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red clay ponderings

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Little Red Slippers

My grandmother Crawford would put up her Christmas tree mid-December; a fragrant, local evergreen.

Christmas 1967 was different. She caught the Christmas Spirit early, and had her tree up the week of Thanksgiving.

She had never done that before.

By December 1st that year, packages wrapped in bright paper were nestled beneath the boughs of her tree. One package for each grandchild. Everyone commented, but didn’t complain, on her premature decorating. They wondered “whatever could she be thinking, putting a tree up so early?”.

Back then, most people decorated a week… two at the most… before the Holidays. Setting up a live tree one month before Christmas was unheard of. But there sat the Crawford tree, in the front window, for all of Hickory Flat to see.

One afternoon, around Thanksgiving, I went shopping with her. On that day, she got behind the wheel of her big, blue Chevrolet Impala and I snuggled up next to her. On the bench seat. No seatbelts required.

Lois Emma Benefield Crawford aimed her Chevy Tank in a southward direction on Highway 5, and before long we had left Cherokee County. We were rolling down Highway 41… destination: Marietta.

More accurately, our compass pointed to Kmart and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Browsing around Kmart, we lingered for a while in the shoe aisles. And it was there, that I came across the most beautiful pair of house slippers I had ever seen. Red velvet mules, trimmed in red fur. And they were just my size.

I couldn’t stop looking at them. Couldn’t resist running my hand over the furry red trim, even as it tickled my palm.

She stood very still, and I felt her watching me.

“Neetie, you like them shoes?”

I looked up at her… her blue eyes were intense, like sapphires against her dark complexion. Beautiful eyes. But there always seemed to be a hint of sadness behind them. The kind of sad you see in the eyes of poor people. People who keep going, even though life doesn’t cut them many breaks.

I answered her: “Umhuh …. I think I’ll ask Santa for these”.

We finished up at Kmart and made our way to Dunkin’.

We both had a single donut. She had coffee. I had hot chocolate. We nibbled our treats, sipped our hot drinks, and I talked about those red shoes the whole time.

“If Santa brings me those shoes, I won’t just wear them in the house. They are so pretty, I’ll wear them to school, too. The bottoms are hard, like real shoes. Not soft, like house shoes”.

She laughed a little.

On Christmas morning, I found a package addressed to me:

“To Neetie,

Love, Maw and Papa”.

The wrapping paper was covered with chubby little Santas, all playing in a falling snow. I was hesitant to open the package. Because I knew there would never be another.

Life had changed since our Kmart shopping excursion.

On December 4, 1967, the phone rang. It was late for a phone call. But I wasn’t yet old enough to be fearful of late night calls. So I answered, and heard my grandmother’s voice on the line.

“Neetie, I need to talk to your mama. I love you.”

My dad found her on her kitchen floor, the phone was nearby.

She was gone.

Without warning. Without saying goodbye. Her heart had simply betrayed her, it had given up and quit.

Christmas morning, I sat on my knees by her Christmas tree, and told my mom I didn’t think I should open my gift. She told me the decision was mine, but encouraged me to remember that the gift was something my grandmother had given me, her oldest grandchild. And it was something she wanted me to have.

Carefully, I pulled back the tape. I couldn’t bear the thought of ripping her paper, paper she had selected. In my mind, I could see her at her kitchen table, drinking coffee… wrapping gifts. Humming along with the radio. Her Coca Cola clock illuminating the wall behind her.

I felt so lost.

My chest was heavy with grief when I opened the gift from her. And when the paper was pulled away, I wanted to cry. Cushioned in a blanket of white tissues, lay the shoes. The most beautiful shoes in the world.

But I didn’t feel joy at receiving them. It’s not that I was disappointed in the gift. I loved the slippers and I was thankful to have them. But I missed my grandmother. I wanted to go back to the day at Kmart. And stay there.

My mom still has the red shoes. They are in my old room. They’ve been around for 52 Christmases now. And I still get a lump in my throat when I think of the sacrifice Lois made, to buy them for her seven year-old granddaughter.

And I wonder if she had a feeling that she would soon be leaving us.

I don’t know. But this I do know… some of us have complained about our people decorating too early.

It’s ok. Let them have some Christmas joy. Don’t shame the family and friends who want to stir up some Christmas memories a little early in the season.

They may know something you don’t.

Merry Christmas 🎄

Danita

Two of Lois Emma Crawford’s great-great grandchildren.

