The time is December 1939 and the story is about a single Mother and her two boys, Jacque, age six and Bobby, age eight. Opal was working at the Tupelo Hotel as a waitress. She worked seven days a week for fifty cents per day, any tips she might receive plus two meals a day. They lived in a duplex apartment at 430 North Spring Street. A black lady named Ethel Rosalie McGee kept the boys after school and Saturday and Sunday. She was paid two dollars a week and two meals on Saturday and Sunday. She was called Cis by everyone.
Christmas was drawing near and Opal had talked with the boys about the upcoming event. They should not expect as much as others they knew. Bobby remembered last Christmas better than Jacque. He told Jacque that last year they got some fruit, nuts and candy, and two toys each. They talked about what they wanted for Christmas. Jacque wanted a drum set and Bobby wanted a Red Rider B.B. Gun. When they told Mom, her head dropped and she said this may not be possible for it was all she could do to pay rent, utilities, food, clothing and school related expenses such as meals, paper, pencils, etc., and paying Cis.
Times were hard for most people as the Depression was not over. Jobs were not easy to find and pay was small. Cis talked to the boys about how hard times were. Along with many other people, we went to a building on East Jefferson Street near the GM&O Railroad once a month to get free food provided by U.S.D.A. We got dried peas and beans, flour, meal and many other items when available. All required no refrigeration and we did not have an ice box anyway.
Ice boxes required ice to keep things cool. The iceman came two times a week. Each person had a sign to hang on a nail on the porch. It had four areas to not how much ice you wanted. The amounts were 12 1/2, 25, 50 or 75 pounds. If the sign was turned over it was for 100 pounds. If no one was home money was put in the icebox. Cis told the boys that their Mother had a choice of what she ate at work. She also told them she always ate what we had at home as near as she could. If we had peas and cornbread that is what she had to eat. Others at work had asked her why she did not make better choices for her meals. She said sh would not eat better than she could provide for her boys.
Bobby and Jacque wanted a Christmas tree. They borrowed a saw and went to the GM&O Railroad to cut a cedar tree. This was near where Franklin Street ended at the railroad — there was no bridge there then. They had a hard time getting the tree up the steep hill. It was a cedar that was covered with small blue berries. They soon found out they had cut a tree that was too big for them to carry home. Jacque came up with a way to get it home. One of his friends named Junior Nelson had a bicycle. He could ask Junior to let them use it. Junior said OK. They stopped at the R.C. Plant and got some sea grass rope out of the trash can. They got some supplies that were tied with this rope and people got it to use all the time.
After finally getting the tree on the bike, they tied it on. With one of them on each side, they pushed it home. They put the tree in front of house tied to a post. When Mom got home, she told them the tree was too big for the house. They decided to put it in the yard. They returned the saw and borrowed a shovel. They soon found out the tree was too tall and too big around to make it stand up this way. They took the shovel back and thanked the man. They told him what they were trying to do but that it would not work. He got a pipe that was about six feet long and his sledge hammer. He drove it into the ground and helped them secure the tree to the pipe. Old coat hangers were used to tie the tree to the pipe. It worked well.
Many people knew how hard Opal tried to provide for her boys with no help from their father. The man who ran the R.C. Cola Bottling Plant had seen the boys with the tree on the bike. He asked Opal about the tree. He then told her if the boys could find twelve empty drink bottles and give them to her he would fill them with drinks for their Christmas. The boys knew they could trade empty bottles for one penny in trade at Theodore Smith’s Store. They thought she needed the money for something.
Jernis Davis, who operated the Pepsi Cola Bottling Plant on Franklin Street, heard what R.C. was going to do for the boys. He want to Opal and told her he would give her twelve drinks if she would return the empty bottles. Jernis told Bill Timbes who owned Tom’s toasted Peanuts about helping the Mom. He said he would fix up a package for the boys.
The day before Christmas came and the boys decided to do something to the tree. Mom had gotten some pop corn to have during the holidays. The boys got Cis to pop some for them. They got needles and thread and strung the popped corn. Cis had popped four pans full before they got through making the strands. Of course, they ate their fill. They went out and wrapped the strings of corn around the tree. Jacque got a forked stick to put some on the high branches of the tree. Cis found some old ribbon and made several bows for the tree. The boys were proud of how their tree looked.
Jacque was in a play at Church Street. School. He had a costume in the play. Opal had told the manager of the Dining Room that she wanted to go to the play. He said OK if she would come back to their Christmas party for employees after the Dining Room closed and she should bring Bobby and Jacque with her. Jacque wanted to wear his costume to the party.
They had food, drinks, music and some people danced at the party. They had each been given a name to give a present to the party. Opal had Louise Seal’s name. Louise lived in the 300 block of Spring Street. One by one each person opened their gift. Mom and the boys were surprised when one of the men got a single shot B.B. Gun. Next a woman got a small drum. Each gift after that was part of a drum set. Soon they saw what was going on. Louise had told the employees what the boys wanted for Christmas. They all pooled their money to make Bobby and Jacque’s Christmas wishes come true. Opal cried for the joy this was to her and the happiness her boys would have in the coming days. The gift of a scarf she had gotten for Louise was given back to her as her gift for Christmas. Louise got her husband Robert to take the gifts home for Opal.
After getting everything in the house and the boys were asleep, Opal put all the gifts out for the next morning. She had also gotten a limb from a pine tree she put in a bucket of rocks. She had gotten a nickel box of icicles to put on it. This was their inside tree.
The boys got up early and Mom was already up. They went in to see what else they had gotten this year. Jacque saw his drum set again and Bobby grabbed his B.B. Gun. It was not a Red Rider — it was a single shot Daisy — but he was happy. They saw the drinks from the R.C. and Pepsi Cola Plants. They had never had so many drinks — R.C.s, Pepsis, Oranges, Peaches and Strawberry drinks. What a treat! Then there was a box from Mr. Timbes that had peanuts, nabs, potato chips, and candy bars. Also there was more — fruit, nuts, candy and raisins. Grapes, oranges and apples were items that were only available in winter times. The raisins were still on the stems like grapes.
They played all day long. Everyone got tired of the drums. No one had remembered to get Bobby B.B.s for his gun. This was probably meant to be as all day long many birds visited the tree in the yard. A Christmas to be remembered came to pass due to the generosity of others. The last thing the boys and Mom did that day was to take some of the drinks, nabs, peanuts, chips and candy along with a small gift to Cis. All had a Christmas to remember.
You can reach Jacque at (662) 842-8345.
Publisher’s note: I’m so thankful Jacque shared this true story with our readers. Sometimes during the hustle and bustle of the holidays we forget it’s the little things that we do that matter the most. There’s a Bible verse in James, which has always stuck with me — “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” So let’s do right and make our Lord and Savior happy with us. It’s not about more, more, more — it’s about showing Jesus lives in us. I’m so thankful to call Jacque my friend, and appreciate him more and more as I get older. — Jim Clark, publisher