Monday, December 31, 2007

The Ghosts of Christmas Past.....

I remember hearing stories from my Aunt Cousin Lizzie Neal Bagley of the Christmas' that she enjoyed in the 1920's and 30's. I call her my cousin Aunt Cousin Lizzie although she was really a cousin but she was so much older than me and it seems odd to me to refer to her sometimes as cousin when she was the first cousin of my great-grandmother, Annie Bell Johnson Green. Their mothers, Jane Green Neal and Elizabeth Green Brown were sisters.

Ironically, Aunt Cousin Lizzie Bagley referred to my great-grandmother as Cousin-Auntie Lou because she was much older than her and seemed more like a aunt than a cousin.

Anyway, back to her Christmas stories. Aunt Cousin Lizzie shared many stories with me of what Christmas was like during her childhood in rural Plain Dealing, Louisiana area. She told me how excited she and her brothers would get about the upcoming holiday.

She said that back in those days, they did not have Christmas trees like we do now. Rather, her father Ephraim Neal, Sr. would go out in the woods and cut down a holly berry tree and put it it the house with hollies still in tack. There were typically no ornaments or lights to adorn just the natural beauty of the bright red holly seeds with the decorative shaped leaves.

Her father, Ephraim would "put up" a turkey or pig, meaning that he contained in a pen about a month before Christmas and feed it only corn or grain in order to cleanse it out and make it more consumable for the upcoming holiday.

She also spoke of how my "Big Mama Anne Bell Green" who was a great cook by all accounts would come spend the whole week of Christmas with her family and cook up all these scrumptuous dishes in preparation for the big occassion.

Aunt Cousin Lizzie said that they would often smoke a turkey or ham and "Big Mama" would glaze and cook it to perfection! She would also cook collard greens, green beans, black eyed peas and other vegetables obtained from their garden. She would make up hot water cornbread and/or skillet cornbread, macoroni and cheese and a flavorful cornbread dressing that would make you want to slap your mama! But, you had better not try it, because those sisters did not play in those days!

Dessert would include her home made sweet potato and pecan pies, lemon pound cake and a 3 layer coconut cake that she beat until her arm got tired. Aunt Cousin Lizzie had me salivating so much, I ended up preparing that coconut cake myself one Christmas and it was the hit of the day!

When Christmas morning finally arrived, there would be a gift under that holly berry tree for everyone. Usually, the gifts would include one toy for child-a doll for the girls and truck for the boys and a brand new suit of clothes or shoes.

The main joy came from the presence of family and giving thanks to God for his many blessings. After dinner, they would go to Church and give thanks and praise to God for sending his Son.

What a wonderful Christmas! I will be forever grateful to my late Aunt Cousin Elizabeth(Lizzie)Neal Bagley for sharing her wonderful Christmas story and I will do my best to past it down to future generations so that they too can experience her Christmas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello –

Your website is wonderful l! !

May I introduce myself – I am from the family line of Neal’s from South Carolina. My great-grandfather’s name was Ephraim Neal, who first was traced to a plantation in Kingville, SC. It’s a long story, but bottom line, there were 8 children of slaves, Jim & Tina DeVeaux. At emancipation, six kept the DeVeaux name and 2 assumed the name of plantation owner, Neal.

I just completed a 12 weeks series in the newspaper – The Columbia Star – – entitled,

“Plowing, Praying, Paying and Poisoning: A Lower Richland family thrives”. The articles can be found in the ARCHIVES section, beginning the week of Jan 9th.

I hope to hear from you.