Christmas Story

The following is an extract from a manuscript entitled "Recollections of my childhood" by Mrs. Miriam Orear Everett. Mrs. Everett was a daughter of Benjamin Franklin Orear who moved from Montgomery County, Kentucky to Audrain County, Missouri prior to the Civil War, and her story covers her childhood in Missouri, including a trip by her to her grandfather Orear’s in Kentucky during that war, which is the scene of this brief extract.

"In the early spring of that year (1864) an invitation came to make a visit to grandfather Orear’s in Kentucky. He lived on the Spencer Pike - Four miles from Mt. Sterling. It was in that town my father received his education. Grandfather had given him an old mare to ride back and forth. His brothers made merry about the old nag, but he had the determination to win an education. Had not his father named him Benjamin Franklin? Later his old mare bore a colt that was quite equal to his brothers fine horses. Fine horses were indespensible in Kentucky. The professor, in speaking to him would say, ‘Doctor Benjamin Franklin’. The name was his until his day of death. His old friends called him ‘Doc’ Life was altogether different in Kentucky. Grandfather had come from Faquier County, Virginia. I am sure that it was the greatest place on earth from the way he spoke when father mentioned it. His forefathers had escaped from France during the persecutions of the Huguenots. Their estates were confiscated and they would have been killed if they had remained."

"- - - - - That Christmas was an eventful one for me. All grandpa’s children were at home on Christmas Eve. Uncle Will was the oldest and lived not far away. His wife and two little ones came Christmas Eve and then went back home. The two sons in the Army were not there, nor Aunt Sarah, who was living in Missouri. - - - - That Christmas Eve all sat around the fireplace talking. I was tucked in the foot of Grandfather’s bed and left there when my parents went upstairs. So the next morning I was right there for all the excitement. I was awakened by a noise outside. Grandma was dressing and Grandpa, who had heard the same for many successive years and knew what the clamor was about, said ‘it’s them niggers. I’ll have to go.’ Grandma dressed me so I was ready to go by the time Grandpa stepped out on the porch. Every darky on the place was there and all calling ‘Christmas gif’, ‘Mos Jack, Christmas gif’. He went to his desk that always stood there and took out an old purse full of coins, threw the money out on the ground, on the light snow. It did not take them long to pick it up. He handed the purse to me and it among my treasures, a reminder of an unusual occasion. Now why did no one ever steal that money? It would have been so easy to step up on the porch and take the purse. Two of the men stepped up and took Grandpa on their shoulders and marched around the house with the whole laughing, shouting crowd behind them. Meanwhile Grandma and the other women were ready for their return. They had been busy for this event. Each man was given a new pair of jeans, a pair of shoes and two paris of socks. Each woman and child had a new pair of shoes, lindsey for dresses, and calico for a best dress, also yarn to knit into stockings. All from the wool of Grandpa’s sheep. Each adult had a new red bandanna. What a grand dinner we had that day, the bright bandannas much in evidence above the smiling faces. That night chairs and tables were moved aside in the dining room and slaves from other plantations came in to help with the fun. I was on my Uncle’s shoulder watching the dancers and the perspiring fiddlers.

I remember we went home with Uncle Will and Aunt Lina that night and her good biscuits the next morning. And my cute little cousin Albert who continued to hand up his stocking for a week. But a year after that time my poor old Grandfather was terribly distressed after the slaves were gone, all but a few who would not leave. He would say to Grandmother ‘Miriam, where do you reckon those poor niggers are? They can’t make a living. They are cold and hungry right now’. He did not live long after that."