My friend Lorie Hamby’s tree.

She decorated in October that year. She said the lights and decorations made her happy. I said she should leave her tree up all year… “no shame in your Christmas game”.

It was her last Christmas. ♥️✨

The Angel and the Tree

“We’ve got to move. You need to find some boxes and start packing”.

The statement and demand had become familiar.

I hated the emptiness of it. I hated hearing it. But this one was really awful, the timing couldn’t have been worse. We had less than six weeks before Christmas. Our children were ages eleven and nine, they didn’t deserve another disruption. With each move, even with moving out of the school district, I had insisted they stay enrolled in their school. It meant getting up earlier, arriving home later, driving them to and from, and changing my work schedule to make it happen. But that was better than the alternative… a frequent upheaval in their curriculum. It was my attempt at keeping things normal.

Then he said, “We have to be out of here by tomorrow. I’ve rented a trailer.”

I didn’t see the place for myself, until we began moving in. It was a single-wide mobile home. Old and rusty. Parked at an odd angle in the landlord’s yard, it looked like it was on its last leg.

A few years prior, we had built a 5,000 square foot, five bedroom home. Most recently, we had been living in a large log cabin on the Etowah River. How would we get all of our stuff in the trailer?

How had we managed to lose so much?

The odor in the single-wide assaulted me as soon as I stepped inside. It smelled of wet dogs and mildew.

“Did you come in here before you signed the lease?” I asked.

The floors sagged. Cold air seeped past loose window seals. Holes in the bathroom floor had been carelessly patched with old linoleum. The toilet wobbled and “gave” a bit when used. I was always afraid of going through the floor.

There was one bathroom and two bedrooms. The largest bedroom was barely big enough for a set of bunk beds; the kids shared that room.The smaller bedroom substituted for a closet. Our bed had to go into the living room.

The whole place was dark and gloomy.

My children accepted the move without complaining. And that broke my heart more than anything. They were good kids. They never asked for toys, they never asked for candy when we were in a store. They didn’t have tantrums in the checkout line. And here they were, accepting this situation without grumbling. It was life as usual by then.

I felt they had a right to complain about the chaos in their lives. But they didn’t. And that was heartbreaking.

Every time I looked at a new house, visited a possible rental, or viewed houseplans in a magazine, I looked for the best spot for a Christmas Tree. (Still do.) A quick walk through the narrow trailer, and I knew there would be no Christmas Tree that year. We would be packed into that place like sardines in a can. There was no room for a tree.

But in years past, no matter how bad things had gotten, we had always had a Christmas Tree. The kids loved them and I did as well. This would be more heartache for my children. More guilt for me.

On the morning of the last day of school before Christmas Break, Garrett said to me: “Mom, I’m going to have a surprise for you after school today. But first I have to go into the woods. Ok? Don’t be worried when you see me going into the woods with a saw. I promise you’re going to love my surprise.”

I don’t think I found words, my throat was too tight. I just hugged him. And felt like the worst mom in the world. Undeserving of my two beautiful children.

That afternoon, he was very excited on the way home from school. As soon as his backpack was put away, he announced he was going for the surprise. “I won’t be long, I already know where it is.”

Watching that little boy enter the woods, wearing a navy blue stocking cap on his head, carrying a saw half his size… I was filled with gratitude for God’s blessings. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.

Before long he emerged from the woods, dragging a Cedar Tree behind him. His saw was in the other hand, and a smile brighter than the Georgia sun on his face.

Our ornaments were in storage, so we decorated the tree with ornaments he and Lindsey had made in school that year. I had rounded up a couple strands of lights, so those went on the tree as well.

I declared it the best tree we had ever had. And it was.

But Garrett said it needed one more thing to be perfect. Our tree needed a Star.

So he gathered some supplies: an empty toilet paper holder, aluminum foil, and a piece of cardboard… and he made a Star for the top of the tree.

I still use his homemade Star to top my tree. (I would post a photo, but I don’t have a tree this year).

On that Christmas morning, there weren’t many gifts under the tree. It never occurred to me that there might be a gift with my name on it beneath the tree. After both kids had opened their presents, Lindsey went to the tree. She leaned in, then stood up holding a small, sweetly wrapped package. I could tell her little hands had done the wrapping.

She held the gift forward, toward me. And in the sweetest voice you’ve ever heard, she said, “Here Mom, this is for you.”

She waited patiently while I opened the gift she had for me. I could see from her expression, that whatever was in the box, it was something she had put a lot of thought into.

