McDowell Technical Community College

Life Lessons

By Doug Harrell


As we approach Christmas I find myself thinking back to passed Christmases  and the things we did.  I remember mother baking and working to fix food and goodies to take to folks in the community.  We would always go out in the woods and find a pine or cedar tree to decorate with popcorn strands that we would string on a long piece of thread to make a kind of roping.  The popcorn, the little strands of tinsel and a few lights later on, when we could afford them.  Mother would take some of the trimmings off the tree for greenery and I would take a shotgun and shoot some mistletoe out of the oak trees out past where Clark and Gloria Drake now live in Harrell Hill.  We would also gather some holly branches with the red berries on it for window decorations.  Another great memory was going on our yearly shopping trip across the Iron Mountain to Johnson City to Christmas shop.  We would even get to go out to eat at my great Uncle Harry’s restaurant, that was the only time I can remember going out to eat during the year back then.

The most important event that would take place would be our Christmas Play at the little church on top of the hill, Pleasant Grove Church of the Brethren.  Back then there were lots of youngsters in the community and we would have parts, along with the grownups, in the play.  The focus of the entire community and church was around the birth of Jesus, not just gifts.  There were no big displays of lights on the houses or anything like that, most of us just barely had lights in the house and many of us still had the old one-hole outhouse where our Christmas dreaming was done looking through the Sears Catalog. Certain pages you did not tear out because you wanted to be able to look at them again.  The community would get together and go Christmas Caroling. Most of the time we rode on the back of my granddad’s old 51 Chevy flatbed truck, and went to the houses of those that could not get out.  It seemed that everyone in the community was in a loving and happy mood.  I know now, looking back, that this was not always the case though.

Christmas morning was always something we anticipated for weeks, hoping to get our wished-for gift from Santa Clause and our Christmas stocking.  I still have the handmake stocking that mother made for me one year and still fill it Christmas morning.  The gifts were very meager in comparison to what happens today.  If we were lucky we got a piece of clothing and a toy.  On the Christmas that I had turned 12, I will never forget, that I got a Savage single shot, full choke 16-gauge shotgun and I thought I had hit the absolute jackpot.  My dad, A D Harrell, was an avid hunter and outdoorsman and he wanted to be sure that I followed that example. So looking back, I think that was as much for him as it was for me.

Today I long for the attitude of gratitude that was exhibited during Christmas of old, not the attitude of entitlement that we and our children seem to put forth today.  It seems as if everyone is trying to outdo the neighbor in their decorations, gifts and whatever, over the Christmas season.  I long to see the emphasis put back on the Savior’s birth, not just the window lights.  The reason for the season is not to make a bunch of money selling merchandise and all that, even though there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we remember the real reason… the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is not a “Happy Holiday”, it is a Happy Holy Day, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, The Christ.  Merry Christmas to each of you.