shut my eyes and again thank her. She filled my heart as even today, she doesn’t realize.
Before the sun had come up in the east, I had dressed fully in the outfit, strapped on both guns, loaded them with the roll of caps that was also purchased by her, and started practicing my “draw” for a kid who lived down the dirt road from us. Now he was a little more financially blessed than we were but I had faster hands. I was sure I could easily “clear leather” like Lash LaRue.
I walked down the narrow dirt road past the Doolittles’ house to where my friend, Jimmy Randle lived. He, too, had received a gun and holster (single) for Christmas. Face to face in Dodge City, 20 paces apart, we stared at each other with blank expressions.
He went for his, but, I immediately blew his bu– off, and then returned home to enjoy the contents of my Christmas stocking. In later years, and probably to this day, he would argue he won. As a child, victory is in the mind.
Back in 1987, before mother passed away, she wrote a Christmas poem, probably thinking it would simply stay in that small book where she jotted down some memories … those that we will pass down to our children. She titled it “A Poem.” Most likely because it was in the small diary in which she logged many Christmas memories.
‘A Poem’ by Viola Brannon
How sweet to remember our Christmas past, The old-fashioned joys we once knew, Those happy moments we treasure so, How fleeting each one of them flew. And somehow, no matter, what years bring, And no matter where fast steps roam, Always Christmas touches our hearts, Our thoughts start meandering home.
Memories are like the warm sunshine on a cold winter day. You want to turn your head towards the sun, shut your eyes and feel the warmth those Christmas seasons provided. Not a Christmas, and also not many a day, goes by that my thoughts don’t return home.
Eupora native Michael Brannon of Hernando may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.