The Star Democrat
Memories of Christmas past
I know that I have shared many of my memories of my childhood, but today I want to reflect on those days more than ever, due to past years of isolation and stress of attempting to be “like the Christmas memories gone by.” Please sit down with your siblings, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and others to revive those days so they understand those old-fashioned memories.
As many of you know I was one of 11 children. My mom and dad had nine sons and two daughters, and they owned a large farm on the Mason Dixon line outside of Bishopville. I had six older brothers, and my sister was nine years older than me.
Our parents grew true wheat crops, raised chickens, had a large garden, raised milk-producing cows, hogs and laying hens; which provided eggs, made butter, and the list goes on. In the wintertime my dad drove an oil truck for the Pure Oil Company because the field work was done for the season.They also raised chickens and years later he started a trucking company named Hitchens Poultry, which eventually became Hitchens Brothers Trucking.
Some kids at school wanted to know if we were “poor” because of so many kids. The answer was “no.” Mom had very little to buy at the store because we had eggs, frying and stewing chickens, pork, beef, homemade canning vegetables, canned relishes, homemade jellies and jams, milk and homemade butter, homemade biscuits, pies, cakes, puddings, custards, homegrown potatoes, sweet potatoes. and the list goes on and on.
Food supply was not a problem and many “town housewives” would buy extras from mom. Families helped each other to survive and shared their bountiful supplies.
My oldest brother was born in early 1939, and my youngest brother was born in 1951. We all worked on the farm until we pursued other vocations in life.
My greatest and most precious memory was of Sunday morning breakfast, Sunday and holiday dinners and Saturday afternoon car washings. Having so many brothers they would park their cars in the side yard and the fun began. I was paid 25 cents a car to vacuum out the cars (big money) and then the brothers’ friends came and we had a pre-teen girls dream of good looking guys with “cool” cars.
Mom always had enough food on the table to feed her family and whoever else stopped in. Some days the yard was full of cars and pickups and more lined down the road! Town folks didn’t know if there was a reunion, a birth, a death, celebration or a brother home on leave from the service or what was going on at the Hitchens Farm.
The winter cress and turnip greens grew in a huge abundant supply, and we walked the fields with baskets and cut them.We took them up to the washhouse, cleaned them by soaking them in many tubs of water before cooking them with fat meat until tender, straight off the water and chopping them up to eat. The ladies at our church came to pick for the monthly church dinners, and local folks came also to “Mrs. Laura’s” green fields.
What did you do for fun on the farm during the wintertime was a question I was often asked. Well, after the farm chores were done, there was much fun to be had! Our “town friends” came out and we ran in the ditches and broke the ice up by stomping. We skated on the ditch ice; daddy pulled us on the cornshuck sled across the frozen fields; we played with long icicles we broke off the outside buildings; we made snow cream with the clean snow. We had snowball fights and made fires on the frozen ground to warm our hands. Finally, we went to the house where mom made “real” hot chocolate using milk and Hershey’s powdered chocolate. No trouble sleeping at night on those homemade feather mattresses and the homemade quilts.
I need to close with one of mom’s favorite recipes, but had a hard time deciding which one could it be. The choice are many, slick dumplings, biscuits, custard, bread pudding, rice pudding, oyster fritters, fried chicken, and so many more. I decided to do one of her favorites.
FASHIONED SWEET POTATO PIE
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make one 10inch pie shell or purchase one pre-made shell and set aside — do not bake. In a large mixing bowl place 2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup softened butter, 2 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup evaporated milk. Mix well and pour into an unbaked pie crust. Place in a preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before serving with a dab of whipped topping, if desired. Try a slice of this great pie with a glass of fresh cow’s milk!
Merry Christmas to each of my readers and your loved ones! Stay safe, stay healthy and share those memories — the best gift ever!