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And they’re off! Here we go a shop-eling

The Christmas shopping season is in full swing and so has the mad dash to get everything done before all the kinfolk start gatherin’ around the icicle-strewn Douglas fir tree to open presents.
I remember waking to the smell of bacon frying Christmas morning. As I rushed into the living room, the tree would sparkle with what seemed like a thousand stars. I just knew that I caught a glimpse of Santa as the jolly old elf was moving about the house the night before.
There were so many beautifully wrapped red, green, silver and gold packages that my mother carefully placed under the tree, only to see all her handiwork destroyed in a matter of minutes Christmas morning.
My parents worked hard to put inside those packages items we had our eyes on, that we said we just could not live without. I know there were times they sacrificed what they wanted so that we would have a memorable Christmas. It is amazing though, since reaching adulthood I realized that “our wants will not hurt us.” If we do not get something we want, it is not going to be the end of world. In fact, in most cases, it is probably for the best.
I know my parents also were awakened much as I was with the smell of homemade buttermilk biscuits cooking in the oven. I’m sure they and their siblings rushed in to see the tree and their stockings filled with their presents.
Unlike my brothers and I, many in my parents’ generation were lucky to receive an orange, a stick of candy and maybe some small toy that their parents scraped and saved to buy. Toys were usually a luxury, as practical items like shoes or clothes were more likely.
My parents worked to give me and my brothers more Christmas gifts than they knew. Even more than the gifts they shared with us, it was the true spirit of the season that stands in my memory today.
As we push through the crowds of shoppers at Wal-Mart, we see the aisles covered in Barbies and GI Joes, icicle lights, and light-up Santa statues of every shape and size with which we can adorn our homes. When we attend the church plays and school recitals, we should remember really what the spirit of Christmas is, as we recognize the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In the center of the celebration are our families. We are given the opportunity to pause and remember God’s greatest gift to us, his son.
Children today would probably look back and say what little many of our parents had for their childhood holidays. Back then they did not know they only had a little, because they had as much as any of their neighbors and in many cases more. During the holidays, our family gathered together around a table set with a mouth-watering feast prepared by loving hands with the ingredients available no matter how meager or abundant. The family would make a trip into the woods and select a tree off the farm, which they cut down and brought back home. The family decorated the tree with popcorn strings, construction paper chains and ornaments they crafted by hand.
Like the decorations, many of the gifts they shared were also fashioned by the hands of the parents, grandparents or siblings.
To me more than the toys, I remember what our family did together.
At our family dinners, mother always made it a point to include a neighbor or relative who was alone. While the holiday can be joyous for some, for others who are alone due to distance or the loss of a loved one, the time can be unbearable. Including someone outside the immediate family in your holiday festivities reminds us and our young people the importance of caring about others.
We always worked to gather items for those in need. Sometimes we knew them, sometimes we didn’t. Whether it was clothes, toys, or food, we tried to make someone else’s holiday better. I remember one year my mother and dad worked to gather and repair old bicycles to improve the holiday for the children of a large family.
I learned to cook very early. One of my tasks was to help prepare the Christmas cookies, which we shared with others who might not have them.
I’ll never forget one year. I thought I would help by getting a jump on the baking tasks, so I followed my grandmother’s cookie recipe. What I did not realize is that I had to adjust the mixture for the use of self-rising rather than plain flour. So, let’s just say the salt I added gave a new meaning to the words bitter sweet. But the gallons we prepared were still eaten, with more wanted and needed.
No matter what you plan for the holidays, remember it is not how brightly you decorate your home, the expense or number of the gifts you buy or the volume at which you play and sing the beloved carols that make it Christmas. It is what you do with your family to make it a memory that will stand for a lifetime, not only for you but for all those your family can touch this Christmas season. Take the time to make a difference. God never promised tomorrow, so make sure this holiday counts. You may just change a life —yours!

Lights, carols and sadness

Christmas for many is filled with favorites – food, music, decorations, and family.

But for many the month of December is filled with reminders of what can be overcome in other months of the year.

Loneliness is a feeling that many manage throughout the year. When Christmas comes around though up goes the beauty of the colored lights and crowds flock to shopping malls to fill their stockings and beneath their trees. Folks are hosting parties, calendars are filled with special events in towns, churches, and at schools and all we see reminds us of the blessings of the season.

You would think that all these activities would make those who are lonely feel better especially if they are able to participate. They are fun while they last and do bring spirits up. Often seeing others having fun together at malls or parties only brings on greater depths of missing loved ones or lost opportunities at love once the lights fade and sounds go silent.

