Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Memories

For today's blog, I've asked several friends to share some of their Christmas memories. The first is from John Cofield of Memphis, originally from Oxford. The second is from Mary Dixon Glenn from Meridian (now living in Baltimore, Maryland). The third is from yours truly, and the fourth is from Dean Burchfield, a native of Hurricane, Mississippi (near Pontotoc) and now a resident of New Albany. In addition to these memories, the Rev. LaRue Owen from Jackson wrote that one of his favorite memories was from Christmas Day in 1963, when he went water skiing!! After today's downpour here in central Mississippi, water skis might have been in order! Thanks to all those who shared their memories and here's hoping that all have had a wonderful Christmas Day 2012!!


I'll Be Home for Christmas. You Can Count on Me

I'll pack the car and leave from wherever I'm living and go back to Oxford, Mississippi where the old house I was raised in is standing once again. Martha Glenn and Jack and my heart are there. All is good. Daddy is in the living room in his rocking chair, watching football and the driveway for everyone to arrive. Christmas music is playing while Momma's in the kitchen working on the feast. Soon my old Granddaddy Cofield & Aunt Tommye Jane will be here and my Grandmother and Grandfather Stephens will be coming up the driveway from New Albany with a back seat stuffed with presents! All is good. Ah and I'll look down the path between the two houses and spy the Goodman's coming up for a Christmas toddy...a tradition that has lasted 40 something years now and continues to this day. Sara's smile and laughter will light up the whole house. All is good. Allis Blinder just called to say she's coming over and mom's getting together a big plate of goodies for Mr. & Mrs. Levy. All the while Bess will be underfoot, looking wide eyed at all those people...and presents! A knock at the back door and its Mark Havens looking for Glenn. They're loading their brand new pellet rifles and about to head out. No squirrel within 6 houses in either direction is safe. All is good. As it all winds down Dad will ask, "Who wants to go riding and look at the Christmas lights?!" The five of us pile in the car and off we go. The first stop will be the Parhams's house behind Handy Andy and the last is always the Peddle's house and lights. Then the Cofields will turn the car back to 627 Park Drive...another Christmas done. All is good. Yes...



Our family tradition was that on Christmas morning my sister and I had to stand in the hallway waiting for our mother to open the door to the living room where the tree and presents were. My daddy would get set up by the tree with his camera and take a picture of us as the door swung open and we saw the tree for the first time. One year, in my excitement, I squeezed my sister's hand just as the door flew open - forgetting that she had jammed her finger the day before. The picture that year showed Christi screaming her head off and me grinning delightedly at the tree - or maybe because I had made my sister scream her head off.

One of my fondest memories -- and most embarrassing -- is from the late 1960s, maybe 1967 or so. While dates are a bit fuzzy, the scene is forever "burned" in my brain. We were living in Dekalb, Mississippi, at the time, where my father was pastor of the Methodist Church. At Christmas, of course, we had the standard nativity pageant at the church, complete with bathrobes and foil halos. This particular year, we also went caroling, complete with a big red bow. It snowed on this occasion, no doubt adding to the beauty and excitement. Unfortunately, we were holding candles, and I somehow managed to light my bow on fire! My memory is that I was put out by being rolled in the snow. If that's not really how it happened, it's how I remember it. I still love singing Christmas carols and enjoy caroling, but to this day I always make sure not to light myself on fire!!


A loud pop sent my mind reeling backward into my memory as I stood enveloped by thick gray smoke while burning red oak leaves in our backyard.  After being asked to write about a Christmas memory over a week ago and having pondered which memory to write about, the thought burst upon me with the sound of an exploding oak acorn.

The popping sound emitted a shower of glowing sparks up the fireplace chimney with a few bits of burning embers scattering about the hearth. The embers were quickly and expertly brushed back into the ashes of the fireplace by my grandfather as he had been doing since his childhood.  He was Squire Hudson’s son, one of four boys birthed into the Hudson clan that had settled land on the Lafayette/Union County line just a few miles west of the Pinedale community in the hill country of Northeastern Mississippi.

[Note: Dean sent a cherished family photo showing several members of his family, including his mother Lavern Hudson Burchfield. I was unable to reproduce the photo for the blog at this time, but will post in the near future]

My mother has her right hand resting upon my uncle’s right shoulder as he had just returned on leave from Germany after its surrender. She was so delighted that her little brother made it home from the war safely, although he had orders to ship out for the invasion of Japan.  However, VJ Day ended World War II before that trip was made.  My mother and aunts' dresses were made from material that flour was sacked.  Thus you had flour and material for cloth.

