The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild

Published 2:39 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

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Christmas Tree Scrapbook

By Marie Craig

Come sit down beside me, and let’s look at this scrapbook. I started it when I was a child to remember all the wonderful memories of Christmas and the trees we decorated. I know, being a teenager, that you probably won’t understand why I want to share this time with you.  Hopefully, you will catch some of my special feelings about this season of the year.

I don’t have pictures of all the trees throughout my life, but my parents improvised and worked hard to make the house festive and special for us. I have a picture in my head whether it’s printed out or not. Most of the years, my dad cut down a pine in the woods near our home.  That was fine with me; I thought each one was beautiful. My mother was very particular about the way the tree was embellished. She took such care with storing and keeping the glass balls that I actually still have some of them. They are magic, and when I look at them and through them, I get this strong nostalgic reaction.  They are probably very old.  I’ve never seen any more like them.

Here’s a black and white snapshot of our tree that sat in the corner where the drop leaf table usually stayed.  I’m not sure where they moved the table in our small home.  The black dog in the photo was named Blackie, a very creative name.  You’ll see in that picture that we put lots of tinsel on the tree.  I think people don’t do that very much anymore.  About that same time, our next door neighbors had bubble lights on their tree.  I marveled at those and couldn’t understand how they worked.  I still don’t know.

The next photograph was when I was a little older, about 10. We would drive from Black Mountain to Asheville to shop.  Eckard’s Drug Store was where we took our rolls of black and white film to be developed and printed.  Then we’d go back a week later and pick the prints up.  A few weeks before Christmas when we were in this big drug store, I saw a large stuffed Panda Bear.  It just captured me in desire.  I begged for it, but my mom told me I was too old for something like that.  However, somehow, they worked some magic, went to Asheville, bought the bear, stored it at the neighbor’s house, and retrieved it for Christmas morning.  When I ran to the tree that morning, I was so happy to see that bear and named him Andy.  I am embarrassed to admit that I still have him.  He went with me to college but he didn’t graduate.

This next picture was during my senior year of high school.  It was a little bittersweet knowing that it was my last Christmas as a full time resident with my parents.  They bought me a typewriter which was a great help during the next years of composing assignments in college and recording information as I went from college to math teacher and then to wife and mother.

Recording images of Christmas trees changed to taking color slides and then sending the roll off to be returned as positives in cardboard frames.  Our projector came out, the lights turned off, and the amateur pictures began to be shown.  Oops, that one got put in upside down, but you can turn your head.

These next black and white snapshots were developed and printed in our darkroom that we created in our bathroom on that long counter.  Here are our sons under the tree as toddlers.  We had a cut tree that created many tears from the youngest son when we threw it beside the street to be picked up as trash.  For a few years after that, we dug up a live tree in the front yard, put it in a wash tube and hauled it in the house.  We had a ceremony later to replant it.  The next year, we chose the second tree to give more time for recovery.

Years went by as we took color photos of decorated trees.  They and the years run together as I remember special times.  This year, I’ll celebrate with my multi-generation family, and we’ll take images with our smartphones.  But I still need to get prints to put into this scrapbook.

     Thanks for helping me remember all the good times.  I hope you’ll have your own memories and images of Christmas trees and the families who make this season so wonderful.

Goodbye Siblings

By Gaye Hoots

I am the oldest of three children. My younger sister, Faye, passed away this June, just a few days short of her seventy-sixth birthday. She had been in declining health for several years, and her husband had cared for her. It was still a shock to lose her, and I have not fully grasped that she is gone. This is the first Christmas without her.

My brother, Phil, was the baby of our family, and a lot of his health problems were due to smoking. He kicked the habit about fifteen years ago, but much damage had been done. His health declined sharply this year, requiring his wife to care for him. He began Hospice care a few weeks ago but sounded good when I spoke with him, and I believed he had months ahead of him. I may have sensed subconsciously that time was short because I reached out to his childhood friends, and they had contacted him. He told me how happy he was to reconnect with them. The call that he was dying was hard to accept.

I am sitting in the home of my sister and her husband, built on the farm I grew up on in Advance. The memories of farming this land with my parents and siblings are warm and rich. I can close my eyes and relive so many of them. Being the oldest, I felt a responsibility for them and did not anticipate that they would precede me in death.

Earlier this week, I had lunch with several friends from my graduating class, and many had lost husbands and siblings. Our conversations centered around adjusting to the changes in our lives, adapting to our losses, and making the most of our remaining time on this earth.