Inside the wrappings, was a beautiful “diamond” angel pin.

“I wanted you to have this mom. So you’ll always have an angel watching over you.”

I hugged her, thanked her, and wept silently.

How was it that I had been blessed with these two thoughtful,caring children? How could they both be so good and kind, when their lives were in a perpetual state of instability?

I wore the angel pin daily. Until I was afraid it was too fragile, then I put it up for safe keeping. I still have it though, and tonight I unwrapped it once again.

I remembered the gentle determination of both little ones. And wondered again, why God had loaned me such wonderful gifts.

I pray you have a

Merry Christmas. 🎄

Sugar Biscuit

I didn’t put a tree up this year. My Nativity is still in boxes.

I had planned to decorate, but it just didn’t happen. I really didn’t “feel it”.

Oh, I’m not completely devoid of Christmas bling. I set out a couple of Santas and a table top tree. Some Holly and lights, but that’s about all.

All season, my lack of Christmas decorations have reminded me of a Christmas past. Almost daily, I’ve thought of an elderly woman and her little granddaughter that lived near me when I was a kid. The Wilsons.

They had very little in the way of material things. Their house was always drafty and cold.

And one cold Christmas Eve, I visited their home. I don’t remember for sure, but most likely I took them some of my mama’s Christmas candies… Irish Potato Candy and Chocolate Drop Cookies.

I remember walking from my family’s humble but warm home, to theirs, trying carefully not to disturb their dog, Smut. I was terrified of him.

It was Christmas, and in the naivety of any eight year-old, I assumed the Wilson’s home would be different for the Christmas Season. Different than it was the rest of the year. In our house, we had a beautiful evergreen tree, standing tall and fat, twinkling in the front window. Our tree made the entire house smell like Christmas. It was covered in red garlands, silver tinsel and bright, wintry lights. Colorful packages waited beneath the evergreen branches, reflecting the lights of the tree. Even our front door was decorated. So when I knocked on the Wilson’s door, I expected to find the same warm Christmas lights filling their living room.

My brother and I spent a lot of time trying to guess what great surprises were being held by the gift boxes under our tree, all while anticipating bikes and a Red Kiddie Kar from Santa. I assumed Mrs. Wilson’s granddaughter was enjoying the same Christmas excitement that we were experiencing.

When I knocked on their door, Mrs. Wilson opened it and invited me in. She was old, frail. Waif like. But she was physically strong. Or maybe she just pushed herself forward, because that was her only option. Summer and winter alike, I had watched her working in her yard, hauling water buckets from her creek’s well. Even a kid could see that she was a hard-working woman. I was aware that she was at least as old as my own grandmother.

That Christmas Eve, I accepted her invitation to come inside. As soon as I entered their house, my eyes went to their tree, and my heart dropped. A lump formed in my throat as I attempted to prevent tears from choking me. Their Christmas tree was a skinny branch of a Georgia Pine, and I knew Mrs. Wilson had cut it from a tree in her yard. There was a strand of lights woven through the “tree”, but only one bulb burned. It was a frosty cobalt blue bulb, it was the prettiest Christmas light I had ever seen. And the saddest tree I had ever seen.

Mrs. Wilson’s granddaughter was younger than me. She had beautiful brown eyes, full of curiosity, wonder and a hint of sadness. I wanted to cry again when the little girl pointed to the scraggly little pine branch, and with a huge smile asked, “See my tree?!”

I smiled back at her, and said, “It’s pretty. I like your blue light.”

To this day, blue Christmas lights are my favorite.

Mrs. Wilson told me she had biscuits in the oven. Would I like a sugar biscuit? I had never heard of a sugar biscuit, but I gladly accepted a warm golden mound of bread, sprinkled with sugar. She silently nodded yes, when she saw that I liked the dessert she had offered. The dessert of a poor woman.

That Christmas Eve, I left their little house changed… older. I left feeling sad for them. Grieved because there were no gifts under their tree. Fearful that Santa wouldn’t visit them.

I went home and shared a heavy heart with my mom. I was worried, I was afraid I had unwittingly eaten part of their dinner, when I ate that biscuit.

My mom explained that Mrs. Wilson had offered the bread because she wanted to… that’s what she had to give, all she had to give, and she had wanted to share.

I love Christmas trees and Christmas lights. I’ve enjoyed looking at your photos this year. And driving up Main Street at night, no other purpose than to view the holiday lights.