It was Christmas time and all the kindred were gathering at my grandfather’s home for my mother’s side of the family.  Each year, either before or after Christmas we would gather for family time and exchanging of gifts.  Over the years you could always find smoke rising out of the chimney in the living room where my grandfather and grandmother spent their time when not working outside in winter. However, on this special day there would be smoke rising out of the chimneys at both ends of the house.  The front room was where we would gather for exchanging of gifts on this special day, and my grandfather had a roaring fire in the hearth.  It was the only day of the year this room was heated with a fire, unless one of the granddaughters used it to play the piano located within.

As I sat with my grandfather in the living room with the fire warming us all after eating our Christmas dinner always filled with laughter, jokes and smiles among his three siblings and their children.  My mom, who was the first born, her sister, the middle child and little brother, the last of the children birthed into this family.  It was always great to arrive first and watch my grandfather in his excitement as each of the other families arrived.  At that age I did not perceive what this meant to him as his children and grandchildren came home.  Having lost his first wife, my grandmother to breast cancer no doubt made it even more special to see all arrive home once again. He would always come out on the front porch to meet and invite you inside with this huge grin upon his face.  I remember his huge powerful hands all knotty and gnarled from working long years at the family sawmill/gristmill as a young man.  He was an expert woodsman, one that kept a razor sharp ax at his wood pile. Looking back at those memories I remember seeing tears welling up in his eyes as he would see each one.  No doubt so welcome to see his children coming back home all together at one time, even though they all lived within neighboring counties and visited frequently throughout the year.

These were always joyous times.  Sometimes reminisces of my father’s service on Saipan or my two uncle’s service experiences would come up.  These would always be a memory with funny stories, not those unpleasant experiences they did not wish to talk about.  Years afterward I would discover that my uncle while serving with the 45th Infantry Division helped to liberated Dachau!  He would later be moved into the 2nd Infantry Division late in the war. My grandfather told me about when my uncle returned home that he would only sit in a restaurant corner of a room or with the wall to his back.  This was due to his experiences in Europe during World War II. 

During the 1970’s one of my cousins whom had met and married a Yankee from the Dakotas!  We were transfixed with him.  Never had we heard someone that could talk as fast as he, nor ask question after question.  He was a wonderful person and one that had a heart of gold.  However, it was a football game that brings us to a close of this tale. 

It was 1975 and all had gathered and feasted, though some quicker than others.  It was not the usual Christmas get together.  A request was made to my grandfather by his northern grandson in law.  The request was if we could turn on the TV to watch a playoff game immediately after the meal and gift exchanging.  It was granted, thus we would have to forget about sitting around talking while listening and watching the fire in the fireplace, a rather pleasant experience I thought.  The front room would be abandoned quickly and all interested would be huddled in rocking or straight back chairs in the living room watching a NFL playoff game between guess whom?  Remember the year is 1975, the month is December and the day is the 28th.

The game was already on and Bob exclaimed that it was halftime.  Being from the Northern part of the United States of America, some asked us to guess whom he would be supporting to advance.  We of course knew, he being born and reared in a neighboring state of the northern opponent, we guessed it correct.
The funny moment happened when glued to the set as a long pass was tossed by the quarterback of America’s team and it was caught for a touchdown with seconds ticking down.  Our northern kinsmen in law exclaimed with a thunderous roar, “Did you see that?”  “Did you all see that?”  “HOW DID HE DO THAT?”  We were all more amazed at his bewilderment than the touchdown. 
With the YouTube link below, please watch 7 minutes 33 seconds of the playoff game: 


He had analyzed all the options and variables and was sure that his team was advancing to the next round.  There was good natured ribbing by all those in the room.  This event was recalled for the next several years even when our northern cousin in law accepted a job in Florida teaching at a university. Many years have passed, only one of my maternal grandfather's children remain today. This summer we were able to all reunite at their home for a get together.  For once, all the cousins were present.  They were from Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Again, laughter and jokes were heard among my maternal grandfather’s kid! 

Christmas is a time of making memories and remembering them.  A time when gifts are given to symbolize The Greatest Gift of All!  Emmanuel
God Bless us everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas on the Coast

Christmas on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a unique affair, filled with elaborately decorated fishing boats and beautiful scenes from the beach. Like the rest of Mississippi, though, the Coast enjoys parades and lights. No place is more spectacular this season that Beauvoir, the last home of Jefferson Davis, which is all decked out in lights. The photos, from top to bottom, are from Biloxi, Moss Point, Gulfport / Biloxi, Pascagoula and Beauvoir.

