Mama and Papa Ferguson had 13 kids. I’m not sure how many grandkids they had, but if you could get the family to vote for you, you could win an election in Walker County.
Papa Ferguson died when I was young and the only memory I have of him is the one that lives in faded photographs. My mama had a handkerchief that was in Papa’s pocket when he died. He’d put four pennies in one corner, wrapped the handkerchief around the coins and tied a knot in it to keep them secure. I hadn’t thought of that handkerchief for years until this moment.
Mama Ferguson never remarried and lived alone in an unpainted house on the hill overlooking the community. It was an old camp house, with a front porch so high you’d need a parachute if you jumped off of it.
When you dropped in to visit Mama Ferguson, you’d most often find her sitting in front of her black and white TV. Her hearing got bad in later years so you could hear that TV when you drove up in her yard. Inside it was so loud the windows rattled.
On Christmas Day we all started arriving just before noon and by lunchtime, the house was buzzing with kids, grandkids, and other kinfolk who came in from all over the county.
Firecrackers were big then, and the kids and everybody had a pocket full. I remember spending most of Christmas afternoon dancing and dodging firecrackers.
Mama Ferguson died while I was still in high school and Christmas Day changed for my mother’s family. We no longer had that anchor so it seemed each of the 13 families were set adrift to fend for themselves on Christmas Day.
New traditions were born for the Watson family. We still opened our gifts on Christmas Eve, but instead of it just being my immediate family, all of daddy’s brothers and sisters as well as their kids came to our house to open Christmas presents. It was a madhouse.
A few years later when my cousin Bruce Levan became a preacher, he used to read the Christmas story from the Bible to everyone gathered at our house. Normally it was so noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think, but when Bruce read the story, you could hear a pin drop. I’ve never heard that story read better. I bet his kids and grandkids still love to hear him read the Christmas story.
But time marches on and loved ones die. Each time someone passes, it leaves an empty place in the family, and things naturally change.
Like every family, Jilda and I’ve lost a lot of loved ones through the years and I’ve noticed these last few years that our Christmases are much simpler and aren’t nearly as noisy as they once were.
These days we spend a lot of time on Christmas Day watching old holiday movies, listening to Christmas music, but we both remember with fondness all those noisy gatherings at Christmas with our loved ones.
Both Jilda and I want to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.