Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas's Remembered

If you were a kid who grew up in the late forties or early fifties you can Totally relate to Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) in A Christmas story.  I even remember one Christmas my brother got a BB gun almost exactly like the Red Ryder model in this movie.  This is my one of my favorite movies of all times mostly because it is MY childhood too.

When I was little we always had a real tree that my dad would pick out of the tree lot downtown.  And huge bulbs on the Christmas lights.  After a couple of hours you could smell the Pine smell because those honkin' big bulbs were scorching the tree! needles.  Yikes, no wonder people had fires.

Then in the early 60's my mother decided the real tree was old-fashioned and we had to have a Modern Christmas tree.  She bought a silver aluminum tree---yes aluminum.

It looked a lot like this one.  I remember she put all blue bulbs on it.  No lights though and as a ten-year old I REALLY wanted Christmas lights.  You couldn't have them on the aluminum trees because of the danger of electrical shock.  Sigh.  The next year my mother bought a light with a colored wheel that would shine on the tree and change it from red to blue to green to yellow.  Not the same but it was a compromise.

Christmas would always start for us on Christmas Eve when we participated in the annual Christmas Pageant at Church.  For YEARS, I longed to be the Main Angel who announced to the congregation that "Christ the Lord has been Born."  Well I was always a shepherd, probably because I was too little to be the Main Angel.  Slowly I got promoted through the ranks to various sub-angel and shepherd positions until Finally in Sixth Grade I WAS the Main Angel.  It was rather Anti-Climatic by the time I was that old.  It would have been much more fun when I was five.

We would open our presents after Santa came early Christmas morning.  Then about eleven am we would get bundled up to go to our maternal grandparents house.  Now Grandma Desotel knew how to put up a Christmas tree.  It always reached almost to the tip top of her foyer.

Most people used tinsel on their trees.  We used to before the aluminum thing happened.  Now days tinsel is outlawed because it contained lead.  I think what is on the market now is a poor substitute for the shiny bright tinsel of my childhood.

But Grandma DeSotel didn't use ANY tinsel on her beautiful tree.  She always used Angel Hair.
Angel hair was a spun fiberglass product.  She would carefully drape it on the tree and it would diffuse the lights from her bulbs.  She also had tons of shiny bright ornaments and a big star on top of the tree.  I always thought as a child, my Grandma Desotel had the best Christmas Tree in the Entire Midwest.

Christmas dinner was a big affair at Grandma and Grandpa's.  All the cousins were there and there was a big bunch of us.  One of the first years Grandpa DeSotel had made rocking horses for the two grandsons  and desks for the two granddaughters.  Later we grew to eleven grandsons and four grand-daughters so handmade gifts became impractical.

I asked my Aunt a few years back what her most memorable Christmas had been as a child.  She said it was the Christmas she was five years old so that would have been around 1938 or so.  Every Christmas their Grandpa and Grandma DeSotel (that would have my great grandparents) would drive their old Model T into town to have Christmas Dinner at their home.  But one year the snow was simply too deep for the old car to make it.  The son that was still living at home, Uncle Joe, harnessed up the old mare that hadn't been used for many years to the cutter and they drove her into town.  Then Uncle Joe took all the kids out on the cutter for a sleigh ride.  My Aunt said that WAS the greatest Christmas of them all; the one they almost did not have because the snow was so deep.

Later in the afternoons we would drive 3 miles to the next town and have supper at my paternal Grandmother's.  No big Christmas trees at her small home; she had been widowed before I was born.  And the cousins were not as numerous so the celebration was more mundane and not as boisterous as two of the cousins were older than I and only one was younger.  Grandmother Funk always had a huge supper with plenty of homemade goodies.  One of my favorites was her canned cinnamon crabapples and her homemade groundcherry jam.  I've not been able to duplicate either as an adult due to the lack of correct crabapples and lack of groundcherries in Wyoming.

What are your Christmas memories as a child?  I think Christmas and it's celebrations have changed tremendously over the years.  It's much more commercial now than it was fifty years ago and I'm not sure that is for the better.

Happy Holidays to all of You from Sixty Miles North of Nowhere.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Civil War Soldier's Promise is Kept

In the earlier post aout the journey home of Thomas Logan Johnson, I mentioned he had promised his wife, Julia, a home like they had had in Tenneesee.