(1) http://www.myneworleans.com
(2) http://blog.gulflive.com
(3) https://www.facebook.com/
(4) http://photos.gulflive.com
(5) http://www.gulfcoast.org

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas in Music and Song

Mississippi has always been known for its music, whether it's country, blues, rock and roll, gospel or classical (and everything else in between). Especially during the Christmas season, there are plenty of opportunities to see and hear Mississippi's musical talent, especially during Christmas parades when marching bands from junior high to universities thrill both young and old. There are also concerts aplenty, singing trees, and lots of church choir programs. Just a few of the musical offerings this year include (from top to bottom) the Madison Christmas parade (right), the Greenville Christmas parade, below, featuring the Coahoma Community College Marching Band, the Mississippi Community Symphonic Band Christmas Concert at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson, the Singing Christmas Tree at First Baptist Church in Corinth (a tradition since 1985), and members of the Southwest Mississippi Community College Stage Band, during their Christmas show on the SWMCC campus in Summit.

(1) Madison: Photo by author
(2) Greenville: http://www.coahomacc.edu
(3) Jackson: Photo by author
(4) Corinth: http://www.firstbaptistcorinth.org

(5) Summit: http://www.amitetoday.com

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas in the Old Southwest

In towns all along the river, Christmas is celebrated with special tours, light displays, parades and other great fun! The photos here represent three places in the southwest part of Mississippi. The first (right) is from Vicksburg, where the KCS train arrived decked in Christmas clothing at the Old Depot Museum on December 1, just in time for Vicksburg’s Parade of Lights. Next, historic Port Gibson celebrated the season with a Christmas Pilgrimage, where visitors could enjoy the sights and sounds at homes and churches all over town, including this Christmas tree (below) at City Hall. Finally, Dunleith, one of many wonderful tour homes in Natchez, is decorated in the season’s finest. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas at Merrehope

This year marks the 44th year for the 'Trees of Christmas' display at Merrehope in Meridian. Built in 1858 (and significantly remodeled after the Civil War), the Merrehope tour home attracts thousands of visitors each year, especially during the holiday season. This year, the trees are decorated with Broadway themes.

Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas in Cotton Plant

These photos are from Cotton Plant, Mississippi, located north of New Albany on Hwy. 15 in Tippah County. For many, many years, volunteers have placed Christmas decorations here, and the attraction is a favorite for many in the north Mississippi area. The 2012 display includes 500+ inflatables, over 300,000 lights, synchronized music, choirs, a 30' Christmas tree, dancing elves, and much, much more!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas in Percy

While the blog master takes a few days off, we'll post some photos from around Mississippi from Christmas time! The first is from the little town of Percy in Washington County, and comes from another blog. The photo was taken in 2009.

Here's the blog address:  http://www.thethirdcity.org/blog/author/jon-randolph/page/22/

Friday, December 7, 2012

R.A. Van Cleave and Ocean Springs

Robert Adrian Van Cleave was born in Hinds County, Mississippi, in 1840. Prior to the Civil War, Van Cleave moved to Yazoo County, where he joined the Confederate army in the spring of 1862. After serving for a time in Capt. William Gartley’s company of cavalry, Van Cleave joined Co. I, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, also known as Bowman’s Battery. A private, the young soldier participated in all the actions of the unit throughout the Vicksburg Campaign and surrendered with the army at Vicksburg. When the war ended, Van Cleave returned to Yazoo County and married Eliza Sheppard in 1865, and then the couple moved to Ocean Springs two years later. In their adopted home, Van Cleave became one of the most influential men in town.

Van Cleave was drawn to the area because of relatives who were active in business and real estate. Following in their footsteps, R.A. Van Cleave established a store in a rural section of Jackson County along Bluff Creek. Although the business failed, he was respected enough that the community was later named Van Cleave (though spelled ‘Vancleave’). After failing to establish a business in the county, Van Cleave moved to Ocean Springs proper, where he started a mercantile business in the 1870s. The R.A. Van Cleave Mercantile Store (not exactly a creative name) was a one-story frame building.  At the same time (in 1872), he was appointed as Postmaster, despite the fact that he was a staunch Democrat and his appointment came during the Grant administration (locals claimed there were simply no qualified Republicans in the county). He served in this role for ten years, running the post office from within his store, which was located on Washington Avenue.  In 1881, the store was robbed. The robbery was foiled by a store clerk who was asleep in a back room. Awakened by the intruder, the clerk fired a pistol at the would-be thief. Although he missed, it was enough to compel the robber to flee the store, who escaped with $157.58 in postage stamps (in denominations of one, three and five cents each). Caught within a matter of days, the thief was convicted in Federal court in Jackson and sentenced to four years in the Southern Illinois penitentiary in Chester, Illinois. 

