Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Looking Back by Molly Weston

Molly Weston is an Apex native. She is a former magazine editor at the FPG Child Development Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Looking Back
by Molly Weston

It's here! It's the most wonderful time of the year, and one can't help making comparisons. Almost every house sparkles with lights, and stores begin the season before Halloween. When I was a little girl, however, decorations never appeared before Thanksgiving, and very few homes had more than simple greenery on the doors. In fact, I can remember only three houses in Apex that had outdoor Christmas decorations. Two families had big houses  with tremendous evergreen trees in front. Every Christmas they would have the huge trees strung with colored lights. Folks would watch for the ladders to appear in the yards and then make plans to "ride by tonight and see the lights." Sometimes I'd beg Daddy to "turn around and let's see them again." It never took much begging.
One day when I was still young enough to enjoy roaming Daddy's wood working shop and listening to the men talk, my ears perked up with joy. Woodie Maynard approached Daddy with a novel Idea. "I want to make a sleigh with Santa Claus and the reindeer and put them on my roof," he said. "I'll put a spotlight on it at night. It'll be something special." There was nothing Daddy enjoyed more than a new project and Woodie had spent much time during his growing-up years in that workshop, so Daddy knew they could work together well.
Plans came together quickly. They even decided to make the reindeer's legs move! Woodie bought outdoor plywood and patterns (I'm sure they embellished them!) and soon eight tiny reindeer became reality. The sleigh and Santa quickly followed. When the painting was  finished, the structure was ready to be mounted. It stretched across nearly the entire top of the Maynard's ranch house. No longer would a single spotlight highlight the creation, Woodie put several spot lights to illuminate the whole thing. It was totally worth it. We heard reports that folks were driving out from Raleigh to see the Apex decorations.
Our small downtown district's merchants also exhibited holiday spirit. Near the curb in front of every store, the sidewalks had two-inch metal pipes sunk flush with the sidewalks in front of every storefront. The only purpose of these pipes was to hold the live Christmas trees bought and decorated by every merchant. All the trees were strung with colored lights and most were decorated. As soon as dusk fell, the lights would be turned on and the whole downtown turned into a Christmas wonderland! Ah, it was lovely.
Folks were very careful when parking cars. Nobody wanted to hit a Christmas tree! Occasionally, however, somebody would back a little too far and hear the anguished cries of the children in the back seat, "You've hit the Christmas tree!" Drivers, passers by and merchants would pitch in to right the tree and calm the cries.
To further the Christmas spirit downtown, a live Santa Claus roamed the streets, greeting children and adults alike. A first grade teacher, my mother really believed in Santa Claus. She'd sing out, "Hello, Old Santa," to the jolly man as we walked to the grocery store. Mother always infected people around her with the spirit of the magical season.
Few people had more than a tree inside, but Mother was ahead of the curve. She'd use cotton and mica snow with abandon. She'd whip Ivory Snow into stiff peaks and pile it gracefully on both greenery and bare branches. One year, probably during the mid-fifties, she had a grand idea: She and Daddy would make a mobile to hang from the arch dividing the living and dining rooms, and the heat from the floor furnace would make it move.
 We always put our Christmas tree in front of the living room window facing the street. These two rooms were usually closed off and heated only when we had company. The mobile in the arch would connect the decorations from the two rooms.
Daddy was agreeable—remember, he loved a new challenge. Mother bought new Christmas balls for the mobile—a box each of gold, green, and chartreuse. The plan was to cut lengths of clothes hanger wire, assemble them into a mobile with light-weight fishing line, and tie the balls to the wire with additional lengths of the fishing line. Somehow, the directions failed to mention the near impossibility of balancing everything perfectly. Mother and Daddy worked on that mobile every night after supper for weeks. Finally, it was perfect. (Their tempers, however, were slightly frayed.) The doors to the formerly off-limits rooms were thrown open and the floor furnace ran all through the season (well, what was left of it, anyway)—and everybody who came to the house, whether  guest or delivery man, was invited to see the mobile.
At last, it was Christmas Eve. As usual, Mother kept me busy all day—I had to get ready to welcome Santa Claus. Santa, you see, would be driving a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer (not to be confused with the sleigh and reindeer on Woodie's roof!). By the time they traveled to North Carolina from the North Pole, they'd be ready for refreshments. I was sent to the garden to harvest hay for the reindeer. Mother explained that reindeer liked all sorts of dried hay–the dried vines from our garden would be perfect. And I should gather lots of it because there were eight reindeer and they'd be very hungry. They also would be thirsty. I must have a bucket of water ready for them. It took me many trips to the water spigot, carrying a quart of two of water every trip before I filled that bucket!
Finally, after supper, Mother helped me arrange an attractive plate of cookies and a big glass of milk for Santa. I was  allowed to choose an embroidered napkin from my grandmother's handiwork to leave at the place setting. After the day's chores, I was ready for bed, if not for sleep.
When I awoke on Christmas morning, even before I checked my toys, I looked to see if Santa had eaten his cookies. All I found were crumbs—and a very dirty napkin. Mother shook her head and said, "That Santa Claus! Look at the soot he got all over my good napkin!" Oh yes, Mother really believed in Santa Claus and that magic will always continue in my family.
Today I have two or three Christmas trees every year (two remain up continuously), poinsettias in several rooms, and gaily wrapped packages. There's frequently the smell was Christmas wassail coming from the kitchen and cries of, "Don't eat the pretty ones!" when cookies come from the oven. Inspired by my mother, I fill the house with holiday pillows, candles, and greenery. It's just the thing to do.
My parents and Woodie are no longer with us, but Woodie's children continue the tradition. Just a block from my house, the second generation Santa drives his sleigh with eight tiny reindeer across the front lawn of the family's home place.

