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Christmas in the Holler

When I think back to my most cherished childhood Christmases, most of them took place at Grandma and Grandpa W’s house in the holler.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, let me give you the short answer. A holler is a small valley between two mountains that usually has a creek in it. Folks up north often refer to it as a hollow, but I’ve never heard it called anything but a holler here in the Ozarks.

My grandparents lived on a large old farm nestled in a holler in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. They made their living by milking cows from their dairy herd and selling cattle from their beef herd. They ate eggs they gathered from their own chickens, rendered their own lard, hung their laundry outside on the clothes line, canned vegetables from their garden, heated with wood they cut themselves, used an outhouse, and did things the old-fashioned way.

The place was magical in its simplicity and rustic charm. The dirt lane from the cattleguard that marked the property line to the house was long and lined with old growth trees. It was rocky and steep with sharp curves. The most exciting part of the trip itself was crossing the creek at the mouth of the holler. There was no bridge. We drove our car into the creek and crossed it the way the pioneers crossed such creeks in their horse-drawn wagons.

Some of my favorite memories are from Christmases spent in that little farmhouse, nestled in a holler and completely protected from the world by those majestic mountains. There weren’t any modern distractions, just family and country life.

Our Christmas celebration began with the warmth and comforting scent of wood burning in the two woodstoves chasing the chill from the little house. Hugs, generously given, with a dash of hair ruffling came next. Homemade biscuits topped with butter and jam or warm cookies accompanied by a glass of fresh milk were next on the agenda.

We kids ate ourselves silly and laughed so hard that our sides hurt. We ran wild outside, playing in the snow and chasing after each other and any chickens foolish enough to get close. We ran until our faces were red and our noses were like ice cubes. Then we went inside and enjoyed a feast, lovingly prepared by Grandma, Mom, and my aunts.

When everyone was stuffed to the point of popping and the kitchen was cleaned up, we all gathered around the Christmas tree. One adult and one child “played Santa,” which meant the adult handed the child a present and told him or her to whom the gift was addressed. The child then took the present to the appropriate person. Once the gifts were all distributed, we tore into them like monkeys. Wrapping paper flew everywhere, and no one cared.

Mom was crafty and usually made a few of the gifts. She created funny paper books for Grandpa. He didn’t get a newspaper way down in the holler, but he loved the comic strips. She cut two pieces of cardboard and glued funny paper pages to both sides of each piece. Then she punched holes in the cardboard. She filled the book with the comic section from many issues of our local newspaper, punching holes in each page, binding everything together with yarn.

Grandpa would grin great big and tell her how much he loved it. The book was really a gift for me, too. After the Christmas mayhem was finished and my cousins went home, he would cuddle up with me in his big black leather recliner and read his book to me. (We lived so far away that we usually spent the night when we visited.)

The funny paper books weren’t the only things Mom made for Grandpa at Christmastime. She also rolled up dozens of newspapers and tied them with twine to form logs. Those logs were used as kindling in the woodstove. We can’t forget the crocheted nose warmers, either. She crocheted these little cones in bright, cheerful colors that covered his nose and tied at the back of his head, resembling a snowman’s carrot nose.

She made things for other people, too. One year she made Scottie dog patchwork pillows for all of the kids. Imagine a quilt in the shape of a small Scottie dog and filled with stuffing. The blocks were roughly two square inches each and in a rainbow of colors. They were adorable, and we all loved them.

Those were my ideal Christmases and that by which I judge all others. In my heart, those holidays in the holler were perfect, outhouse notwithstanding.

It’s been more than thirty-five years since we had Christmas in the holler, but I fondly cherish the memories every year. If any of my family members read this, please know that I love and miss you.

May you make memories to cherish with your family this year whether in person or via electronic medium. Merry Christmas, my friends!

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