In addition to his mercantile business, Van Cleave started buying commercial property in Ocean Springs, especially lots near the railroad depot. In 1870, rail service arrived in Ocean Springs via the New Orleans, Mobile & Chattanooga Railroad, later purchased and operated as the L&N Railroad. It was near the depot that Van Cleave opened his store and built his family home, where he and Eliza raised seven children. He also built a hotel at the corner of Washington and Robinson. Opened in 1880, the Van Cleave Hotel (left) was a two-story wooden building with a wide gallery on two sides. According a contemporary newspaper ad, the hotel was “elegantly fitted up, and with large, well ventilated rooms lighted by gas,” all designed for the “accommodation of regular and transient boarders.” Between the opening of the hotel and the loss of the building in a fire in 1920, the hotel changed names numerous times. It was called, at various times, the Meyer Hotel, Gillum Hotel, City Hotel, Frye Hotel, The Inn Hotel, Iberville Hotel, Commercial House and Commercial Hotel. Van Cleave no longer owned the hotel when it burned. 

On September 9, 1882, Van Cleave had the honor to receive former Confederate President Jefferson Davis at his hotel. Davis was visiting Ocean Springs in order to review the Reichard Battalion and German Guards of New Orleans, a unit of the Louisiana state guard which had come by train for the festivities. Col. Augustus Reichard was a native of Germany who immigrated to the United States in 1845. A cotton dealer and slave-owner, Reichard (right) volunteered to raise German volunteers for the Confederate army and became colonel of the 20th Louisiana Infantry. In 1862, all of his property in New Orleans was confiscated by the hated Benjamin Butler. The next year, Reichard left the country and made his way to Egypt. He returned to New Orleans in 1868, and was later active in Confederate veterans’ organizations. Stopping at Beauvoir on the way to Ocean Springs, the guardsmen welcomed Davis and his daughter Winnie on board as the band played the “Bonnie Blue Flag.” Upon arrival in Ocean Springs, they were greeted at the depot by the Ocean Springs Fire Company, whose president happened to be R.A. Van Cleave. Marching in a heavy rain, the troops made their way to the Van Cleave Hotel, where Davis was received with a champagne brunch. Later, a military ball was held at the nearby Ocean Springs Hotel, owned by W.B. Schmidt. No doubt, the opportunity to receive Jefferson Davis in such grand fashion was a proud moment for the former Confederate private. 

Another opportunity for fame presented itself three years later, although not nearly on the scale of grandeur as the Davis reception. On that occasion, the Liberty Bell was being moved by rail back to Philadelphia after being on exhibit at the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans. Beginning the journey back on June 13, 1885, the Liberty Bell was transported via a special flat car (left), and was accompanied by the mayor of New Orleans and other city officials. Somehow, Van Cleave made arrangements for the train to make a quick stop in Ocean Springs. Wearing a “paper hat and wooden sword,” Van Cleave led a group of veterans to the depot, where they fired a “derelict cannon” and made a few speeches. It is hard to imagine that the august body escorting the famed Liberty Bell were impressed at all by the gesture. After a three-day journey by rail, the Liberty Bell was back home in Philadelphia. The trip to New Orleans was the first time the bell had ever been removed from Independence Hall.

Besides being a respected and successful businessman, Robert A. Van Cleave was also called on to serve as Ocean Springs’ first (provisional) mayor, although his term, coming at the organization of the city government, lasted only a few months. Appointed mayor by a committee of citizens in June 1892 and approved by Mississippi Governor John M. Stone, Van Cleave decided not to seek reelection in the December election. After leaving the political scene and retiring from his various business interests, R.A. Van Cleave died in 1908 at age 68. He is buried in Ocean Springs’ Evergreen Cemetery alongside his wife, who died in 1912. The Van Cleave family continued to have a prominent role in Ocean Springs life. From 1894, when a new, two-story store (above right) was constructed, to 1926, the family’s mercantile business thrived. The R.A. Van Cleave & Son Company, specializing in “fancy groceries and feed of different kinds,” continued after R.A. Van Cleave’s death under the leadership of William S. Van Cleave, a son. Unfortunately, the store burned in 1926. William died in 1938, and is also buried in the Evergreen Cemetery (below right). 

Photo and Image Sources: