Vardy's First Christmas Decorations
By Josephine Leonard
An excerpt from the book "Windows on the Past" ęCopyright 2002 by Vardy community Historical Society, INC.
It was Christmas eve in 1910 in the narrow Vardy Valley, where I was later to live for more than 30 years. There was a swell of feeling rising like a glad tide over the outside world, but here there might be drinking and shooting. As a counter attraction, the Missionary Woman wanted to keep Christmas with a tree and gifts from churches in far-off cities, thus emphasizing the true way to keep the festival of the Christ-child.
How to avoid trouble beforehand was the problem. Her people had never heard of decorating their small homes on the outside, but at her suggestion, they went at it with a will. Each house was flanked with green boughs, and these hung with scraps of paper, bits of cloth, tin tobacco signs, anything with color. Three small prizes were offered for the most attractive trimming.
One enthusiastic woman worked two days and two nights without taking off her clothes to make old newspapers into trimmings, snipping the whole night thru by the light from her hearth. The art child of her brain was a rose formed of three paper discs of descending sizes, notched around the edges and fastened flat one upon the other.
Sukey commented, "While I set there a workin', I'd git so happy that I'd find myself a mumblin', and a singin'. And a laughin' and a shoutin' to myself."
An old woman came walking down the valley to "take Christmas" with her folks. "Sakes," she cried, "What's took Blackwater?"
Aunt Hiley Ann replied with lofty unconcern, "Oh, we're just a prettyin' up for Christmas."
A man riding thru the Valley carried the news that he even met an old hog running down the road with a twig "a stickin' outta each ear."
By this time not a soul in the community would have gotten drunk, feeling that he was setting the whole county an example. Since only a mountain man could set a relative value on the decorations, three of them set out as judges. The young men gathered at the church house to hang the gifts. They hung the walls with greens, and a whole gleaming holly tree stood ready for its load of wonderful presents.
The Missionary Woman heard a commotion and ran to see a democratic throng going to meet the judges. The group included men, women, children, hunting dogs giving quick yaps of excitement, two nervous hens squawking in terror and Miss Rankin (a cow named for the Missionary Woman) in the center joyously switching her tail. There were shouts of merriment and the punctuation blare of a tin horn, and somewhere down the road the ringing of a farm bell broke in.
Sukey said, "I wuz never so happy in all my life. I jest wanted to yell, but I thot everybody'd think I'd gone plumb crazy, so I choked and swallered it down till I thot I'd bust. Then I heerd the bells a ringin'. An' I sed, 'Childern, we ain't got no bell to ring, but let's sing her'. So we sung her, O' the Heaven Bells Is Ringin. 'SING Childern, sing!, or I'll bust my bosom!' It jest fitted the 'casion and before I know'd it, I wuz a flappin' my arms and a shoutin'.
"When Uncle Lonnie came a ridin' along with a flag, his face just shone as if he will never face it to the world agin. 'Childern, oh, the heaven bells is a ringin'. When I heerd that horn, I sed, 'That's Gabriel a blarin' his trumpet. Seems like this place is just heaven, and he's a blowin' his horn. Shure, the Lord is here this day. He is right here a walkin' up and down the road. Childern, why shouldn't He be here as well as anywheres else?'"
In the church house, lighted candles glittered on the holly tree with its load of red berries and gifts. Santa held sway until the time came to close with carols, the first ever sung in that little church. The strength of these venerable songs is in their objectiveness. The people really saw the guiding star as it journeyed from afar. If it were trip by mule back over mountain roads, what matter so long as they brought the true gifts of the spirit of the new born King?
"Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed."
To them it was no tradition dulled by repetition; it was a fact. They knew from their own experience the insufficiency of such shelter. They'd heard the rustle of the fodder and the slow munching of the cattle in the dark. They knew the pain and joy of it.
"And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall."
Sukey was right. The Lord did walk up and down their road that day. And life ever after was different to those who heard the sound of His garments as He passed.