Sweet, Southern Christmas memories

[This originally appeared in “Home for the Holidays,” a special section of The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]

 

Looking back at the Christmases of my youth, I’m starting to realize my family may be a little bit redneck.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to come to this conclusion, but in writing this column I’ve all of a sudden become vastly aware that bleeding out a deer and sledding downhill in the top of a wheelbarrow may not be normal Christmastime practices for everyone. Did anyone else have to dodge barbed-wire fencing while sliding in the snow?

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I’m much better at remembering Christmastime in the last decade or so, but memories from 1990-2003 are probably my favorite, as foggy as they may be.

My mom’s family rotated who hosted Christmas so every third year we went to Mississippi. Those were the years we’d cram 40 people — all of whom I’m allegedly related to — into a tiny cabin and eat and try not to be intimidated by the number of dead animals hanging on the wall. To be fair, the Santa hats and bows made them much less threatening to a young girl who didn’t grow up hunting. What was still fairly disconcerting was the deer that was being gutted outside.

In a typical Hallmark movie, everyone would stay inside because there was snow falling and it was chilly outside so we’d huddle around a fire. Y’all this was Mississippi and it was hot with 40 people in a tiny cabin so we were known to walk around outside in our short-sleeve shirts. You never forget your first deer gutting. At least the colors were appropriate for the holiday as the red splashed down onto the still-green grass.

That has to earn us at least 10 redneck points.

My mom’s sister lived on a farm in Western Kentucky. We shucked corn in the summer and went sledding behind four-wheelers in the winter. I feel certain child welfare would be called if we did the same thing today — yet I secretly hope my second cousins enjoy the same privileges this winter.

Do you need a license to drive a four-wheeler? How fast do those things go? 10-year-old me was positive it was 60 miles per hour and had the frostbite on my nose to prove it. Current me knows that’s not possible, especially when it was hardly freezing outside, but I refuse to let it taint the memories with my cousins. We were flying on those inner tubes and you can never convince me differently.

As fun and mentally scarring as those memories are, I don’t think anything will ever top wintertime sledding at the Hayes’ farm.

Their humble abode sits atop the steepest, longest, most daunting hill in all of middle Tennessee. I know you think I’m exaggerating but I would never in a million years use hyperbole to describe my childhood.

I think it was an unwritten rule: If it snowed, the entire congregation was invited to Mr. Mark and Mrs. Cindy’s house on the hill to enjoy some good, clean family fun of sledding to our potential deaths.

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To this day I’m not sure if any of the families who attended owned real sleds. It doesn’t snow much in southern Tennessee, so why would we? But what we did have were pool floats, trashcan lids and wheelbarrows. And buddy, we would fly down those hills dodging hidden cow patties, each other, small boulders, the creekbed at the bottom and bits of barbed wire as we went. I have a very vivid memory of my sister and the preacher’s daughter throwing themselves off a “sled” to avoid such fencing. I wasn’t sure if they’d make it, but I reckon the parents standing at the top were saying some special prayers because they are alive and well today.

These memories seem even sweeter now that I have nieces and a nephew whom I’ll get to watch experience the same things. The youngest will be 8-months-old at Christmas, which is probably the perfect time for a redneck family like mine to take her sledding.

Anybody have any ideas on how to fit a wheelbarrow in a sedan?

Caitlin Herrington was born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky. She would, in fact, use hyperbole to describe her childhood. You can reach her at cherrington@upstatetoday.com.

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