But this Christmas, I’ve been acutely aware of the people that a commercial christmas overlooks.

This year, may we all remember it’s not about spending money and putting out lots of decorations. It’s about remembering a Baby who was born to be your Savior. Christmas is in your ♥️, not your wallet.

If you have nothing more to give than a sugar biscuit and an innocent, heartfelt greeting, “See my tree?”

Then know that what you have to give, is what matters.

Merry Christmas 🎄

The Alexandersen Boys

Photo courtesy of Lauren Alexandersen

Joe and the Christmas Chicks 🐥

Below is a story my cousin Joe tells every now and then. Joe is actually my mom’s first cousin; my grandmother and his mom were sisters.

Joe is a memory keeper and a story teller. And he’s a good man.

My written words won’t allow you to hear the warm southern comfort of his voice, nor will they reveal the mischievous twinkle of his eyes as he retells this story of a time gone by. But I hope you see the heart of a little boy, a poor boy… who was pained by the great sadness and mourning he witnessed all around him. He asked himself what he could do to bring cheer to his friends. He figured it out, the answer to his own question, and set out to make it happen.

The world needs more Joes.

Merry Christmas 🎄

“On November 22 1963, I was 10 years old and went to Canton Elementary School (Canton, Georgia). I was in Mrs. Elizabeth Johnston’s 3rd grade class.

On that day, I walked home for lunch, for I lived on Hill Street in downtown Canton, about 300 feet from school.

When I got home there was a news bulletin on the TV that John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas,Texas. I ran back to the school and told Mrs. Johnston. She went to the other teachers and found out that it was true. All of the teachers were crying in the hallway. The following days, through the time of the funeral, and even into December, there was so much sadness. And I wanted to cheer everyone up. So I thought to myself, “what would make me happy?”

The answer was “a baby chicken”!

I lived just up the hill from Gold Kist Poultry. So I went to work collecting every Coca Cola bottle I could find around the “chicken plant” (Gold Kist), and sold them at Mr. Frongberger’s store, which was down the hill from the school as well. Not far from Gold Kist. I went strait to the hatchery with my bottle money, and knocked on the big door of the plant. The door opened and there stood two men. One of the men asked, “can I help you son?”.

I said, “I want to buy some baby chicks!” One of the men said, “we don’t sell to the public!”

I lowered my head, and when I did, the other man asked, “what are you going to do with the chicks?”

I told him that I wanted to give everyone in my class a present for Christmas.

He turned to the other man and said, “get the chicks for him”. When they give them to me, I handed the money to him. But he said, “keep the money, those chicks are free”.

The next day at school was our class Christmas party. And when I brought those baby chicks into the room, I saw that I was right, they liked baby chicks just as much as I did!

Jenny Holbrook put me in the school paper and titled her article, Joe and The Christmas Chicks.

I found out that day, how special giving is.

PS … by 6pm that same day, I got most of the chicks returned back to me.”🐥

Joe Daniel

Joe

Joe’s other Christmas Chicks, his beautiful daughters.

December 1995

One year in December, when my children were 8 and 6, I took them to Washington, DC for the National Tree Lighting Ceremony. In the afternoon, we situated ourselves up close and personal to the Nation’s Christmas Tree, naively believing we would stay in our perfect spot throughout the service. But prior to the Clintons emerging from the White House, Secret Service Agents forced us to a faraway distance. We were disappointed, but didn’t complain. We were in our Nation’s Capitol after all, and it was Christmas.

After being relocated, we were some distance from the activity of the White House. Yet even with all that air and city street noise between us, we could hear President Clinton speaking. And as we walked away from the National Tree that evening, we heard the children’s choir sweetly singing Christmas Carols. I knew it was possibly a once in a lifetime event, and I relished the experience.

Earlier that day, my children and I had taken a Christmas tour of the White House. It was spectacular, like nothing I had ever seen. I wasn’t a supporter of old Bill and his First Lady, but I had immense respect for their title roles as my nation’s leaders. I respect the home of our First Family. It’s got some history… not all good, you know? Still, it’s their home, our house.

So when given the opportunity to view the interior White House Christmas decorations, I was thrilled, knowing my children were experiencing something special.

My two little ones and I walked through those history laden halls reverently, and in awe. Not once did we criticize First Lady Clinton for her decorative style. But six year old Garrett did question why, if the White House belonged to the People, we couldn’t just sleep there for the night. It was a reasonable question.

