My mother loved Christmas. The Windham family didn’t have a lot of money for expensive gifts, so Mother directed our assortment of handmade gifts for friends and relatives. There were colorful woven potholders, decorated soap dishes made from cockle shells and other crafts, along with fresh baked cookies and date balls.
One of our most anticipated days of the season was my sister Kitti’s birthday, December 17, when we would get our Christmas tree. It generally would come from some little tree sales out in the country, and it was always a cedar. Then we’d climb up the pull-down stairs into the attic and haul out boxes of ornaments and other decorations, many of them handmade by us through the years.
When the three Windham children moved away to go to college and start careers, Mother continued the December 17th tradition of getting and decorating a Christmas tree. As she aged, she decided the climb into the attic was not especially safe, so we would come home to find the tree decorated with pinwheels or other dollar store procurement. One Christmas, Mother was particularly ambitious and made a garland for the tree from all her green prescription bottles.
Sometime in the early 2000s, Alabama artist Charlie Lucas moved in next door to Mother. They became fast friends, and, at Christmastime, they would go together to land owned by one of Mother’s friends who’d given her permission to cut her tree there.
On one such occasion, Mother and Charlie loaded themselves up in Charlie’s pickup and set out to chop the Christmas tree. They pulled off the two-lane road and headed into the woods to find just the right one.
Meanwhile, a concerned citizen driving by saw the two of them going off into the woods. Alarmed, she quickly called 911 and got the Selma Police Department on the phone. Questioned about her emergency, the woman breathlessly reported, “I just saw a black man take an old white lady into the woods, and he had a hatchet!”
Sometimes it pays to live in a small town where everybody knows everything about everyone else. The policeman on the other end of the line chuckled. “Don’t you worry, ma’am. That’s just Charlie taking Miss Kathryn to get her Christmas tree.”
Merry Christmas, everybody…
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Ben Windham & Dilcy Windham Hilley
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