Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas in Orlando

Merry Christmas!
Five Orlando-raised folks
tell us about Christmas on Oil Creek
during the 1920s to the 1940s.

by David Parmer

The Weather was Christmasy
Snow had usually blanketed the ground in Orlando by Thanksgiving, if not before. The Artic chill swept out of the north and settled throughout West Virginia creating a crust of ice on the old snow, and on each new layer of snow which fell. "Winters were much more severe then than they are today," said Ethel Doyle of Three Lick, "snow came early and it was bitter cold all winter long." Families in Orlando "usually got their coal in well before Thanksgiving," said Helen Jeffries. "People would take their pickup trucks to Gilmer and load up with coal at the tipple, or Darnall would deliver it." There was a striking difference between present day Christmas weather and the weather during the time of our grandparents in the early and mid 1900’s. The weather seems to come foremost to the minds of our older citizens when asked about Christmas of yesteryear in Orlando.

Above right, in front of the Christmas tree, are Amos and Mable (Posey) Henline with their young daughters Belinda and Olive Alice about 1945. For more on this family see the Jun '07 entry The Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters
Winter Recreation
Mildred (Morrison) McNemar, who is now 74 years old, remembers Christmases in Orlando. "The boys and girls used to sled ride down the Orlando hill toward downtown, across the bridge and would usually came to a stop in front of Mike Moran’s wholesale building." "The boys would carry buckets of water and throw it on the hill to form ice on the hill. It would get so slick that cars couldn’t get up the hill," Mildred recalled. "It was lots of fun. You had to go across the bridge; you couldn’t turn the curve to go up Oil Creek because you would slide off the road and down the hill toward the creek."

The photo to the left is Forrest Allman, son of Orlando's telegrapher Gaver Allman. This wintery picture was snapped about 1837. For more about the Allmans see the Oct '07 entry Gaver Hamilton Allman: Telegrapher and Freight Agent

Ethel Doyle remembers one cold, snowy winter on Three Lick around 1930 when she was about fourteen that she and her sister Virginia, and Pid Henline’s children, Jessie, Ruth, Denver, Ernest and Ed, got out their farm sled, loaded it with hay, hitched up the horse and took a sled tour of Tulley Ridge. "It was a lot of fun," recalls Ethel. "There weren’t any paved roads, and you didn’t go anywhere in the winter time and winters lasted a long time. You stayed at Orlando."

Dale Barnett also remembers that Charley Knight would help bring a little noise to the Christmas holiday cheer in Orlando by stocking up on firecrackers and Roman candles in his store which were always a favorite of Orlando youth. Dale recalls that Charley Knight enjoyed Christmas time, in a true merchant’s way, by having displays of toys and other Christmas goodies, such as hard tack candy, nuts, and oranges, in his store.

To the left, On Christmas day in 1938, 10 year old Jane Stutler wrote a Christmas message in the autograph book of her sister Mary Stutler:

Orlando, W. Va.
Dear Mary,
The snow has been falling for Christmas. The hills are white. The house top and trees are white. School is out for one weekand I am glad of it. We had a program at school & Sando Clase & his wife was at school Fri.
Your sis
Jane Stutler
Double click on the picture th enlarge it. Also, see more about this in the Apr '06 entry Oil Creek Christmas 1938.
Also, see a photo of Jane with her mom Edith and younger brother Bill during this era at March 22, 2007 Young Hobos Called to Account in Buzzardtown
Schools Observe Christmas
The school in Orlando was the focal point of community activity. In this day of consolidated schools, small communities such as Orlando are deprived of the sense of togetherness which was present during the days of our grandparents, especially during the Christmas holiday. Dale Barnett remembers fondly the Christmas celebrations at the Orlando school. Dale went to school in Orlando from the late 1920s to the late 1930s. "Christmas was always a big to do," said Dale. "The school would have a big tree." Mildred (Morrison) McNemar, a tad younger than Dale, also recalls the trees which the school had each Christmas. "The tree would be decorated with red and green crepe paper which was twisted or interwoven to look nice, strings of popcorn wrapped around the tree, and a few ornaments filled in the spaces." Parents would come in and decorate the tree, Mildred remembered, especially Marguerite Moran who took a great pride in the Orlando School. Mildred remembers one Christmas when the students dressed like toys and circled the Christmas tree. "I was dressed like a top," Mildred recalls, "my mother was an excellent seamstress." "She fashioned red and green cloth material around a wire hoop which hung from my shoulders. A yellow stripe went around the middle of the top which gathered tightly around my ankles so that I could hardly walk." "I was so proud of my costume." Mildred recalls that practically the entire community would be at the school for the festivities of the day which included a Christmas program which included not only the students, but teachers and parents, as well." Mildred also remembered that for some reason at one Christmas pageant at the Orlando school the parents and audience sang My Grandfather’s Clock." [Click to listen to Burl Ives sing My Grandfather's Clock ] It is strange that I can remember that after all these years," said Mildred. Mildred also recalls a personal disaster at one of the Christmas pageants at the Orlando School . "Maggie Hamilton was one of the program directors, and was coaching me on a solo to be sung. It was ‘Away in a Manger.’ I went out to sing and saw all those people and I froze and couldn’t open my mouth. It seemed like I stood there an hour. Finally Maggie pulled the curtain down on me. That ended my singing days."

