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Christmas on the Mill Village.

When mother and dad still worked at Abney Cotton Mill and we lived on Woodruff Street, Christmas was very special.

Every year my sister and I were in the Christmas pageant at Northside Baptist Church just a few doors away from our house. There was always a huge Christmas tree in the sanctuary. I was always a shepherd or wise man which required wearing my bathrobe.  One year while waiting to go to the church, I got too close to our heater and burned a hole in my shepherd’s bathrobe. It didn’t matter to anyone but my sister who was in charge of me. I knew that she wouldn’t tell our parents.

After the pageant and the congregation singing of a lot of Christmas carols, Santa Claus came and everyone from the oldest to the youngest received a present. It was great fun. As we walked home everyone was laughing and talking. Children were told to hurry to bed because Santa would not come to their houses until they were fast asleep.

Christmas was hard for mother and dad because dad was sick most every winter, a combination of asthma and allergies to cotton dust. Money was tight and the Second World War was still raged. There was no metal for toys, but Christmas mornings were exciting. The boxes we put out for santa were filled with fruit and nuts and one or two toys. We were soon outside playing with the other kids. Some years there was a smattering of snow.

By early afternoon the entire family, except for those away in service, were gathered at grandmother Carnell’s for Christmas dinner. It was a grand feast. Everybody brought something. Aunt Alice always made homemade rolls and ambrosia. Mother brought a fruitcake which she had soaked in grape juice for weeks. Dan Stone, a friend of my grandmothers, came early and made real eggnog. I never understood this, but it was a tradition. Tee totaling Baptists could drink spiked eggnog once a year at Christmas.

Of course grandmother was the focus of attention. My grandfather Carnell had died years before I was born. There was usually some kind of drama with Uncle Wells, dad’s brother. One Christmas I was fascinated that he had driven a rental car from Gastonia, North Carolina. I didn’t know there was such a thing.

Everyone gathered in the living room for the handing out of gifts: chocolate covered cherries, candies of all sorts, jewelry, cheap perfume, pen and pencil sets, toy cars and books. One year I got a book about the Lone Ranger with print too small for me to read. Another year it was a cardboard horse racing set. These were grand events. We were a very close family.

Our family left the gathering early enough for us to go to my other grandparents who lived in the country about five miles away. The same exchanges would take place but on a much smaller scale because there was less family. Mama and Pop Gossett, mother’s parents, had very little money, but the food was always wonderful. I loved their big two story house with its log burning fireplace in the combination living dining room. There was a huge ice box on the side porch. Uncle Jim, mother’s brother, and his family were usually there. Uncle Jim and Aunt Norma had four children. They were a fun loving group.

One of the best parts of the season happened before Christmas when the mill gave generous baskets or bags of fruit and nuts to each employee. Since both mother and dad worked in the mill, they each received a basket. It really was a wonderful gift. Looking back I am sure that is the only Christmas extras that some families had but I was not aware of the more human conditions at that time. Life in our small town was good. Our family was happy and together. It was a wonderful time and place to grow up. Our lives revolved around family, church and school.

President Roosevelt died while at Warm Springs in Georgia on April 12, 1945. The reaction to his death was so strong that one would have thought that he was a member of our family. The war also ended that year. Uncle Jack and other family members came home. Dad left the mill for a job in town. In 1946 mom and dad bought a house and we moved away from the mill village. I changed elementary schools and my sister, Jean, was in high school. Nothing would ever be the same.

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Pearl Harbor Day 2020

This is Pearl Harbor Day 2020.  I was seven years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I didn’t understand much about war, but I did understand how it impacted our family. My grandmother was so upset when my Uncle Jack was drafted. At first he was stationed at Ft. Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina.  My grandmother walked the three blocks from her house to ours to beg my dad to take her to see him. Something my dad could not do. My dad along with three others did go to visit him when he was stationed in Arkansas.

My cousin Sarah was equally upset when her husband Clarence volunteered as were cousins Mildred and Margaret when their husbands were drafted, I did not know that Dwight Knight, Margaret’s husband, had been part of the D Day invasion until I read his obituary years later. Carl Hanna, my Aunt Sally Lou’s son, was the clerk for Admiral William Halsey Jr. The story was that he got the assignment because he was the fastest typist in the Navy.

We had air raid drills at school. When the alarm sounded, we got under our desks. We had drills at home. We turned out all the lights and closed the curtains or shades. My dad was an air raid warden and wore a fancy armband. At church we prayed that the war would be over soon. Of course, God was on our side against our godless enemies. At the movie theatre there were news reels about the war usually featuring General Douglas McArthur. Sugar and gasoline were rationed. My parents bought War Savings Bonds at work and my sister and I bought War Saving Stamps at school. Stars were placed in the windows of the homes when a loved one had been killed in battle.

There was great anguish when we learned that my friend’s father was a prisoner of war. He was one of those captured at Bataan. There was great rejoicing when he came home after the war, a skin and bones edition of his former self.

