The next project which went on for weeks was the cooking. There was always a Caramel cake, a Coconut cake, and a Lane cake. The first task would be cracking coconuts and digging the coconut out of the hard edge. This would be used in our Coconut and Lane Cakes. And to make sure our Lane cake was good my mother would send the “colored woman” (her term) who worked for us to the liquor store to get the whiskey for the cake. She was instructed to only go after dark so that nobody would know the Lovette’s were buying whiskey—which was flat out against our religion. After all Baptists did not drink. Since my Mother was scared we would run out of sweets she always added a Pecan Pie and a Chocolate pie. Always there would be a fresh ham, a cured ham and a huge hen. There was no turkey in our house. My mother would always say: “You can’t make good dressing with an old turkey.” And so we get the biggest hen we would find and my Mother would always exclaim: “Um, Um ain’t she the fattest thing you ever seen.”
On the Friday night before Christmas everyone would stream to the Baptist Church. Santa Claus would make an appearance. In the center of the Sanctuary would be a huge Christmas tree and under the tree would be sacks of apples, oranges, nuts and a little candy. This was handed out by the Big Cheese who ran the mill. We sang and sang and finally got our presents and walked home with our sacks.
Finally the big day would arrive and we would get up early, wake our parents up to see what Santa Claus had brought. We always got more than we needed which, looking back now, kept my parents in debt for months and months.
That afternoon after our finest tablecloth had been ironed and best dishes were brought out the table would be laden down with hams, chicken, dressing and real biscuits as big as your fist and dumplings and an assortment of vegetables. It was a feast. All afternoon our neighbors would drop in. Of course they protested, they could not eat another bite—but before they left there was less ham and hen and almost all the dressing would have disappeared. “Just give me a little” they would whisper. And then after they finished they would say, “That was really good. Could I have just a little bit more.” And they would fill up their plates again.
On my desk under the glass is a picture of my mother’s last Christmas. She is sitting on our sofa and she has her packages in her lap, our Christmas tree is behind her and the look on her face is utter delight. This may all be a far cry from Jesus and Mary and Joseph. After all the Preacher had preached his annual sermon always the same: Put Christ back in the commercialized Christmas. And we had already had Christmas pageant held every year in the Mill auditorium. Surely that was enough religion for anybody.
The old book says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and those words come alive for me particularly at Christmas. They are all there: Mother and Father and Brother and Uncle Boss and Cousin Carl and black Nancy, a dog or a cat or two and neighbors who lived all around us. And I remember their faces as if yesterday and I also recall the gift of love and celebration they gave us in that tiny little house on First Avenue in Columbus Georgia. Georgia year after wonderful year. Is it any wonder this seventy-something-year-old still loves the Christmas season?