Holiday Memories in Trion circa 1956 by Gene Massey
MEMORIES: Home for the Holidays
I vividly remember Perry Como’s rendition of There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays. When I left for the University of Tennessee in the fall of 1956, I’d previously spent only a few nights away from home, and that was at a friend’s house in Trion and for our senior trip to Washington. My parents didn’t believe I was really leaving, and they most certainly never believed that I would stay, but I did. What they never knew was just how homesick I became, but I stuck it out and soon fell into the routine of university life with few problems. We were on the quarter system at that time, meaning
there were four grading periods each year for those who chose to attend classes year round. Most of us opted for three quarters and then returned home for the summer.
The Fall Quarter ended just before Christmas, and it was always an exciting time because of football season and other fall activities. I can proudly claim that I never worked or studied past ten o’clock for any course assignment or final exam. The exams were scheduled by class periods and the days on which classes met. Courses met on alternate days, some on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays while others were on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. I had classes six days a week for all three quarters during my freshman year.
As soon as the final exam schedule was released, we all scrambled, hoping that our exams would be finished early and that we’d have a few extra days of Christmas vacation. I remember studying and taking the exams and then grabbing my suitcase for the mile hike to the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Knoxville.
Now, my suitcase was heavy because I dutifully carried all my dirties home for Mother to wash, plus it was an old Samsonite two-suiter that I had bought from Jake Hegwood in the Furniture Department of the Trion Department Store. But the weight was never an issue for me because I was headed
where my heart longed to be and that was home for the holidays! Along the way, I stopped at the Krystal on Gay Street in Knoxville and bought four of the little burgers to go, planning on eating them as I rode the bus to Chattanooga.
The bus in those days was usually crowded with students because few of us had cars; it was not unusual for the group to begin spontaneously to sing favorite Christmas songs as we rode merrily homeward. I always smiled when I opened my bag of goodies and saw others turn and sniff as the aroma of the steamed buns, onions and meat patties permeated the bus. I savored every bite of the four burgers as well as my traveling companions’ wistful glances! If I’d been smart, I could have bought a sack full and sold them to fellow passengers for a hefty profit. Even today, I sometimes get a hankering for Krystal’s that can only be satisfied by feasting on the little burgers.
I wasn’t worried about grades on tests in courses, but I also knew that the grade report would come to Mother and Daddy in the mail during the holidays. Back then, the university notified the parents rather than the students. Still, nothing mattered much because I was headed to that special place called “home”, and that’s truly where I longed to be. Trion was where my heart was, because it was where my friends and family lived!
MEMORIES: Home for the Holidays, Part Two
On my way home from the university, Mother and Daddy or Terry always met
me at the bus terminal in Chattanooga, and we usually stopped for a bite to eat in Lafayette. When I got home, one of the first things I did was to visit with Jimmy McCullough and Bill Welborn, and soon thereafter all of us were organizing pickup basketball games at the gym in the “Y”. Clyde Cobb, Jimmy Hammond, David Hayes, Leroy Buice, Jimmy Styles, Bill Welborn, Gaylon Rush and Charlie Miller were among the many who participated. We had some heated contests, and there were always enough players to form two teams. I suspect we played for several hours most week days before scattering for family holiday traditions and church activities.
Christmas wasn’t about stuff, though little gifts were exchanged. It was about togetherness and church and family. The Methodist choir always presented a cantata
that was inspiring, and there were usually gifts of fruit and candy for youngsters. We sang the traditional carols on Sunday mornings and evenings and at prayer meetings on Wednesday nights. We never even thought of missing a service. I guess that’s why I tend to resist most of the new stuff because I prefer the old familiar songs we used to sing.
