We had difficulties when we were growing up in Martin County, Kentucky, but overall, we thought we were doing okay. President Lyndon Johnson came to Inez, Kentucky, in 1964 to let us know we weren’t doing very well. He began his campaign in our community and we became the poster child for American poverty. We hadn’t really thought of ourselves as poor until we started hearing about ourselves in the news.
I had numerous friends who didn’t get much for Christmas. Often it was one or two small gifts or nothing at all.
Several classmates at my elementary school in Tomahawk, Kentucky, were fortunate if they had a coat to wear in the winter. Ragged-looking shoes on a kid’s feet during the winter was a common sight.
Several classmates came to school to wash their faces and hands in the boys’ bathroom. The school lunch was the only decent meal some of the kids ate during the week.
It was a while before President Johnson’s 1964 promises started helping our area. Even with the roll out of government assistance, many families subsisted until the coal boom of the seventies, which has almost died. Today our county is reinventing itself with agriculture, a service center to aid bitcoin mining, tourism, and small businesses.
I don’t remember every Christmas, but I remember one. My dad broke his back falling off a barn when I was a child. He was out of work for several months and in those days, we didn’t have government safety nets to see us through tough financial times. Christmas came as usual, and we did put up a tree. Our family gathered on Christmas Eve, and we had food, fellowship and laughter. We always raised a garden and my parents stored food, so it came in handy during tough times.
I expected nothing for Christmas that year because the heaviness of family financial pressure was obvious even as a child. Surprisingly, my mother handed me a small, wrapped box that Christmas Eve and said Merry Christmas. I was shocked. Opening the box, I found a watch that had numbers that glowed in the dark. It may have cost $5 but it was priceless to me. I was thrilled and wore it every night to just look at the glowing numbers.
Dad was recuperating that Christmas. His temporary disability and our financial stress made life gloomy for us that year. Yet, here I am remembering that Christmas as one of the best of all. It was during that Christmas that I remember the presence of family. Mom and dad were alive. We had food to eat. We had a roof over our heads and our family had each other.
This may not be your best Christmas, but maybe, just maybe you can still have Christmas.
The empty chair is painful. Depression is real. Financial or other personal difficulties may have disabled you. Millions have died from Covid-19. Thousands are suffering from horrific tornadoes and loss of life. Hurricanes have pounded us in the East and fires have incinerated our West. In the midst of it all, this inflation eats away at America’s paychecks like an unchecked malignancy.
The message of Christmas is the story of peasant parents, enduring difficult travel, taxes to be paid and no place to sleep but a barn and a cow’s trough for their newborn baby. Somehow, they found strength in each other and in God who brought them and their baby through a very difficult time. We never forget their story and their plight; it’s truly a Christmas worth remembering.
We are going to remember this Christmas, no doubt. Somehow, someway, with God’s help and each other, may this be a Christmas worth remembering.