Eventually, the individual must return to their home, to the four walls and empty halls. This is when the sadness of the season sinks in.

Does this mean we should not try to uplift others during this season of love? No, it means we should only try harder to make a difference in the lives of those God sends our way who are alone in life. God made all types of people, some are quite sufficient on their own. But there are those who need us to remind them each day, each week that they are not alone.

Are you helping in this effort? Is there a relative who may be widowed? A friend who is single? A child who is orphaned? Can you make this season better for them? Will you help them when the lights fade and the music goes silent?

We are here to encourage one another. This Christmas season, I urge you to remember that God sent His Son to save us from the loneliness of this world and remind us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

If we do anything this season, let’s remember that for life to be better for those around us, it begins with us. If I feel lonely, I think of what I was taught by a now 102-year-old – the advice her father gave to her: “If you want a friend, you have to be a friend.” It’s amazing how uplifting it is to spend your time helping others. It has always made a difference in my life. Go out and be a friend – it’s a wonderful Christmas gift!

The Christmas shine is for sharing

“Here’s the boxes of outside lights,” I said as I handed them down the attic stairs to my father Floyd.
Next came the interior boxes that were spread on the floor of the living room for my mother Pearl to sift through. A few hops up and down the attic ladder and all the Christmas decorations were strewn on the living room floor.
The holly climbed the wall by our front door, the bushes were full and green in front of the red-brick ranch-style house and the greenery made a perfect location to hold up numerous strings of Christmas lights.
As we moved beyond Thanksgiving, it fell on my father and I to bring my childhood home’s exterior into the Christmas spirit.
“Dad, have you seen the extra light bulbs, we got several out in this string,” I said as I raised my head seeing him standing on a ladder placing a power cord.
The lights were long strings some with full-sized colored bulbs, some with smaller ones. Of course, the first task was making sure all the bulbs worked before placing them. This was my job as my dad ran the electrical cords providing the power.
“There still in the boxes,” he said, so I was up and sticking my hands down through a spider web of wires searching for the box of bulbs.
After getting all the lights in place the final act of exterior decorations was the placement of a large lighted Santa Claus face was hung in the holly by our front door.
By the time this was done we moved inside to set up the faux fireplace, where our stockings were hung and assisted mother with the placement of various items around the house including lighted candles for all the windows and in then we would assemble our artificial tree and add the decorations and lights.
We always worked together to make the tree look just right. We didn’t always have an artificial tree, that came when my health was so weak that live trees caused breathing issues.
We built some wonderful memories preparing for the Christmas season as friends and family flowed in and out of our brightly decorated home.  It was the backdrop of so much joy and laughter, tears of sorrow, and lessons learned.
I watched as both my mother and father welcomed others into our home who had no one to share the holidays with. I participated as my father refurbished bicycles and peddle cars for needy children, and as my mother collected and boxed foods for needy families. Christmas is always brighter with the shiny decorations that we wrap our live within. Let’s not forget that the greatest gift of Christmas was the baby Jesus that charged each of us with loving our neighbor as ourselves. Share the shine that God gave you in your life by loving your neighbors.

