Sweet Christmas Memories
By: Ellen Keaton
What comes to your mind when you hear the word Christmas? I think of several things … the baby born in a manger, Jesus, the twinkling lights everywhere, and my family. As I get older, I seem to remember things from the past and realize how amazing they were. Christmas is one of those. My mom was the oldest of four children born to Ollie James and Gladys McCarty. My Grandpa Ollie died on the USS Hoel during World War II when Mom was only five years old. They grew up very poor in an old two-story log house on Davis Branch in Kentucky. Each of the McCarty children eventually got married and left home to start their own families, and Granny remarried Edward Hicks, who was known to all of the grandchildren as “Paw Ed.”
There was one time of year that everyone came back to that old log house where they still lived … Christmas. The memories are as vivid in my mind today as then. The house had no modern conveniences, heat, running water, bathrooms. You could smell the wood burning in the open fireplace in one room and from the potbelly stove in the other. A fresh cut pine tree stood in the corner. It wasn’t one of the perfectly shaped trees that you see on the lot. Instead, it was one that Paw Ed had gotten on the hill, cut down and dragged in. From the time I could remember, the tree had bubble lights on it every year. I was always intrigued with how they worked. There was always so much food, turkey and dressing and all that went with it.
It was the one time of year that all the cousins were together in one place… and there were a LOT of cousins. I can’t remember not going to Granny’s at Christmas. We always had presents and of course none of us kids wanted to eat because we just wanted the presents. They weren’t expensive gifts; many of them were clothes that were handmade with lots of love. It didn’t matter because we were family — alive, healthy and together. Even today, whenever any of the cousins are together, we all remember the Christmas’s in that old log house and the love that was there.
The years came and went, and we all grew up and started our own families. Paw Ed was diagnosed with cancer and there was one last Christmas together. As I think back today, it’s hard to believe that was 46 years ago this Christmas … I remember it so clearly. My first child was five months old, which meant there were five generations at that Christmas dinner. Years went by, and each of us was so busy with our own families that we just didn’t get together again.
A few years ago, after only seeing each other at too many funerals, everyone decided it was time to have a family Christmas again. We gathered at a church fellowship hall because the family was so large now. There were 89 of us there that night, which still didn’t include everyone. It was almost as if no time had passed at all. There was laughter, kids everywhere, too much food and most importantly, family. The last time we were all able to gather was in 2019, and at 99 Granny was still able to attend. That year there were children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren. This year Granny is 102 years old, and there are six generations of McCartys totaling well over 100 direct blood descendants of Ollie and Gladys McCarty. What a blessed family I have!
As I look back, it wasn’t the “things” we had in life growing up that made Christmas special, but rather the family and the love. I am guilty of wanting the “perfect” Christmas …. you know like the ones you see on television. The ones where the houses are perfectly decorated, everyone is dressed in their best clothes sitting down to a beautiful table. I have figured out life isn’t a Hallmark movie and sometimes it is messy and out of control. I wouldn’t trade the memories I have of Christmas with the McCarty clan for anything.
This Christmas think about the important things in life … the baby in the manger and the memories you are making for your children and grandchildren. Don’t stress about the things around you and remember those who helped shape your life. I will gather with my mom and our family, which by the way has grown to quite a crew over the years. I will also visit with Granny at the nursing home with my grandchildren, and cherish the memories from my childhood — thankful to have one more Christmas with this amazing woman.