Everything in the community pointed to Christmas and most families decorated a young cedar tree. I don’t remember there being any outdoor displays such as we see today, probably because of cost. There was also the annual Riegel Christmas Party that became a company and community tradition. Daddy always brought the little party favors such as paper hats and toy horns home from the packed out theater, along with the remains of his box lunch. He also saved the candy and fruit for us. Each box usually contained a ham sandwich, an apple and an orange, candy, a slice of cake and maybe a little package of potato chips. Coca Colas served in 6.5 ounce bottles were the drinks of choice. Needless to say, the remains were quickly devoured by Terry and me.
There was something magical about Christmas at our house. Yes, we got a few small gifts from jolly old Santa Clause, but that wasn’t what made it so special. As Terry saidrecently, we both pretended to believe in Santa long after the age kids of today stop believing. We never wanted the toys, oranges, apples, nuts and candy to end! But what we’ve learned over the years is that Christmas is still Christmas as long as we keep it in our hearts and celebrate it with family and friends.
The food was always wonderful, for Mother was a good cook and her freshly baked cakes were delicious desserts (always my favorite part of any meal)! Just smelling homemade rolls baking was enough to make our mouths water.
But the thing that made it extra special was the sense of family and the peacefulness of the occasion. Even the mill fell quiet, making for a surreal silent night that caused us to hear what the original might have sounded like. At our house, folks like Ed and Elsie Massey, Spain and Lena Rutherford, Hap and Lilly Rutherford, Fayne and Nell Westbrook, their son Dale and our Aunt Eunice all gathered around the table on Christmas Day for a special meal and family time. It was joyful, a time those of us who remain will forever treasure in our hearts. Christmas meant church, going home and gathering as a family to celebrate a baby in a manger. Merry Christmas, everybody, and as Tiny Tim said in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, “God bless us every one.”
MEMORIES: Home for the Holidays Part Three
As Kids growing up in Trion, we never expected much in the way of gifts. I remember the satisfaction that came from just looking at the Sears Wish Book, which to me was a wonderful name for a Christmas catalog. We spent hours poring over it and vicariously experiencing the toys and candy treats. I marveled at the colorful pictures of the candy and wished for it as well as some of the toys. Still, we were realistic, and I don’t remember even making a list for Santa even though we did drop hopeful hints.
We were grateful for the few gifts the white bearded fellow left. I remember a water color set, a hole puncher, a wind up bulldozer, a Bulova wrist watch and an Anscoflex camera. Mother and Daddy went the extra mile for Christmas just to provide simple gifts, but they and most other families simply didn’t have the means to buy much. One year, Daddy told Mother that he didn’t believe there would be money to buy us gifts for Christmas. That Grinch was vanquished when Mother produced a few dollars she’d managed to save from her weekly grocery money. Still, there was a common question that was asked when we saw a friend on Christmas morning, “What did you get?” In reality it sounded more like “whajagit?” We wished and dreamed and enjoyed everything from church services to music and family and friends. I remember Aileen Akins, my third grade teacher, playing Christmas 6 records featuring Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. I remember the one gift we all looked forward to receiving after we drew names in our Sunday school class. We salivated at the mere thought of those boxes of Brock’s chocolate covered cherries. We’d eat the gooey candy until our stomachs rebelled. It was always the gift of choice for me, and a box cost less than a dollar, my recollection being forty-nine cents. It was also a sure way to find out if you had a cavity in your teeth, as many of us did; so we knew to chew the candy on the opposite side of the mouth!
Terry Massey, a budding entrepreneur, sold Christmas trees, holly and mistletoe to make a little extra money as he grew into his teen years. The holly was always “harvested” from the top of a large tree in the dairy pasture east of what is now Highway 27. It was necessary to climb to the top of the tree in order to find branches that had red berries, the kind that made the best decorations and were thus the easiest to sell. The trees were usually from our aunt’s Teloga farm. The most he ever got for a tree was five dollars from Mrs. Felton Westbrook.