Dale Barnett remembers during his days at the Orlando School that Stewart Blake and his sons would come in and play music for the school. "That was an extra special treat", remembered Dale. Dale also remembers the Christmas plays which were given each year, followed by a party, and a visit by Santa Claus who would pass out packages of candy to all the school kids. Mildred (Morrison) McNemar also remembers the visits by Santa and the welcome gifts of candy.
To the left are out of town cousins in Orlando for Christmas, 1978: Kimberly and Robbie Jeffries and Jason Parmer.

Rosemary (Riffle) Crutchfield of Burnsville went to the lower Clover Fork School which was beside the Clover Fork Methodist Church. Rosie particularly remembers her favorite teacher, Virginia McCoy Skinner, who arranged the Christmas programs. "Each student would have a memorized recitation to give." When Santa came, he would give each student an apple, or orange or candy bar or a pencil. "It wasn’t much but it meant so much to us." Rosie also remembers that she and her family would spend Christmas eves at the home of her parents on Clover Fork. "One evening when we were coming back to Burnsville, Penny and Timmy," her children, who were in the back seat, were looking into the sky as they approached McCauley Run, when they excitedly exclaimed "there goes Santa Claus in the sky." Whether it was an apparition, or a child’s fancy, Penny and Timmy were sure they saw Santa on his way to their house. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful memory of Christmas.

Helen Jeffries, who lived on Oil Creek, and whose sons went their early years to the Orlando School and their latter elementary years to Walnut Grove on Oil Creek, remembers somewhat embarrassingly, that her son John, now a retired state policeman, was dressed as Santa during a school program, and in the midst of some activity suffered a draft to his behind when his pants fell.

Mildred (Morrison) McNemar remembers during one Christmas season that John Brown, the Orlando principal, allowed Irene and Jane Conley to bring Christmas records to school to play on the school’s old record player. Students were allowed to stay after school to listen to the music. Mildred said that it was very nice because not many people had the opportunity to listen to phonograph music. Mildred remembers however that the real excitement for the school kids was when Santa would make his appearance. "It was a special time." Kids didn’t have much at home throughout the year, and this meant so much to us." Mildred also remembers that when she was about fourteen, her neighbor Helen Jeffries, crocheted a little cross book marker about four inches long, interwoven with red ribbon, for her as a Christmas gift which she treasures to this day. "Little things mean a lot at Christmas," said Mildred.
Christmas Meals
In the olden days in Orlando, a Christmas meal was always special. "Charley Knight would always order oysters which were eaten in Orlando about once a year, and that was at Christmas," recalls Dale Barnett. "The train service was so good that Charley could order oysters one day and have them the next." Many families who lived in Orlando during the early to mid 1900s remember the pleasure of Charley Knight’s oysters. When Charley Knight closed his store, Deck Brown who had bought the old Bill Conrad Store after Denver Pursley had it a couple of years, continued the Orlando tradition of having oysters as a special treat for his customers.

Sandy (Burgett) Conrad, whose folks bought the store from the Browns, recalls also that for Christmas the store would get in salt fish and opera creams.

When asked if her family had turkey for Christmas dinners, Ethel Doyle of Three Lick, said "Oh, no, turkeys were to be sold for cash, we always had chicken for Christmas dinner." Helen Jeffries remembers that her family, a few weeks before Christmas, would pen up their largest rooster, and fatten it for their Christmas feast. Mildred (Morrison) McNemar remembers that the main course at her home was a "fattened up hen." The traditional mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, dressing, gravy, pies and cakes, were served along with the Christmas fowl. Helen Jeffries remembers one Christmas mistake when she took a notion to prepare a goose for the Yule-Day meal. "It was so fat, that after it rendered down, there was scarcely enough to go around." That was the last Christmas goose in that family.

As children of Orlando families moved away to Ohio or other places for work, Christmas was always a great time to go back to Orlando to celebrate the holidays with the aging parents. Cars with out of state licenses could be seen up and down Oil Creek, Clover Fork, Three Lick and all of the other small hollows around Orlando. It was a welcomed visit, and a happy one, and is the source of many memories of the Christmases in Orlando.

With Santa, to the right, are two of the grandchildren who came "home" with their folks for Christmas. The children of Oras and Edith (Skinner) Stutler emmigrated to Detroit in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Donna (Witzgall) Gloff and Joe Burgett were two of the nine grandkids Santa visited in the parlor of the former Dolan Hotel in 1951. The Sep '06 entry Joe's Song is about the little boy in the picture.
Thanks to Dale Barnett, Rosemary (Riffle) Crutchfield, Ethyl Doyle, Helen Jeffries and Mildred (Morrison) McNemar for their memories!
Comment from Donna (Witzgall) Gloff
Oysters! We couldn't have Christmas dinner without oysters on the table!
We made quite a fuss over finding good oysters in Detroit and being sure they were on the Christmas dinner table. This was very important to my monther Mary (Stutler) Witzgall, who was born in 1923 and grew up on Oil Creek.
Here's how my mother prepared oysters at Christmas.
. . . fresh oysters, already shucked and sold in a liquid (purchased in pint or half pint containers)
. . . egg wash (beat an egg or two with a little water)
. . . flour or cornmeal (as I recall, my mother always used white flour, but my sister mentioned corn meal as another popular choice.)
. . . butter
. . . Salt & pepper
1. In a cast-iron skillet, melt several large spoons of butter (a half stick or more).
2. One by one, dip the oysters into the egg, then into the flour, then place in the medium to medium-hot skillet.
3. Saute the oysters until golden brown. Do not crowd them, turn them to brown both sides.
4. Salt & pepper to taste.

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