• Laurel Contributor

Clear Creek Christmas Memories

by Luke Osteen

Last month, the Plateau lost one of its Good Guys. Eugene Talley was something of a living legend. He was gruff, quick to challenge those who thought they might have an edge on him, just as quick to laugh at himself. And that rough-as-a-cob exterior couldn’t quite hide a generous spirit that knew no boundaries. The stories about that sweet side of Eugene (and I don’t doubt that he’d holler at me for hinting that he had “a sweet side”) will reverberate around here for years and years to come. Eugene’s Sister, Naomi Chastain took the time to remember the Christmases she and Eugene and the rest of her family enjoyed when they were young, and life in Highlands was a bit simpler, and perhaps a little bit more infused with the Christmas Spirit.

It’s early in the morning, Christmas day in the 1950s. A new snow has fallen outside of a one-room hand-hewn log cabin tucked away somewhere in the hills of the Southern Appalachians.

A rooster calls, and the family inside begins to stir.

The six children in the loft have been awake for hours, whispering about Santa Claus and laughing about the tricks that they played upon their neighbors the night before. They can hardly control themselves as they anxiously await the sound of their father grinding his coffee, their cue to get up.

They know their simple stockings dangle from the fireplace mantle, each hanging with the weight of three apples, two oranges, sticky candy, and a Brazil nut wedged into the toe.

Santa has been good to them this year.

After they’ve done their chores, the children will spend their morning playing in the snow, while their mother and their father prepare the traditional Christmas dinner. The salt pork that’s been in the smokehouse since October will finally be brought out. And the sorghum that was put up late last summer will come off the shelves to sweeten the cakes.

After dinner the family will gather around the fireplace to talk, laugh and pray. The younger ones will fall asleep as their father pulls out his old fiddle. Night falls as the music drifts out of the cabin and Christmas is over.

The baby Jesus came into the world that day, but in my little community of Clear Creek, just this side of the Georgia line, Christmas Eve brought out the Devil in us.

Christmas Day was special, wonderful and holy; but Christmas Eve was the time of mischief. We didn’t have Halloween with its Trick ‘r Treat. We stayed up all night long and, honey, we got into so much trouble.

We didn’t hurt anybody, we just inconvenienced them somewhat. One Christmas Eve, we went by Aunt Minnie’s house. She must have weighed 200 pounds, and we grabbed her bloomers right off the line. We ran real fast down to Ruby Watkin’s house and swapped out those big bloomers for Ruby’s tiny ones. Can you imagine Aunt Minnie’s surprise when she tried to put on those tiny ones? I still chuckle.

One Christmas Eve, we sneaked into Mr. Lawrence Bryson’s barn, stuffed his cow full of straw so she wouldn’t make a noise, and then we led her over the hill to Mr. Mac Wilson’s, and we swapped her out for his horse. You know Mr. Bryson must have been pretty mad when he went out to milk that cow and now found a horse instead. I can only imagine! But we were too scared to stick around for the fun.

Early in the evening on Christmas Eve, 20 or more of us young people gathered at Grandpa’s Store to make our serenading plans.

Everybody would bring their pots and pans and anything else that would make a lot of noise, and then off we’d go.

Sometimes we’d have firecrackers, but this year there was no money to go to South Carolina to buy ‘em. So my brother Eugene had my daddy’s 12-gauge shotgun. That would be our signal to start. We’d quietly surround a house and, in the still of the night, the shotgun blast would be our signal to make enough noise to wake the dead.

Sometimes our victims, startled from their sleep, stumbled to the door in their nightclothes, but they always opened the door and they always invited us in, and they always gave us a little something to send us on our way.

This year the homeowners have treated us pretty good. We have a lot of stick candy, a few oranges, a lot of apples, some cookies and a couple of pounds of black walnuts.

The last home to be serenaded is Uncle Wylie McCall’s. Now Uncle Wylie is a Baptist preacher, and his wife Queenie, she’s blind from sugar, what the doctors called diabetes.

Well, we’re waiting for the signal to start making noise, but Eugene doesn’t fire. He’s peeped into the window, and they’re both praying.

Now it’s one thing to wake up folks with noise, but to interrupt a preacher while he’s communing with his Lord and Savior, well, that’d be nigh to blaspheming.

But you know, preachers can pray a long, long time. So here we are, stuck out in the freezing cold, waiting for Uncle Wylie to finally say, “Amen.”

He finally did, but we were half-frozen. I guess that’s the price you pay when you bring out the Devil on Christmas Eve.

But we finally made our rounds and we all got back home and into our beds, ready for Christmas and already thinking about next Christmas Eve, when mischief will raise its head once more.

The Laurel Magazine

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