Others who lived in Trion back then also have special memories of Christmas. Tate Giles remembers it as a happy time in his family. “There were,” he remembers, “always plenty of oranges, red delicious apples, (wrapped individually in pieces of red paper), currents dried on the stem, pecans, English walnuts, Brazil nuts, boxes of peppermint stick candy, coconut bonbons, chocolate drops and plenty of good food. I was born in 1929, so gifts were of a practical nature – things such as a Distan hand saw, hammer, pocket watch, scarf and fur lined leather gloves. Toys were at a premium. I still have a working mechanical whoopee car, tank and bucking horse, as well as a Duncan whistling yoyo, all of which I received as gifts. Too, it was always cold at Christmastime!”
Carolyn Chaney Maxwell remembers her and her sister Shirley getting dolls one Christmas. “Our dolls didn’t have waterproof faces, and we weren’t supposed to wash them with a wet cloth,” Carolyn said. “One day, I tried to clean my doll’s face with a damp cloth, but I used too much water and she ended up with a wrinkled face! I cried and was heartbroken because I knew I couldn’t make her look pretty like she had been. That was one mistake that I never forgot and never made again. I was so glad when dolls came out with bodies and faces that could be washed like a real little baby. We didn’t get many toys; but what we got, we appreciated so much, and it didn’t take much to make us happy. The big thing in our Christmas was attending church services and having Christmas plays, and many of our family members were always a part of that.”
When I was a youngster, one of the things we accepted as fact and that parents were quick to remind us about, especially when we were bad, was that Santa was making his list based on how well we behaved. Carolyn Yates remembers taking her grandchildren to the mall to have their picture made with Santa. They had been acting sort of rowdy, so before leaving they were advised to tell him the truth. So sure enough, Santa asked them the age old question, “Have you been a good little boy and girl?” Carolyn said they looked at each other and then their Moms and Grannies before exclaiming, “We are going to do better!” “We all laughed and laughed, and we still talk about that Christmas to this day.”
One of the lessons constantly drummed into us was that it’s more blessed to give than to receive; I agree and would only add that giving is also more fun. Sue Cheek remembers her Mother helping Vera and her understand about giving. “Christmas was so exciting at our house,” Sue remembers. “Vera and I usually got one major present – a doll, one year a Bible, a watch, etc. Mama would keep our gifts at our aunt’s house across the street (we discovered as we got older), then got them under the tree after we went to sleep. Vera and I got $1 each to buy presents because Mama thought it was just as important that we learn to give as to get. Fifty cents from each one of us went for Mama’s gift – a box of three Old Spice soaps for women. We then had to work on how to buy the other gifts including school gifts. What a wonderful time we had picking and choosing as no one had everything. A pair of socks, a handkerchief – anything required a lot of thought and planning! One special treat at Christmas was Japanese Fruit Cake from Grandma’s recipe. We didn’t have a lot, but we really had fun and delighted in the anticipation of how everyone would like our gifts as well as what we would receive!”
Of all the seasons in the year, Christmas was always my favorite! The sumptuous odors from cakes baking in the oven, special church programs, family gatherings, and a sense of belonging were all important aspects of our celebrations. We dreamed of “getting” but also experienced the joys of “giving”. Just having two weeks off from school, spending time with friends and reveling in the peacefulness of Trion’s real silent night on Christmas Eve were joyful times. Families didn’t travel very much back then, so most everyone stayed home. Sure, it was a simpler time, but the emotions we experienced were genuine and based on the real reason for the season.
My heart was always light and happy as I rode the bus homeward from the university and devoured my Krystal hamburgers. Truly, there just isn’t anything quite as satisfying or exciting as Christmas at home! Merry Christmas everybody!
Thanks to Mrs. Gene Massey for allowing us to continue to enjoy her late
husband’s writings. They are truly ‘gifts of the heart’. Dr. Gene Massey was a free lance writer who grew up in Trion during the 1940s and 50s. His books, SWEET MILK, “Once Upon a Time” and Tales of Life in Trion, are favorites among so many. His wife, Judy, still has both of the books that were published, so if anyone would like one or both they can notify her and she will be glad to take their orders and mail the books to them. firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to P.O. Box 25,
Gainesville, GA 30503