From my earliest childhood I have always loved Christmas. Soon after Thanksgiving every year (but never before), my sister (two years younger than I), my brother (nine years younger than I), and I would start talking about Christmas. Within a few days, daddy would come home from work and tell us he had heard on the radio that Christmas was going to be cancelled that year. That became one of his standing jokes, and we soon learned to expect it every year. He sometimes teased the neighborhood kids with it, but the fact is that he enjoyed Christmas as much as anybody.
My parents always saw that my sister, brother, and I got several (though certainly not all) of the things we wanted for Christmas, as well as various items of clothing and other everyday essentials. After the excitement and boisterous activities of early Christmas morning, Christmas day was often spent with one or the other set of my grandparents, both of whom lived within a thirty mile drive or less of our home. Aunts, uncles, and cousins also were sometimes present. Living in the panhandle of Florida usually meant mild, balmy weather, with plenty of opportunity to play outside and enjoy our Christmas presents.
Our family moved to Florence, AL in the summer of 1953 and our first Christmas there Hilda’s (my sister) closest friend, Patricia (Pat) Goff came from DeFuniak Spring, FL to spend Christmas with us. The Goffs had been our neighbors in Florida, and we were all glad to see Pat and to get news from neighbors and former schoolmates back in Florida.
Following my parents’ move back to Florida in the summer of 1955, I did not see them again until that Christmas when I went home from Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, TN for the Christmas break. It had been six months since I had seen them and it was good to be home. It was during this holiday break that I preached in my first ever gospel meeting with the Liberty Church of Christ in Walton County, FL. That event added to the memories of the Christmas of 1955. I was a few days shy of my 18th birthday when the meeting ended.
The Christmas of 1957 was Jan’s and my first Christmas as a newly married couple. We were still students at Freed-Hardeman College and we went to her parents’ home in Loudon, TN for the holidays. Her sister and her family were there from Rossville, KS, her brother (fresh out of the military) and his family were there, and we all had a wonderful time. My mother and father sent Jan and me a nice Christmas box from Florida. Though we had feasted for several days, Delores (Jan’s sister) insisted on baking me a birthday cake for my 20th birthday which came two days after Christmas.
The Christmas of 1958 took us to Florida for a visit with my parents and siblings. We had a baby not yet three months old, and the drive from Louisville, KY where we were then living was a long one. We stopped in Montgomery, AL and spent the night with old friends, Anthony and Ruth Emmons. Their son, Wayne, and his wife, longtime friends, were there and we had a good visit with them.
Another son was born in 1962 and our Christmases became centered around our two little boys—Bryan and Brett. Often either Jan’s parents or my parents would spend part of the Christmas season with us or we would go to their homes for a part of the holidays. By this time my parents had moved back to Florence, AL and we remember Christmases in Florence when we were “snowbound” and unable to get back home for several days. There was always plenty of food, fun, and laughter during these times. One year when we lived in Knoxville I remember a particularly snowy drive to Florence, but we made it!
One Christmas when we lived in Mobile, AL I surprised Jan with a new set of wedding rings. I had only been able to afford a cheap set when we got married as college sweethearts, and I had looked forward to getting her a nicer set of rings. I hid them in the pocket of a wool overcoat that hung in our hall closet. In Mobile I did not need an overcoat, and Jan never thought of looking in the pockets for anything I may have hidden there. She has never liked surprises, but I was able to surprise her that time… and she liked it!
We spent seven Christmases in Shelbyville, TN. My parents were often there, Jan’s father who now lived between Shelbyville and Tullahoma always joined us for Christmas dinner (her mother had passed away in 1973), and our wonderful neighbors, Virgil and Angeline Naron, were often at either our Thanksgiving table or our Christmas table. Bryan was in college and Brett was in high school. The Shelbyville years were among some of our happiest.
Twelve Christmases were spent in Dallas, TX. Our boys always came home for the holidays and my parents would sometimes be there from Alabama. The several adult Bible classes of the Skillman church always held nice, dress-up Christmas parties, and Jan and I enjoyed the fun and festivities of those events. The Christmases in Dallas were memorable. One year we drove my parents and the boys out to “Southfork Ranch,” which served as the backdrop for the television program “Dallas.” My mother was so disappointed when she learned that the program was actually shot in California and not in Dallas! Brett married during our last years in Dallas, so some of our last Texas Christmases were spent back in Tennessee with him and Karen. Our older son, Bryan, passed away in 1993 while we were living in Dallas.
During our years in Selma, AL (1995-2000) we always went to Mount Juliet, Tennessee for Christmas with Brett and Karen and her parents. Bryce, our grandson, was born during this time, and it was always special to see him and to begin the “spoiling” process. Two of those years Brett, Karen, and Bryce lived in Georgia, but they always came home to Tennessee for Christmas. We would go and stay in a motel in Lebanon. One year we had a big snow and could hardly make it to John and Dot Carson’s (Karen’s parents) house on Dogwood Hill in Gladeville. Once there, they insisted that we stay and not go to a motel. We had a full house, but we were all warm and had plenty of good things to eat!
In Jan’s and my retirement years we are now celebrating our 20th Christmas in Gallatin, TN. Carson, our granddaughter, was born in 2002. Professional moves have taken Brett, Karen, Bryce (now 22 and a senior at Freed-Hardeman University), and Carson (now 17 and a junior in Kirtland [OH] High School), from Mount Juliet, TN to Stuart, FL to Mentor, OH (a suburb of Cleveland). They come home at Christmastime and we celebrate! Jan begins cooking, baking, and decorating before Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve is when we have “Christmas” at our house with Brett, Karen, Bryce, and Carson. John and Dot host the whole “clan,” including Jan and me, for a Christmas morning country ham breakfast and all the trimmings, followed by a big gift exchange. A vast array of Christmas “goodies” is constantly spread for snacking. Joining us this year in all of our festivities is Rosario Bertelsen-Toso, an exchange student from Santiago, Chile living with Brett, Karen, and Carson this school semester.
The years roll on, we all grow older, the grandchildren grow up, the memories remain, and God is so very good!
Merry Christmas to all!
Hugh Fulford, December 24, 2019