The new stove for Christmas

The family had already gathered in the valley below the Gravelly Spur for an unbelievable feast of ham garnished with pineapple, green beans in a dish surrounded by little pearl onions, mashed potatoes and gravy, and dandelion greens seasoned with just the right amount of pepper and fresh churned butter.
The dinner was topped off with one of Grandma Kitty’s pumpkin pies.
She carefully prepared each item in her cast iron pots over the open flames of the hearth. She never complained about all the work that was involved in keeping the fire stoked and having to keep such close tabs on each item to make sure they were just right.
The days following Thanksgiving always meant there would be some leftovers for the family to enjoy in a variety of creations that she would lovingly craft to give the family the illusion that they were not eating the same dishes each meal.
For years, she toiled to make the three meals a day for her ever-growing family. One day when the family went to town that summer, Grandpa Bill noticed her lingering in Ollison’s General Store around a catalog with pictures of some new wood cooking stoves.
Although she never said a word, he saw in her eyes the desire she had for a wrought iron Home Comfort stove.
He decided then and there that she would have one. So he made an arrangement with Mr. Ollison to buy the stove, paying a bit at a time through the rest of the year to have it arrive just before Christmas.
Grandpa Bill had managed to keep the purchase a secret from the entire family. He even arranged for everyone to be gone to visit Cousin Winfrey Small so that when Mr. Ollison arrived in his wagon on Dec. 23, with a tarp covering the contents, no one could see.
Mr. Ollison and Grandpa Bill unloaded the stove and set it in the kitchen. He had worked all morning preparing the stove pipe so he could get it hooked up and have it ready when she returned.
He was making the last adjustment as he heard the wagon pull up in the yard. He quickly pulled a bit of red ribbon into a bow and set it in the middle of the stove. He sat down quietly at the table with his newspaper in his hand as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
As the kids rushed into the house, they did not even notice the large stove in the kitchen until Grandma Kitty dropped the pail she was carrying with her Christmas cookies inside. She stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, her hand over her mouth, holding back a flood of tears as she saw the stove.
The sound of the pail hitting the floor brought all the kids to the kitchen, and they began hovering around the stove.
Pearl said, “Did Santa come early?”
Grandpa Bill said, “Yes, he said he would be back in a couple of days, but he thought your mother might like to have her present early.”
Grandma Kitty had moved quietly to her kitchen chair, sitting down slowly, never taking her eyes off the stove except to wipe away the tears of joy flowing down her cheek.
Pearl said, “Why are you so sad about getting a present?”
“I’m not sad dear, I am just so happy I could not help crying,” she said.
“So you like the new stove?” she asked.
“I have never gotten a better present from Santa in my life,” she said.
She rose and gave Grandpa Bill a big hug.
“Thank you for telling Santa what I wanted,” she said.
“If he could, he would give you so much more,” he said.
“I have everything I need right here,” she said, as she gathered all her children close and hugged them tightly.

“The New Stove” is from Randall Franks’s “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”

A mountain elf

The winds pounded upon the side of the house sitting in the shadow of Gravelly Spur Mountain and seeped beneath the cracks around the windows and doors letting the chill of winter in the walls warmed by the wood stacked and burning in the fireplace.

The sound of bells tinkled as they were pulled from a wood box which sat by the evergreen tree placed with love in the corner of the main room.

Pearl tied the small bells with yarn to the boughs. In a small pan, Grandma Kitty popped corn which would soon string into lengths to surround the tree from top to bottom.

“Well, that should be enough,” she said. “Everyone find a place and let’s get busy.”

The time spent stringing brought all the family ‘round to sit upon every open space as stories of Christmas passed were recalled and hopes and wishes for the coming yuletide rang through the laughter.

“I want a wagon,” Nellie said as Pearl used her to model the popcorn string instead of the tree.

Little Ma, Grandad Bill’s grandmother sat closest to the fire with her sewing in hand, refreshing the dress of the angel which he would soon place on the treetop when all was said and done.

Soon one of the children started singing “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and the rest would join in as the work continued.

A knock at the door brought Bill to find no one there. He stepped outside on the porch seeing no one in sight and not a footprint visible in the light smattering of snow on the ground.

“No one is around,” he said as he returned to his work.

“It was the mountain elf making sure we were hard at work preparing for Christmas morn,” Little Ma said.

“The mountain elf,” what’s that Pearl said as she rushed by her side at the fire.

“You see when our people came to the mountains, from Scotland and Ireland, many of them came with their trunks filled with clothes and bits and pieces of the past from the old country. The elves crawled in alongside the bits and pieces and came to live here with us,” she said.

“What do the look like?” Pearl asked.

“I’ve never seen one but they say they are just like us but smaller,” she said. “They watch after the bits and pieces and make sure they are cared for.”

“Why did they bang on the door,” Pearl asked.

“The bells and this angel were some of the bits and pieces that came over and have passed down through the years,” she said. “They like to see us using them, it reminds them of home. Christmas is the time of year when we all think of home and what has come before and hopefully what will be. I think that is why they knocked, so they could look inside when the door opened. I think when we hang the bells and they ring, it brings them.”

“Do they help Santa on Christmas, is that why you call them an elf?” Pearl said.

“In a way, we are all mountain elves, we all tend to each other’s things, look after one another and help make sure that what is needed be gotten, if it can be got,” she said. “So I reckon they do help him, just like each of us do dear. Now, we best be gettin’ this tree decorated or Christmas will be come and gone and we will have missed it.”

The group begins to sing “Jingle Bells” as the popcorn is wrapped around the tree and the bells swing and ring. Pearl runs to look out the front window to see if a mountain elf may be spying from the other side.

An American composer

I was recently saddened to learn of the passing of one of America’s lesser known Christmas composers – Benjamin “Tex” Logan, 87.

Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Mike Seeger, The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover, The Charles River Boys, Peter Rowan and the Green Grass Gringos and his Northeast Seaboard Blues Band.

