DOWN LIFE’S HIGHWAY

Long Ago Memories of Christmas Time

I don’t have very many good memories of Christmas in my childhood. We were extremely poor, in my very early years, so I don’t recall that I ever received a store-bought gift. Sometimes I got a handmade toy but mostly a useful item like a pair of socks, maybe a new shirt or pair of church pants. Never in my early years did my family have a Christmas tree. When I was about in the eighth grade, the teacher gave me the classroom tree when school let out for the holidays and that was the only tree we ever had. I recall today how proud we were of that tree. We colored some paper, cut it in strips and with flour paste made a chain that we strung around the tree.

Those Christmas mornings, with no gifts, I believe were harder on my mother than it was on me. I had never had anything so I didn’t seem to know the difference until I got a little older. My friends, cousins and so forth all had dads around and even though none of them were well to do, they fared better than I did. My single mom and I had seen many hungry days; they always had a little something to eat.

Despite all of that, I still have a warm feeling and fond memories of my religious upbringing. Most of the Cajun people in the Abbeville village were Catholics. My boyhood Christmases were highlighted with the attendance of Midnight Mass at the old Mary Magdalene Church. The historic church sits on a knoll in downtown, on the banks of the Vermillion River. It really was the Christian foundation of the township and the surrounding areas. The town and church, established by a young priest, Father Antoine Megret, in 1843, purchased the land and laid the town out like his hometown in Abbeville, France, with two downtown squares. The city was incorporated March 13, 1850.

On Christmas Eve, about 9 p.m., we would set out to make it in time for Midnight Mass a few miles away. We walked there and back, arriving back home near 3 a.m. We never, in my entire childhood, ever owned a car. I got an Army surplus bike when I was a teenager and owned the first car our family ever had when, at the age of 16, I purchased a 1932 V-8 Ford for $90, from my friend Harry Waddell. Harry and I were roommates in Ms. Shugart’s Boarding House in Port Arthur at the time. The Ford was a coupe so when I first got home with the car I would take my Grandmother and Mom riding, one at a time.

We had an exceptional faith instilled in us by my grandmother Availa. Even when she was getting up in age, she still made those long, midnight walks to the special Christmas service. Every Sunday morning of the year, summer and winter, we made the trek to morning mass. Other times, during Holy Week we went evenings to attend the “Way of the Cross.” I believe today it’s referred to as “Stations of the Cross.” The service of how Christ died was always touching.

My Christmas memories of Midnight Mass were especially moving. The beautiful service was said in Latin and the Gospel would be spoken in both French and English. The large choir sang beautiful Catholic Christmas hymns. The service was that of the old traditional Catholic faith. Later as I grew up, times got better. We still didn’t have Christmas as such but we had more to eat and Christmas Day was filled with relatives coming by to visit Grandma. The cousins got to play games and see each other, which was rare.

Recalling my past Christmases makes me especially thankful for the good fortune I’ve had and for Phyl and I being able to provide hopefully, some good Christmas memories for our children.

Maybe I did have the best of it. The material things would be gone but the Christmas times I spent at that old church have kept me grounded and those times gave me an appreciation for all the good things that come my way, no matter how small; it means a lot. Friendships and loyalties far outweigh gifts. Good health and the well being of my family are the things that make everyday special.

At Christmas time I think about the Christ child and His beginning, “Mary brought forth her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:7

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11.

The whole theme of Christmas is the sharing, kindness, and God’s love for us and the love we have for each other. From Phyl and I and our family, we extend our love and best wishes to you and yours and we thank you for your kindness throughout the year.