Monday, December 26, 2005
Old Time Christmas Memories
(A memory shared by family about Christmas time in Daingerfield, a small town in east Texas as told by George Rivers, the eldest son born to Lucy and Joe Rivers.)
Christmas wasn't much for us in east Texas. Only thing I seen that give me a different feeling about it was the change in weather. Those days we couldn't get much done. Working on the farm was always cut short 'cause of so much ice on the ground. Papa Joe just had all of us chopping wood and with five boys, by the end of the day we had enough firewood for a whole month. Once Joe seen all that wood we collected, he'd start to smile. He'd think about all those white folks close to town that be looking for firewood and willing to pay a lot of money for a healthy supply. Joe usually sneak off with the wood we done chopped and he take it to town and sell it. Then we dont see him for a couple days but just to be safe, we still do our chores and chop more wood. Joe a mean man when he seen stuff aint done the way he like it. I calls him Joe because, well that's his name but also because he dont respond to daddy or papa; at least not when it's me speaking them words. I'm the oldest and you would think the favorite but Joe ain't got a favorite with his boys. He hardly even look us in the eyes unless we do something he dont like.
I recall one particular Christmas where I got a little fed up with our family not having a nice time with a big dinner celebration. I didn't want for us to have to pile up in the wagon and ride to church for a Christmas meal like we always done before. Mind you, it was always good seeing family and friends there. Grandma Moriah own that church so the doors always open but for once, I wanted to see my family have a meal at home, sitting around our own table and mama saying the prayer before we eat. I decided, that's what we was gonna do so, there I was, taking the wagon by myself to the supply store about two miles up the road.
Mama Lucy yelled at me from the porch "George Rivers, where you going off to?"
"Gone to the store! I be back soon!" I told her.
Mama just shake her head and then go back in the house. I worked at other farms, tending to cattle, chopping wood, clearing brush. I did all I could to bring home some money 'cause I know what Joe make, he keeps most of to himself or spend on something that have nothing to do with the family. I felt like; being the oldest son I needed to be a man.
Once I made it to the supply store, I pulled out every last dollar I had in my pocket. I had enough to buy plenty and when I was done, I was a proud young man. I had about a quarter left and I stood there flippin it in the air without a care in the world. I could already imagine the look on mama's face when she see all this food she be able to cook. And my brother's be mighty happy to be drinking something other than water from the well.
My pride ended before I could lift myself back up into the wagon. I heard a deep familiar voice say my name and I liked to froze in my tracks. The quarter I was flippin in the air fall to the ground and that was the last I seen of it because I didn't pay it no mind any longer.
"Boy, what you doing over here?"
That voice belonged to Joe and he ain't sound too happy. I turned around and his eyes stared so hard at me I could barely see if they were open or closed. They just looked like two dark holes in his face. I didn't say a word as he come closer to the wagon and get off his horse.
"Where you get the money to pay for all this here?"
Joe tossed around the flour, sodas, and everything else he could reach for. A couple bottles broke open. My first thought was to put out my hand to try and prevent him from breaking more. Then as soon as Joe felt my hand touch his arm, he turned toward me with all his might and slapped me with his open hand. Joe was strong to where an open handed slap felt like heavy leather hitting you upside your head. I fell to the ground but I got right back up. Joe kicked and cursed at me. I defended myself by putting my hands up but then as I seen some white men come outside the store and start laughing, I swung back at Joe. I hit him, too. He backed up and glared at me. He told me to go back home. I stood still until I seen him get on his horse and head that way first. Those white men snickered as I tried to put all that I bought back inside the large sack they gave me inside the store. I didn't want nothing else to break. Once I got home, Joe was waiting for me but Mama was standing on the front porch too. I was bleeding from my right ear and my clothes were all dirty but I walked up those stairs and inside the house feeling proud of my sacrifice. If Joe couldn't do for his family what a man should do then as the oldest, I was gonna make sure this family enjoy what family's is supposed to have. Ain't no excuse for a man to think his responsibilities can wait while he go have fun. Me and Joe never talk again. We just stare and when words need to be shared, we speak through somebody else. Mama tells me what he say and I tells her. She dont like the anger in her house but Joe gone so much that he take that anger with him 'cause he the only one I ain't respect. Christmas felt a little better that night because we could stay home and eat at our own table... Mama say a prayer and she smile. My brothers, Virgil and Charlie pat me on the shoulder 'cause they sitting next to me. The others nod like they proud. Joe was somewhere else in the house or he could've been gone. It didn't much matter 'cause mama and us couldn't contain our joy, we had our own Christmas celebration... When mama said "amen," we all said it and this time we mean't it.