Ten years after their arrival home, the home was built on their farm 2 miles south of Beulah, Missouri.  There were no nails in the home, rather pegs were whittled by the boys to secure the home together.  My husband's great grandfather was ten years old at the time, so that would have put the year at 1877 when they built the home.

It was described to me 'as the style where the hall goes all the way through the house'.  That would mean it was a 'dog trot' which is reasonable since Tenneesee was known for it's dog trot cabins.

A single story dog-trot cabin located in Lincoln Parish, LA.  Photo from Wilkipedia

After the first winter, they had to close in the 'dog-trot' as it was too cold in Missouri in the winter to leave it completely open.  The house was also described as large so I've assumed it was a 2 story dogtrot which was quite rare.  Was this like the one they had in Tenneesee where Logan had grown up as a boy?  I don't know, but it's fun to surmise.
A two story dog-trot cabin that is in Alabama.  Also from Wilkipedia.
Sadly, the Johnson Dog-Trot cabin burned to the ground during the early days of the Great Depression.  Toledo Johnson's sister, known as Aunt Mattie, a daughter of Logan and Julia, was living in the home at the time.   It probably also explains why there are no known mementos of Logan's CSA service nor any photos of the family.  It must have all went up in flames.

The caption says this is a photo of Toledo Johnson, the baby conceived on the long journey home from war, holding his first great grandchild in 1942.  The lady is Florence, his wife, holding the same baby.  The photo was taken on their farm near Houston, Missouri.

I am glad that neither Logan nor Julia lived to see their fine cabin burned to the ground.  I think they would have found that very distressing.  I only wish I could find a picture of it. 

As I've mentioned, we are planning to go to the area and re-trace the steps home that Logan and Julia would have taken from Claiborne Parish, Louisana, back to Beulah, Missouri.  I just discovered that Road Scholar (used to be called Elderhostel) has a 5 day program in September of 2012 in Springfield, Missouri on "The Civil War West of the Mississippi River".  I think that sounds like a delightful way to start our journey and will check out the details.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Most Despicable Act

More Civil War Family History from Missouri

Terror lasts but for brief moments in one's life during war; but the memory, sorrow, and hatred can go on for generations.....and that was certainly true for one branch of our family in Missouri.

Thomas Logan Johnson, the Confederate soldier in my previous post, was an ancestor on our "Nanny" maternal side of the family.  On Nanny's paternal side, this tale has survived the generations.   I believe the last name of the boy involved was Page but his first is unknown.   One of the mysteries I hope to solve at a cemetery on our upcoming trip.
Bloody Bill Anderson, one of the more famous Pro-Confederacy Raiders located in Misouri.
From Wilkipedia.

During the Civil War, and then for an extended period of time afterwards during reconstruction, Missouri bore the misery of frequent visitors to their homes called "Raiders" in our family.   The family never seemed to recognize any difference in the political leanings of the scourge and so lumped all together under the term Raiders.  Probably some were pro-Confedracy and some were pro-Union but all had Black Black Black hearts and were feared.  They would show up at your house and take what they wanted, heedless to the fact that perhaps you or your children were going to starve to death after they rode off.  While history says the Pro-Confederacy Raiders 'only' visited Pro-Union homes and visa versa, I think perhaps neither side was very picky.  If you had it and they wanted it, political leanings were damned.  They had an open license to steal and were making full use of it.
William Clarke Quantrill, another Pro-Confederacy Raider who gained noriety for being particularly ruthless and for hosting the James Brothers (Frank and Jesse) in his gang.
As I mentioned before, Phelps County, Missouri had a population of over 5,000 at the start of the war and less than 500 at the end.  This was the end result of the 'raids' on people's livestock and food stuffs and probably also included tools such as harnesses and wagons and anything else that wasn't nailed down.  Lack of cooperation while they were stealing you blind resulted in immediate punishment up to and including death.

On one such raid, as they were leading off the last remaining milk cow on the Page family farm, fourteen year old son whom I'll call Sam, called out from the front porch begging the Raiders to not take the cow as there was a young toddler in the home who needed the milk from her.  They shot him dead, on the porch, ..... in front of his mother.  And rode off with the cow.

And five generations later, our family remembers.  And is passing it on to the sixth.   A stain on the land, a strike in the heart.  No punishment is great enough for such men as those.  May they rot in the depths of hell forever.

Missouri has healed from the civil war.  And her families have endured.  May God keep us united and forever from seeing such horrors in our homeland again.