President Roosevelt made his famous fireside chats and everyone was glued to the radio to hear them. There was great mourning when he died at Warm Springs, Georgia a few months before the war ended. When I was older Uncle Jack would not tell me about the war. He did tell me about the places he had seen. He brought my dad a new German Walther P-38 pistol from Germany. He said that his unit had captured a factory where these were manufactured.  The Walther P-38 was the weapon of the German Army.

In the summer of 1956 I met Elizabeth Frei, Liz, who would become my wife. Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries to the Philippines before and during the war. Liz and her sister, Joan, were born there. The war then took on a new meaning for me. During one of the 50th. Commemorations of the war, Joan delivered a paper on, “A Child’s View of the War,” in which she quoted then four year old Liz. On our way to Australia in 1991 John Wallace, my brother-in-law, and I stopped in Hawaii. We visited the Battleship Missouri Memorial and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. These are awe inspiring sights.

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Share, Record Your Family Stories This Holiday -goodfaithmedia.org

A friend shared recently about how his grandfather and his pregnant wife escaped from Russia before the First World War.

I asked him if he had written the story. Writing or recording your story is so important because stories connect us. If your story is not preserved someplace, it will die with you.

Reading an autobiography by my undergraduate roommate at Furman University brought great joy and sorrow.

He had a distinguished career as a history professor, and it was a joy to learn more about his devotion to teaching. But there was also great sorrow because he has chronicled the end of an era. He is a gifted teacher who relishes the interaction with his students.

He guided them through many projects and arranged many field trips to historic sites. Students cannot get such experiences by looking at a computer screen.

The give and take between professor and student is so important to the development of young minds. Everyone who is present benefits from what they hear.

It is not just facts that are important but the process of developing critical thinking skills and learning to ask the right questions. He wrote his autobiography for his children and grandchildren, but I want him to publish it because it represents a time that will never come again.

The National Day of Listening is fast approaching. The Friday after Thanksgiving has been designated by StoryCorps as a time for recording stories. We are encouraged to get in touch with older family members and provide space for them to tell the family stories as we record them.

You can prepare a set of questions or just encourage her or him to talk. You can do the same thing with friends and within church and civic groups. The important idea is to capture the stories.

My wife, Liz, enjoyed shopping for Christmas presents throughout the year. She brought them home and tucked them away.

One Christmas morning, when the mayhem with our children, Suzanne and Michael, had run its course, she looked at my presents next to my chair and asked, “Are those all of your presents?”

When I said, “yes,” she walked away with a puzzled look on her face. Later that morning, she went into the laundry room. Hanging on the back of the door was the tweed smoking jacket she bought for me earlier in the year.

Liz is the only person I have known who actually said “balderdash” in ordinary conversations. Her most favorite line was, “It’s not out of your way if you are going there.”

Does anyone outside of our family care about these stories? No, but they are important to us. Even as adults with children of their own, Suzanne and Michael still quote their mother when we are out driving.

Stories bind us together.

We remember them better than anything else. Others can relate to our stories, and they keep our loved ones present after they have passed away. There is an old hymn, “Precious Memories,” that drives that point home.

Think about Lin-Manuel Miranda, who brought an almost-forgotten hero of the American Revolution back to life with the musical, “Hamilton.” It is a great story.

Jesus was a master storyteller. I learned his stories as a child. Decades later, I can recall those stories because they contain lasting values that have guided my life. Jesus taught by telling stories because he knew their power.

Write your story. It may not become a Broadway play, but it is important.

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My Friend, Joyce Harris Murray

“I give thanks for every remembrance of you.”

Joyce graced my life for more than 60 years. We were classmates at Furman University. We did not run in the same circles. Joyce was a beauty queen and I was not.

When I arrived in Charleston and First Baptist Church, Joyce and Bennett were already here. The four of us Bennett, Joyce, Liz and I became friends. Joyce and Liz shared the same birthday.

Joyce was a beautiful person inside and outside. Her hair was her crown and glory. She had the same beauty shop appointment for more than 50 years.

On my birthday after Bennett died I received a crazy birthday card from Bennett. The return address was Bennett Murray, Heaven. Joyce said she found it in Bennett’s things and knew it was meant for me.

My most cherished memories of Joyce are as Carol’s condition became worse, I started attending choir practice with Joyce, Gene Plyler, and Carol. We would go to Chick-fil-a afterwards for dinner. Joyce and Carol got the children’s meal which contained a small toy. The two women traded their toys for an ice cream cone. Something neither of them should have.

Joyce loved sausage biscuits and would stop at Hardee’s on the way to church to get one. One day when looking for something in that huge purse she had, there was a sausage biscuit hard as a rock. After my Aunt Alice, Joyce made the best ambrosia.

Other than her family, Joyce had three loves: First Baptist Church, the Furman singers and flowers. Joyce never had to tell anyone that she was a Christian. It oozed out of every pore.

Joyce and I differed on many topics and she never failed to chastise me. When I was writing a column for the Post and Courier, Joyce was an avid reader and an avid  critic.  but Joyce was the first to tell me that my efforts at Say Something Nice was my mission.

How do you say goodbye to an old and dear friend? You don’t.

Joyce Murray will be in my memory forever until I see her again. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

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