Highlights of holidays past

Seniors’ favorite Christmas memories involve family
Dec. 25, 2012 @ 12:01 AM

SANFORD — It may seem the best holiday ever would entail getting a fabulous gift, taking an incredible trip, coming into a tidy sum of cash, reaching a career pinnacle or becoming famous. But for some local octogenarians, none of the above made their lists of the best Christmas ever. Instead, it was time spent with family.

“Christmas has gotten too commercial,” said Marion Neal, who readily admits she has seen quite a few Christmas seasons in her 91 years. Many of her holidays involved snow, as she grew up in Black Mountain and recently spent about four years in the mountains of Blacksburg, Va., where she lived with her sister in a retirement community before moving back to Sanford to be closer to her family.

“I’ve seen enough snow. The first year I was in Blacksburg it snowed 56 inches that year,” she said. “Here, we seldom ever have a white Christmas. That’s just fine with me.”

All Chrtistmases are special, Neal said, but she has most enjoyed those spent with small children — whether it was her own when they were small, or her grandchildren.

“There’s just something about kids opening presents and believing in Santa Claus that adds excitement,” she said.

Neal said her mom died when she was very young, “so I didn’t have the same Christmas as most kids.”

“But I do remember that my mom would hide things like dolls for us at our grandmother’s house, and of course we would find them,” she said. “At that time, no one would spend money on a tree. We just went into the woods and cut a tree.”

Sharing additional highlights of holidays past, Neal continued, “One of our traditions was to have oyster stew for supper Christmas Eve, and we would go to the church service that night.”

Now, she added, “My family will get together Christmas Day at my daughter’s house here in Sanford. My son will come up from Oak Island, and my other daughter who lives in Denver, Colo., comes and visits every summer. I have been blessed with four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.”

As Mary Perry remembers her childhood Christmases, she said, “It seems to me that it so much more fun when I was growing up.”

“Everybody didn’t want the world,” she said. “Today, Christmas is so different because people can buy anything they want. There’s not the excitement or surprise we used to have. We’re not as grateful or thankful for what we have. We have lost what’s important.”

Perry said one of her best Christmas memories was when she was in the fourth grade at McIver School and still believed in Santa Claus.

“When I saw Santa that year, he asked what I wanted, and I told him I wanted a Mickey Mouse watch because Mickey and I were the same age. I was one of seven children, and this was during the Depression, so I wasn’t sure that I’d get that watch.”

Perry said she “said my prayers every day,” and when Christmas arrived, “I just knew I wouldn’t get the watch cause I didn’t think Santa could fly, and there was no way he could get it to me.”

“When I got my Mickey Mouse watch that morning, I knew that God had answered my prayers because God is the only person who could be everywhere and get through the snow,” she said. “I just decided that Jesus gave me that watch cause Santa couldn’t fly.”

Back then, Perry said, most children got a doll, a Mickey Mouse watch or roller skates.

“I saw very few new bicycles. Most of the time, we’d get a used bicycle and fix it up,” she added. “We were a happy family. We didn’t have a lot of money. To get ready for Christmas, my mom would bake, and we’d decorate the house.”

Because Perry and Mickey Mouse are still the same age, she’s expecting a new watch this Christmas and anticipates that it will cost quite a bit more than her original watch that was $1.98.

When Lois Martin considers the holidays, she says, “There is much more emphasis on gift buying and things like that. I think we should put more emphasis on the gift of Christ instead of all the hoopla.”

As a child, she continued, “my daddy worked in a furniture factory, and my mom stayed at home and took care of my grandparents who lived with us. I remember one year that my dad had made us doll beds for Christmas, and my mom had made us doll clothes. I had overhead my parents talking about our gifts, and it was really hard to go to sleep that night.”

Martin said the love her parents showed reminded her of the love Christ brought to the world when he was born.

“God was so merciful to send us a savior,” she said. “We need to be grateful enough to honor him. The Bible says that the road to tribulation leads us closer to God. Without tribulations, we would not appreciate what he’s done for us. I just try to adjust to whatever comes my way.”

During Martin’s 82 years, she has grappled with health problems that have tested her faith, including a brain tumor a number of years ago, and a fall a little over a year ago in which she broke several ribs.

However, she said, those were times she felt closest to God.