Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Memories by Charlotte Boyett~Compo

We never had snow in SoWeGa (southwest Georgia) when I was growing up. It rarely got below freezing even on the coldest day in January. There might have been a gentle layer of frost on the grass to make it sparkle in the sunshine but there was no fleecy blanket of white covering the ground.

Not that I missed it. I'd heard 'bad' things about snow: hazardous driving, roofs collapsing under its weight, people getting lost in a snowstorm and freezing to death.  I wasn't all that keen on any of those things happening to my family or someone we knew.

But it would have been nice...just see snow on Christmas morning if for no other reason to be able to say that it had come to visit.

As far back as I can remember, the first Christmas present I received was a brown and gold teddy bear I might have named Smoky. I say 'might' have. Chances are good my mother named him for me from the Smoky the Bear commercials on tv. Knowing me, it doesn't sound like a name I would have picked. As I write this...somewhere around 62+ years later...I'm looking at Smoky. He's a little worse for wear because he was...and is...dearly loved. He was missing one eye for years until I found one in a craft shop in Branson, MO. The eye doesn't quite match but it wiggles like his original eye and in my mind, he can see better now.

What I remember most about the Christmases of my youth wasn't so much the presents or the lack of finding the pony I wanted tied up out in front of the house. It was going with my mother to deliver baskets to the needy.  Every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas she would put together food baskets for the poor people in our county.  On Christmas, she always added a toy for each child in the family. It was important to her and it was important that she take me...her only child...with her so I, too, could develop a social conscience. You really can't understand poverty until you have seen it in rural Georgia. If you can visit the dilapidated, shotgun house of a family striving to live hand to mouth without adequate food, heat and clothing and not be touched, there is something intrinsically wrong with you.

One Christmas we visited the home of one of my classmates. Seven children, a mother and father, and two uncles lived in a little two room shack that had only a fireplace for heat. Cooking was done on an old wood burning stove and there was no running water, no bathroom in the house. A trip to the outhouse in freezing weather must have been hell for those poor people.

As we were stepping off their ramshackle porch I caught sight of their old coon dog lying on the ground. Beside him was a box full of little amber bottles--at least a hundred or more of them.  I recognized those bottles because my mother always kept one in her pocketbook and a couple in the medicine cabinet at home because she sometimes got 'a touch nervy'. Those bottles contained paregoric, a camphorated tincture of opium (not to be confused with laudanum which is tincture of opium). Back then you could buy it over-the-counter at any drug or grocery store. It wasn't regulated and the stores sold a lot of it, I'm sure.  Mama used to give it to me if I got a stomach ache and it tasted like s&*t.  It was highly addictive, by the way.

When we got in the car I told my mother there must be a lot of 'nervy' people in that family. I will never forget the look she gave me when she turned her face to me. There was deep, deep sadness in her blue eyes.

"No, baby, there are a lot of addicts in that family and that's why those poor kids had no gifts for Christmas. Their menfolk don't work. They just get welfare and use the money for the paregoric."

That was my first introduction to drugs and to the harm they could do. To have learned that on Christmas Day has never left me. I think of all the little children out there who won't receive presents this year because their father or mother or custodian spent the money on themselves to buy drugs so they can escape reality. Unfortunately, those poor children can't escape the reality.

If there was one thing I would wish for Christmas this year or any other is the same thing my mother ALWAYS wished every Christmas morning: "May every child get at least one present today."

This Christmas, may your wish be the same. Childhood doesn't last long. Some children never experience it.

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