From the published photos, it appears Melania has decorated our house beautifully.

I like those red trees.

I love the green trees.

Thank you, Melania. You’ve done a beautiful job. 🎄

Merry Christmas!

Remembering Santa Ray

Santa Ray

I’ll never forget the first time my children visited Santa Ray at Cumberland Mall. Santa laughed a big belly.. Ho! Ho! Ho!… as Lindsey and Garrett walked away from their session with him. He smiled broadly as the kids exclaimed,”That’s him! That’s the real Santa! We saw the Real Santa, Mom! He knew Nanny and Poppy! He’s the Real One”! Santa Ray was my second cousin, and when he saw us standing in line to meet him, he decided to have a little fun. As my children approached Santa’s throne, I heard him say, “Well look who it is! It’s Lindsey and Garrett. I’ve been waiting for you two…and there’s your mommy Danita! Oh, I remember delivering toys to her house when she was a little girl. How are your Nanny Helen and Poppy Grady doing these days? Ho! Ho! Ho! I remember your Nanny Helen when she was a little girl, too! She was a rotten one every now and then! A couple of times she was so mean I wasn’t sure I would be able to leave toys for her. But she always got to acting better right before Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Santa Ray loved family, kids and motorcycles and he loved to laugh. He’ll be missed by many, especially the moms, dads and grandparents who looked forward to sharing his special mix of mischief and merriment with their children. But none will miss him more than his family and friends, those of us who had known the big belly laugh and the contagious sense of humor long before Ray Daniel became Santa Ray.

We’ll miss you, Santa.
May you rest peacefully in the Arms of Jesus.

Sweet Daisy Girl

DaisyFeb23 062

Daisy became a member of our family in late December 1998. Lindsey wanted a puppy and decided to use her birthday and Christmas money to purchase one….”the perfect one”. For three weeks in December, we pursued puppy perfection and came up short. As Christmas week approached, I suggested we put a hold on our search until the holiday was over. Lindsey reluctantly agreed, and true to her nature, waited patiently through the holiday hoopla. A couple of days after Christmas, Lindsey, Garrett (he was in search of a ferret) and I made the rounds of pet stores and animal shelters in Cartersville, Kennesaw and Marrietta. The Perfect Puppy proved to be more difficult to find than the Perfect Ferret (Garrett had had his eye on Harley, a special silver and black ferrett in the Cartersville Pet Store for several days and without hesitation, proudly adopted Harley with Christmas Dollars).

Lindsey could feel what the Perfect Puppy would be like, but she couldn’t really explain the feeling. “I’ll know when I see it”, she would say. After two full days of our post-Christmas puppy quest, we were still without a cuddly critter. Our third day would include a visit to an animal shelter in Atlanta, but first we would try the Cartersville Shelter one more time.

The shelter clerk greeted us when we entered, “You’re back! I was just thinking of you because someone just brought in a whole litter of puppies. He found them on the side of the road in Rome. We haven’t even bathed them yet. They look to be about four or five weeks old. Go on in and see them, you know the way.”

We entered the holding area, and in a large middle-row-kennel…placed at eye level to Lindsey and Garrett, were seven tired and hungry, wet and muddy, black and white puppies. They shivered pitifully; piled one against the other for warmth and comfort. One of the pups left the pack and walked to the kennel gate, where she was face to face with Lindsey. The little puppy cocked her head to the side, raised one ear and locked blue puppy eyes on my little girl. “This is the one, Mommy. She’s perfect.” And she was.

Our Perfect Puppy grew to be a fierce paintball competitor (she became a living legend in the game)…she was a protective beast where the kids and I were concerned….and a gentle mother to the many stray cats and dogs discarded on Shotgun Road. She was the most beautiful doggie in the world, and I told her so each and every day. And she was brave.

Daisy’s glory days began fading a few years ago, after she was hit by a careless man in our driveway. Paitball games ended, hikes with Garrett in the woods ceased. The cool waters of Two Run Creek no longer lured her. Kicking a soccer ball with Lindsey became a distant memory. Daisy was content to snooze in front of the fire while Lindsey rubbed her ears and scratched her back. We were content to have her there…her soft snoring a sound of comfort.

Today, Lindsey, Garrett and I reluctantly said Farewell to our Brave Girl, the Most Beautiful Doggie in the World. With broken hearts, we kissed our Perfect Puppy one last time and then we allowed her to sleep.

Rest well my Sweet Daisy Girl.

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