A CHRISTMAS REFLECTION – THEN AND NOW
By Richard E. “Rick” Dennis CPP
Freelance Writer and Author
Copyright 2020 – All Rights Reserved
December 13, 2020
As a youngster growing up in Fungo Hollow, Alabama; a farming community located in Shelby County at the base of Oak Mountain, in the 1950s and 1960s, I was born into a family and community where Christmas was one of the most celebrated holidays of the year. By today’s standards, some would say our family was poor – but we never recognized or was aware of this class distinction. Growing up, I always had plenty to eat, 22 bullets to shoot, several pairs of overalls to wear and at least one pair of boots to wear a year.
When I was not in school, hard work and assigned chores was the standard of the day. It seemed a never-ending supply of work was readily at hand requiring attention. As I was the oldest in my family, these essential after-school duties usually came my way first. I never did quite figure out why being the oldest meant you were assigned more work. I always figured being the oldest meant you could be assigned a managerial role. I soon learned this philosophy was not a viable thought process with my parents, nor my grandparents.
Horses and mules were not used for recreational or exhibition purposes as they are today. Instead my family, as well as other families in my community, used these noble animals principally for plowing, cultivating and harvesting crops in the fields to provide food for the table and bring our sale crops to the train depot in Clanton, Alabama for shipment to the farmers market in Birmingham, Alabama.
These animals were also used as our principle mode of transportation, to bring trees out of the mountains to provide firewood for the fire place and wood-burning heaters, the smoke house for meat preservation or the saw mill to provide lumber for building purposes. Tractors were non-existent in this time period.
It was during this time of the year my family was catapulted into the Spirit of Christmas, which meant it was time to go up on Oak Mountain for the much-anticipated and celebrated Christmas tree cutting. My grandmother Jeanette, on my father’s side, was the matriarch of the designated Christmas tree selection and harvesting process.
My grandmother, born out of a Scottish father and mother, always seemed to have a spiritual connection with the tree she selected. We would move over the mountains for hours viewing what seemed an endless supply of trees – but after each evaluation she would declare, “Nope, not the right tree!”
Often times this tree scrutiny and survey continued for hours and miles of hard walking, until the moment of truth arrived when suddenly my grandmother would stop by a tree, grab and shake it, mentally eye it up and down, walk around it several times and turn with a big smile on her face and declare, “Kids, this is our Christmas tree!”
When the selection process was over, the tree was harvested by the oldest family members with an axe or a crosscut saw, or both, and promptly loaded on the sled and pulled home with each family member sharing with their turn on the pull rope.
When we arrived at home there weren’t any store bought ornaments to decorate our tree but we did have an ample supply of hand-made decorations acquired over the years from various family members. Each family member possessed one special ornament with his or her name scribed on it which made for a fast scramble to the ornament box to be the first to put their ornament on the tree.
The remaining ornaments were made by us. Popcorn was popped, colored with food dye into various colors, strung on sewing thread and hung on the tree to form a sea of riveting colors. Everything kids could think of were eventually hung on our Christmas tree until the matriarch affixed the Star of David on top of the tree, signaling the decorating was over.
The most valuable lessons I learned from my early childhood experiences and the Spirit of Christmas are – the family is the most valuable commodity we have, never forget your roots, always give something back, it’s better to give than to receive and it doesn’t matter how much or what you have, make the best of it because often times more is not necessarily better.
Today some Christmas trees come complete out of a box, including lights and
decorations. Christmas tree decorations and ornaments are manufactured in sizes, shapes and colors and readily available for purchase at department stores.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year have been replaced by the politically correct euphemism and another politically correct euphemism has replaced “A Christmas Party” with
Horses and mules have been replaced by tractors as the principle cultivation tool in the farming community while establishing themselves as the principle means of recreation for the equestrian community as well as, in some cases, big business.
In fact, an entire equestrian industry has evolved around the noble horse as well as the businesses that have emerged to support them: tack shops, feed stores, judges, horse training facilities, horse breeding facilities, medical facilities and veterinarians, drug manufacturers, horse trailer manufacturers, equestrian magazines, bit makers, saddle makers, etc., and include the nonprofit organizations that have emerged to support this industry.
In the equestrian industry today, we are very lucky to have nonprofit’s such as the American Quarter Horse Association, National Cutting Horse Association, National Reined Cow Horse Association and the National Reining Horse Association, as well as other breed specific horse organizations that provide us with a place to exhibit our stock (professional and non-pro alike), meet new folks in the spirit of competition and establish new friendships along the way.
These organizations are not always perfect but a lot of folks rely on these equestrian organizations, as well as the guys and gals that run them, as a source of revenue to provide sustenance for their families in the spirit of entrepreneurship. They not only provide a single source of revenue for some but a lot of enjoyment for families and individuals in the equestrian industry.
Therefore, in the Spirit of Christmas, I would like to personally thank you – one and all for your time spent in these wonderful organizations and the contributions made by each one of you to support the equine industry.
In my journey, I’ve never lost sight of the core principles I learned as a boy nor have I forgotten my roots or the Spirit of Christmas! In keeping with these ideologies, it has been my policy throughout my professional career to always give something back to the community from my professions: free drug lectures to schools, free time spent as a mentor with under-privileged children and free riding lessons for the youth – no matter what their financial position is.
Over the years, my students have always generously paid me back by providing me with an exhilarating feeling from just watching their eyes light up when they finally execute a maneuver correctly or after completing their first show. When I see such happiness in a child’s eyes, it reminds me of days long ago on Oak Mountain harvesting that special Christmas tree on that cold winter day and that special lesson I learned during a time in my life long ago. “It truly is better to give than receive!”
This Christmas is different due to the Covid 19 Pandemic. However, we can still enjoy our families and the Christmas Holidays. Therefore, at this very special time of the year, our thoughts turn gratefully to those who have made our progress possible. It is with the Spirit of Christmas and personal gratitude that I would like to wish each and everyone one of you, especially the avid readers of “WIND RIVER INDUSTRY NEWS,” as well as all those in the equine industry, a Merry Christmas and a most prosperous, safe, and Happy New Year!
“Until Next Time, Keep ‘em Between The Bridle”