As a boy growing up in the 1940s Teddy Carroll, along with all the children in this somewhat isolated, rural community of Catawba Valley, Virginia experienced a Christmas unlike the boys and girls in the towns and cities on the other side of the towering Appalachians. How could Santa Claus and his reindeer fly over these majestic mountains and not stop? He could not miss seeing the houses below, many snuggling in the hollows with streams of smoke billowing up serving as landing markers to guide a loaded sleigh down to a nearby meadow? We all knew about Santa and in most cases, particularly the younger ones believed he was real. (I am not, 100% sure to this day he wasn’t real). We wrote our Dear Santa letters, complete with our requests, to be delivered Christmas night and mailed them to a Roanoke radio station for “Santa” to read. Homes with radios gave children the opportunity to hear letters read and it was exciting to be a kid who heard their letter read over the radio. Looking through the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs gave us many ideas about what we wanted Santa to bring. There was no limit to a child’s desires and most always our lists were long and unreasonable. It was normal for us to talk to each other about “what we had asked Santa to give to us?”
As the week of Christmas arrived the whole Valley focused on this most joyous time. Christmas trees would be found and cut, with cedars being the choice of most everyone. Homes were decorated as space allowed, and sometimes, outside the house. Every home experienced the aroma of mouth-watering aromas during a two to three day period prior to Christmas Day. However, Christmas Eve was the first big happening as church services were held in every house of worship in Catawba. These events focused on honoring the birth of Jesus. Christmas hymns and scripture reading about Jesus’ birth were featured, but the exciting part of the evening was the children’s program, giving of gifts, and the small bags of fruit and candy. My mother directed the children’s program, seeing that all the kids in our church had a part in the program no matter how small.
I remember vividly my very first children’s Christmas program. Let me explain:
“And now Teddy Carroll will say his Christmas piece.” I slid off of the church pew and slowly walked to the area in front of the pulpit knowing that this was not going to go well. It was the annual Christmas program at Catawba Methodist Church where all the children would participate by reciting a “piece”. A piece was something in the Christmas scripture that we had been given to memorize in preparation for this moment during the Christmas program. The older children would have longer pieces to say than the younger ones like me. The girls always remembered theirs and said them perfectly. My mother was in charge of the program and had coached me for the past two weeks to get up, say my piece and sit back down. Easier said than done! My piece was from Luke chapter two verse eight. It had twenty words but Mama shortened it to six. I stood there fidgeting as a packed congregation waited for me to start. Mama was standing off to the side as she was directing the children’s program. She had a copy of each child’s piece enabling her to cue kids like me who got stage fright. Sure enough, I froze with my mind going blank. I glanced over at Mama and she gave me that look. This was definitely not going well at all.
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