Christmas Wassail

2 qt. water
1 cup sugar
3 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
2 cloves
1 qt. cider (not apple juice!)
1 qt. orange juice
1 cup lemon juice

Tie spices in cheesecloth. Combine water, sugar and spices; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Remove spices. Add remaining ingredients and heat through. Refrigerate until used. Heat before serving.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

A warm holiday welcome to you, Molly!

Thanks so much for being here - especially now with your sweet other half just getting home from the hospital. Please tell Noel we all wish him well.

And thank you for sharing this story, it's lovely.


Sarah Shaber said...

This was lovely, Molly! Hope Noel is doing well. And I can't help saying that I love your photo!

Vicki Lane said...

Oh,, what a grand evocation of Christmas! All good wishes to the mystery maven and to Noel -- may it be a wonderful Christmas for you both!

Would you believe -- my word confirmation is 'jinglear!'

Eve Barbeau said...

A fabulous story -- like a faery-tale.

jenny milchman said...

What creative, artistic parents, Molly! I love the more homegrown decorations of yore--your post hearkens back to a time when we all took our time. It's a grand reminder.

Unknown said...

I loved reading your Christmas memories, Molly, and what wonderful parents you had!



denise said...

and I love your Mom's comment about how Santa got soot over the napkin.

I bet those cookies were home-made too!



Prentiss Garner said...

/****************Molly, What a wonderful post! It brings back fond memories of my hometown decorations when I was growing up in Eastern North Carolina.
I am headed there next week! Have a wonderful Holiday!


Mark de Castrique said...

Thanks for the great post, Molly. Woodie reminded me of our neighbor who always got a tree much taller than would fit in his house. He'd top out the upper five feet, mount it on his roof directly above the body of the tree positioned inside his house in front of his living room bay window. He'd decorate both trees with lights and ornaments so it looked like one tree sticking up through a hole in his roof.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for sharing your Christmas memories, Molly. After having spent time in Apex, I could imagine it all so clearly! What a lovely town.

Hope you and Noel have a wonderful holiday!

Msmstry said...

Thanks for having me, Kaye, and for all the lovely comments.

I did indeed have very creative parents and the cookies were homemade (no slice and bake in those days!). My mother taught first grade for 37 years—and anything she needed for her classroom, Daddy made it, whether or not there was a pattern for it.

Mark, your comment about the two-storied tree made me laugh out loud. I wonder what the homeowners associations today would say about that!

Happy holidays to all of you!

Rosemary Harris said...

Wonderful! I'm so glad you have pictures. I remember the beautiful furniture you told me your father made so I knew Rudolph et al would look terrific.
I'm reminded of the tag sale we went to with all the Christmas things..I wish I could have taken one of those enormous camels home with me, but I went carry-on!
Will try to wassail recipe..Love to Noel...Happy holidays, all!

Carol Miller said...


Outstanding story!

It really sets the mood fora great Christmas.

Thanks so much,
Carol Miller