I recently turned 59. So yesterday was my 60th Christmas Day and Friday my 60th Christmas Eve.
During my formative years, throughout most of the 1960s and into the 1970s, Christmas Eve meant gathering with Dad’s family at my Osborne grandparents’ house here in Kingsport, joined most years by his three brothers, their wives, and various cousins as they came along. It was a dress-up evening.
It was one of the few times each year we saw some of Dad’s family, as two brothers had moved away for college and never moved back. There were gift exchanges, picture taking (a sign in the tree always identified the year for future reference), and food. A must-have was a slice of my grandmother’s blackberry jam cake. As much as we enjoyed the visit, my siblings and I were always in a hurry to get home to await Santa’s bounty the next morning.
Christmas Day meant gathering with Mom’s family at my Wallen grandparents’ farm in the Flower Gap area of Lee County, Virginia, our visit usually overlapping with my 16 maternal aunts and uncles (including spouses) and a couple dozen first cousins (including several who already had children).
It was comfortable dress, fresh oranges and mixed nuts, and lots of playing outside — for children and adults. Fireworks and target practice.
The meaning of Christmas is of course the same all these decades later. Maybe the past two years have sharpened the focus for some of us. I realize that is a rich observation from someone who wrote a couple of weeks back about spending $40 on candied fruit for his birthday cake, and last week teased readers with a photo of three-for-$8 sausage balls and Dollywood fireworks.
Last week I began looking at family photos and microfilm of the Times News from my birthdate and my first Christmas.
Times sure have changed since my birth was announced in the Times News “Today’s Cradle Roll” that published on December 6, 1962, a few days after my arrival. Did they have to include my weight? (7 lbs, 11 ounces).
The day I was born, an article by “Times-News Women’s Writer” Barbara Bledsoe reported local shoppers were paying less for many grocery staples than they had back in 1949. Five pounds of sugar cost 29 cents (on special) the week of my birth, compared to 49 cents back in 1950.
A pound of Oleo (that’s margarine to you youngsters) put you back 19 cents. A 25-pound bag of a “well-known” brand of flour was $1.49. Five pounds of shortening was 75 cents. Four rolls of toilet tissue was 19 cents.
Fryer chickens, for Sunday dinners, were 23 cents a pound (compared to 69 cents in 1950). A 50-pound bag of potatoes “cost the Kingsport housewife” 69 cents on special recently.
Chuck roast had bucked the trend and increased in price, to 65 cents a pound, up from the 59 cents “you used to pay.” Another thing that had increased in price was cigarettes. They had gone from $1.88 a carton to anywhere between $2.50 and $2.65 a carton. Whew! I’m glad Mom and Dad never smoked.
On Christmas Day 1962 the front page of the newspaper featured a half-page, above-the-fold picture of a Nativity scene. Below the fold, the lead news story reported it would be a White Christmas, as snow had begun to fall the previous afternoon and 3-6 inches was predicted. The snow had moved across the state west to east, giving Memphis its first “White Christmas” since 1913 and Nashville its first since 1935.
The Kingsport office of the Tennessee Highway Patrol advised motorists heading from the city in the Rogersville, Greeneville or Erwin directions “that chains are necessary.”
A small notice on the front page advised readers the morning edition (the Kingsport News) would be the only one printed that day, and the next print edition would be the afternoon edition (the Kingsport Times) on Dec. 26.
Inside the 40-page newspaper, largely filled with holiday wishes in Christmas-card-like advertisements from apparently about every business in town, the editorial slot was a two-parter. The first simply titled “The Christmas Story,” began with “And it came to pass ...” and concluded with “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men,” citing the entirety of Luke 2:1-14 (KJV).
Just below that “Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!” reminded readers “... it’s not all Santa Claus, gifts, food, visiting and the other usual customs. It is the birthday of Christ and this must never be forgotten.”
For anyone looking to dine out on Christmas Day, the Holiday Inn on Lynn Garden Drive (innkeeper: Oscar Stone) was open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The Christmas Day special, at $2.50, included choice of appetizer (gulf shrimp cocktail or oyster cocktail 60 cents additional), roast Wisconsin “Tom Turkey,” dressing, giblet gravy, glazed candied yams, buttered asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, tossed salad, and homemade hot rolls.
If that didn’t suit your fancy, additional entrees included: whole broiled Rock Mountain rainbow trout; fresh roast pork ham with brown sauce; broiled lamb chops with mint jelly; broiled baby T-bone steak with mushroom sauce; or ... wait for it ... chicken liver omelette. Each came with a choice of two vegetables and either bottomless salad bowl or congealed fruit salad.
A child named Pat Shull had a poem published in the newspaper on my first Christmas morning, among a collection submitted by his then-teacher (4th grade, Lincoln Elementary) Mrs. Beulah Thompson.
I texted now-Mayor Pat Shull to ask if it was him. He didn’t recall the poem, but he was in Mrs. Thompson’s class that school year at Lincoln. I will now good-naturedly think of Mayor Shull as the “poet who didn’t know it.”
I think he did pretty good with his assignment to sum up Christmas.
I will end by saying Happy second day of Christmas. And happy 10 days ahead.
(If you are reading this online, I’ve attached several of the articles and advertisements from Christmas 1962.)