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Lights are flickering and the halls are decked

Flickering lights shimmered in the breeze hanging from trees, light poles, porch eaves and buildings as I drove around my hometown last week.

It is such a heartwarming sight to see the efforts made both by our city staff and individual property owners to raise people’s spirits during the Christmas season. For me the warmth generated within by the beautiful decorations helps to make my hopes swell watching to see the goodness and kindness that so many exhibit during the season.

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“Let’s Live Every Day Like It Was Christmas”

It was just over 20 years ago when two-time Dove Award nominee Mark Wheeler of the Marksmen Quartet and I created a Christmas song beckoning listeners to do just that – “Let’s Live Every Day Like It Was Christmas.”

Millions around the world have heard songs or tunes I penned for radio, movies or television but none has had the widespread impact on listeners that it did.
Perhaps it was the simple message based in experience and the easy reminder that Christmas is about “the baby king who gave the world a chance.”
For me I always get caught up in the sentimentality of the season – the lights, the songs, the parades, the church services and programs. They always seem to take me back to my childhood and the excitement that mounted as Christmas day drew closer.
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Christmas time is on its way….

Jingle Bells, Silver Bells and one-horse open sleighs seem to say for me Christmas is on its way.

I hear the bells ringing from every place of wonder, their tones overcome the hustle and bustle and it’s hard to even count their number.

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Love of the season

“I’d Rather Be An Old-Time Christian Than Anything I Know.

There’s Nothing Like An Old-Time Christian With A Christian Love To Show.”

Those are the words that Albert E. Brumley chose to lead the chorus of this classic gospel song. To me the most important words there are “With A Christian Love To Show.”

Although it is something we should apply each and every day there is no better time to put it in practice than Christmas.

Christian love, what does that mean?

A love given in a Christ like manner; a love given in the name of Christ; a love shared on behalf of our savior; a love that has no bounds because it was initially shared with us by God himself to share with others.

While I realize these are just my meager attempts to describe what God wishes us to show to all we meet, if we just look around us, we can see the true aspect of Christian love within our community.

We can see it in neighbor helping neighbor. We can see it in the food pantries helping families be fed. We can see it in one child sharing his or her toy with a less fortunate child.

Wouldn’t this be a wonderful world if we knew that a helping hand was a close as the nearest person to you? While that may seem like an improbability, at Christmas time, we collectively seem to get closer than in other times of the year to finding a sense of greater purpose than clinging to our own needs and desires.

Each year, my hopes for America, my hopes for my fellow man are renewed. If there was no Christmas time, I am afraid many would forget that we are suppose to show each other Christian love.

I am thankful that in other times of the year we have wonderful songs written by icons like Albert E. Brumley to remind us.

Brumley brought us songs such as “I’ll Fly Away,” “I’ll Meet You In the Morning,” “I Firmly Promise You” and countless others.

His family through the work of Bob Brumley has brought a regular opportunity for gospel performers and gospel fans alike to reflect on all the music Brumley gave us to honor God at the annual Brumley Gospel Sing in Lebanon, Mo each August.

Now my Brumley friends Kevin and Betsy (Brumley) Bernier at I’ll Fly Away Productions have made it possible for you to bring dozens of performances from the 40th Annual Brumley Gospel Sing into your home and enjoy them over and over again.

The seven-volume DVD collection features over 200 songs and 15 hours of entertainment including some of the biggest Southern gospel music stars: Karen Peck and New River, Dixie Melody Boys, Dove Brothers, Primitive Quartet, Booth Brothers, Tim Lovelace, Kingsmen, Diplomats, The Dixie Echoes, The Lesters, Mark Bishop, Mark Trammell Trio, Gospel Enforcers, The Perrys, Palmetto State Quartet, McKameys, The Morlan Family, Blackwood Brothers Quartet, Chuck Wagon Gang, The Whisnants, The Tribute Quartet, Aaron Wilburn, The Lewis Family, Geraldine and Ricky, Larry DeLawder, and a historical volume including Albert E. Brumley and the history of the Brumley Gospel Sing.

Friends, as I sat and watched these performances it warmed my heart to hear and see so many friends sharing their love of the Lord in music. That is what these folks are to me – friends, and I know the same is true for many of you who care about their lives of service the music and comedy shared to lift our loads.

The DVD set is available for $119.95 plus $10 shipping or individual volumes for $24.95 plus $6.95 shipping. You may find more information at www.ifaproductions.com.

Merry Christmas to each of you…