And Now You Know: Celebrating Christmas at “The Bluff”
This year as I am older and there have been so many changes in my life, I have thought a lot about Christmases past spent at my great grandmothers old house at Niblett’s Bluff, or as we called it “The Bluff.”
My maternal great grandmother was May Belile, born in 1880. Her son, my great uncle Dan, lived with her. Uncle Dan was an old bachelor who never married and lived with his mother in the old house in the woods.
The old house was a five room house, the living room was the corner, two bedrooms went to the west and a dining room and kitchen went north to make the “L” shape of the old house.
There was a fireplace in the living room, running water in the kitchen and by the time I was about 14 there had been a small bathroom with a hot water heater added to the end of the sleeping porch.
Uncle Dan said the house was “so far back in the woods you had to pipe sunlight back there”, to me it was a wonderful place to go. There were woods for me to roam in, chickens, hogs, cows, and an old horse, Prince.
The best time to be at “The Bluff” was Christmas. My family was small, there were my parents and my sister, mother’s parents, mother’s sister, and her husband and “Ma and Uncle Dan”, as we called the two people in the old house.
We would load Christmas gifts and food on Christmas Eve and drive to the Bluff.
Uncle Dan would have gone to the woods and cut a small pine tree for the Christmas tree. He had some very old decorations and sometimes he would have popcorn strung and hanging on the branches. The living room was small, so the pine tree added aroma to the room aided by the fire in the fireplace.
We would drive through the woods after dark and see the Christmas tree through the window as we approached the house. When we opened the door to go inside, we would smell the pine from the tree mixed with the odor of the wood, usually oak, burning in the fireplace. It was the “best time of the year.”
Presents would be placed around the tree and food taken to the dining room and kitchen.
My family was always the first to arrive, my grandparents and aunt and uncle came later.
When all ten of us were together, we would go to the dining room and start the “eating part of the night”, as Uncle Dan called it. Uncle Dan resembled “Uncle Joe” on Petticoat Junction, the old TV series and had about the same comic sense. If you asked him to pass you a roll, it would likely come sailing through the air to you.
after we ate, we moved into the living room and passed around the presents. I am a child of the 50s, Roy Rogers and other cowboy shows were on TV, so my favorite presents to receive were always some sort of toy guns.
When we had all opened our presents and worked off some of the food, we would wander back to the dining room and find pies, cakes, homemade fruit cake, coffee for the adults and milk for Sue and me.
Later, my family would load the presents we received and left over food in the car and drive back home.
When we got home, Sue and I discovered a miracle! We found that Santa Clause had been to our house while we were away and left our presents. Mother and Dad told us this happened because he knew we would not be home, so he left ours on his early toy run. Other kids would get their presents later at night while they were asleep. Santa did things this way so by morning he would have all the presents delivered.
That story worked for me……I did not care when I got my presents as long as I got them.
Over the years, I began to notice something strange. My dad had an unusual way of making the letter “E”. Presents addressed to me from Santa Clause had the “E” made the same way. It took me a few Christmases, but the pieces finally fell into place. I played it cool for a few more years and continued to get my cap pistols and other such toys. When the secret was finally out, the toys dropped off and I started getting blue jeans, socks, and underwear.
By the 1960s, I was grown and the elders in the family started leaving us. Christmases began to change. Togetherness at Christmas was no longer the same.
I have good memories of other Christmases but, my memories of driving through the woods on Christmas Eve to the old house at “The Bluff” are and always will be my best Christmas memories.
“And now you know.”