Once Upon a Time | Eastern North Carolina Now

No other holiday, is remembered with the same magnitude, as Christmas. Christmas has so many more details and the older you become, the dearer and clearer, the memories seem.

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    Publisher's note: Please join me in welcoming Author Michele Rhem, who presents us with her poignant memoirs of the Rabbit Patch, where her diaries weave tales of a simpler, expressive life lost to many, but gathered together in her most familiar environs - the Rabbit Patch.

    No other holiday, is remembered with the same magnitude, as Christmas. Christmas has so many more details and the older you become, the dearer and clearer, the memories seem. I am not old yet, but I am well on the way-at least far enough, to know that there are some memories, I hold in my own heart, that bare little resemblance to Christmas, as it is now.

    The Christmas season was well defined, just a few decades ago. when I was a child. Other than a birthday, a child never expected presents- of course shopping was different altogether. The butchers' shop held no allure for me , nor the seafood market. The A&P sold food and the hardware stores sold tools and fertilizer-and these places were our regular stops. In my earliest memories, commercials were for tonics and tobacco, for grown folks. I just never had a notion to think about toys, til just before Christmas, when the Sears & Roebuck catalog came in the mail.

    One does not need to be as old as me to remember that event. The Christmas edition had a section of toys. Mama gave us an ink pen to circle our favorites, so Santa Claus would know. I always chose a doll-not a Barbie, but a doll baby. Little girls loved their dolls a long time ago. I think it is much easier to love a doll, when you have just one. My doll family grew slowly over childhood. They were my children. They played under the grapevine with me in July and said their prayers at night. They had to nap when I was away and they got sick in the winter.

    Usually, Santa brought real glass tea sets. My sister, knocked my first tooth out with a tiny cup that had delicate blue flowers on it. There was always a game or a puzzle, fruit and nuts. We woke to the smell of fruit and knew Santa had been. I asked mama about this, when I grew up. She said, when she was young, apples and oranges were only available during the Christmas season in the grocery stores and so she had kept the practice, because of her memories. I like that, and so I buy fruit at Christmas too-enough that you smell it, all over the farmhouse. I can not say the same for the nuts. I remember my sister and I working with a hammer for the longest time to crack the shells of those nuts. We smashed our fingers and broke the cinder blocks we used to crack them on. When we finally got one open-well, it was just a nut-and not as good as the pecans we were used to.

    Christmas trees were cedar and fresh cut. I remember Daddy would find them and keep his eye on them for years, til they were big enough. Most often, they would have a "bad side, which we turned to the wall. I clearly remember, the year grandmama decided to get a "modern" tree. We went over to see it and were speechless. It was called an "aluminum tree" and was silver with bright blue ornaments. It folded up and came in a box. I thought it was the most unnatural thing I had ever seen-and it probably was. I remember thinking, that it must have come from "Hawaii" which was the furthest place away, I knew of and I reckoned things were different there.

    We always went to church on any given Sunday, but at Christmas, we sang the carols. It was my favorite music of the year-it still is. I wondered why we could only sing them at Christmas. We sang them a Sunday or two, only and we never had time to sing all of them. Thankfully, my aunt Agnes could play the piano . Her music was lively and unlike the church music. She smiled and sang while we stood by the piano, mesmerized. When we sang "Joy to the World", we meant it! She always had cakes and pies on the "deep freeze" and she cooked as well as she played the piano. Little elves lived at all my relatives' houses and Aunt Agnes' house was no different. If I dared hurried while in a house-as if I MIGHT run, an elf saw me every time-because mama saw them. She could describe them with full details down to what they were wearing-because I always asked.

    The simplicity of the Christmases past, does not make them less memorable, but instead more so, I realise. Maybe, being a child, is all it's cracked up to be and no matter how much we strive for a bigger version, we do not hinder the truest form of Christmas Spirit-but I will buy fruit anyway this year, as my mama did- and I will tell Lyla. . ."Once upon a time, people were grateful for apples and oranges."
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