This week, I visited a friend who has dementia and had to adjust to losing her husband and entering a facility geared toward dementia. I watched her struggle with that and emerge with the ability to appreciate everything life still offers her. She assists her peers, enjoys the activities, especially the music, celebrates a new great-grandchild, and enjoys outings with her family. I saw her at a restaurant a few nights ago, and she recognized me.  Her face lit up like the sweet girl I remembered from childhood.

When I visited her at Cadence, I saw a schoolmate sitting in the lobby. He still looks healthy but is now blind. He managed to have a positive attitude and seemed accepting of the changes in his life. I also went to the visitation at Eaton’s of a friend who has lost his wife. and he proudly showed me his beautiful daughter and twin granddaughters. It is reaffirming to see those able to recognize the things we have, even amid loss.

While waiting to hear the final arrangements for my brother. I attended a gender reveal for my granddaughter. She has a beautiful daughter, a senior in high school, and a dedicated student and is now expecting a baby girl. This will be the first girl in her husband’s family in fifty years.

There are so many mixed emotions it is hard to express them. The older we get, the more losses we experience, but we also continue to live and celebrate all the happy events with our family and friends. May we always be able to appreciate God’s many blessings and find comfort in Him during our losses.

A Life Well Lived

By Julie Terry Cartner

His obituary came out this week. Those who read it had to be impressed. Dale Keiger was a man to be admired. His first step into adulthood was a stint in the army, followed by the traditional pattern of the time. He married Gail, the love of his life, moved to China Grove, and opened The Young Men’s Shop, which later became Dale’s Sporting Goods. Few people in Rowan and Davie Counties, and other neighboring counties, didn’t know Dale and his business. Married for over 68 years and a business owner for over 66 years, Dale was the epitome of the Silent Generation.

Dale’s non-work contributions to China Grove and Rowan County read like a Who’s Who of local businessmen. On the board of directors of one bank, a member of the local Civitan club, actively involved in his church in many roles and responsibilities, Dale exemplified what our fathers were, what our husband are, and what our sons and grandsons aspire to be: a good man. Dale was well known locally for his support of the Little League program as well as the South Rowan athletic and band programs.

Beyond the obituary, however, was a man: a family man, a godly man, a friend, a leader, a motivator, a man who gave out help and advice as easily as he gave out peppermints. His store was the mecca of China Grove. It was rare to go into the store and find it empty; people loved to pass the time in this place that always felt welcoming.

Who knows how many ideas percolated behind those walls? Dale was one of those people who could see what roles would fit people, and he wasn’t hesitant to gently “suggest” someone take on a new responsibility. I can’t directly point my finger at Dale, but when I found myself on my horse on Friday nights tearing around the South Rowan track, dressed in a Raider outfit during football games, I knew the nucleus of that idea came from Dale and his group of coaches, and my cape came directly from Dale. He had a way of getting people to see past their initial reaction of No.

As a new teacher, coach, and resident of China Grove, I learned Dale’s name early, and before long, I understood exactly what it meant to be part of his extended family. When any of us needed help, the fastest way to get the word out was to call Dale’s store, and soon the troops would arrive. One time the back of a dump truck released an entire load of gravel at the base of our driveway. We couldn’t get out, and with two of us shoveling, we couldn’t clear it on our own. I called Dale’s, and we soon had all the help we needed.

As a coach with a limited budget, I could go to Dale and tell him what I needed, and he’d help me find the best deals, and for students with financial concerns, he’d make sure they were taken care of.

As a mother, I herded my five children through Dale’s more than once, and Dale never failed to make my kids feel special. That’s what he did. He had the skill to make every person feel like he or she was the most important. Our children absolutely believed that Dale sat at his store, just waiting for them to come by for a visit, ready to pass out peppermints and roll them around on his stool.

When we moved to Davie County, we would often go back to China Grove to visit. If any of the children were with me, they would always ask to go see Dale and Gail, knowing they’d be warmly welcomed, as if we’d never left.

Dale leaves behind a huge legacy of accomplishments, but as one of his many fans, I see his greatest legacy as a human being, a caring, compassionate man, a friend, and a surrogate father and grandfather to more people than he would ever realize.

The words, the end of an era, have been overused perhaps, but in the passing of Dale Keiger, we truly have reached the end of an era. May Dale’s legacy of kindness and service carry on for future generations. “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Well done, indeed.