Christmas Memories

By John J. Duncan Jr.

We are blessed beyond our comprehension to live in this country, and we should be especially thankful at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I read not long ago that almost half the people in this world have to get by on $4.00 or less a day and that about three-fourths have to live on less than $10.00 a day.

In the U.S., on the other hand with only a little over four percent of the world’s population, we buy almost one-fourth of the world’s goods.

I will celebrate my 73rd Christmas this year, and all have been in East Tennessee with one partial exception.

I had an aunt and uncle and five cousins who lived in Manchester.  Two of the boys were close in age to me and my brother, Joe, who was three years younger.

Several times Joe and I would ride the Greyhound bus to McMinnville where my aunt would pick us up.

One Christmas eve, it started snowing, and we were waiting inside the bus station for the return trip to Knoxville.

The bus driver, not seeing any waiting passengers outside, just slowed down but did not turn into the station and kept on going.

My brother and I spent the night with our cousins and watched them open all their presents.  We rode the bus back on Christmas afternoon and finally got to open our presents that night.

When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, we were not poor but certainly not wealthy either.  Daddy was the city law director for a little over three years and mayor for almost six years during the nine years from when I was 9 to 17.

He made I think $7,200 as law director and $15,000 as mayor, good salaries at that time, but with a family of six, no one considered us rich.

Kids in those years did not get nearly as many clothes and toys as now.  We moved into a 1,400 square foot house in Holston Hills in 1952.  As was typical then, there was very little closet space and just one bathroom.

On Christmas in 1956, when I was nine and my brother was six, we got replica Tennessee football jerseys which were cheap by today’s standards but memorable to me to this day.  I was given number 33, the jersey of Tom “The Bomb” Tracey and Joe got number 45, which was worn by Johnny Majors.

I was in the last 7th and 8th grade classes at Holston before it became just a four-year high school.  In 1959, my Christmas presents were a nice Holston jacket, a blue portable radio and, for some reason, a black fedora hat which I almost never wore.

One Christmas, Neal Ridley, who co-owned the Knoxville Smokies with my dad, gave me and my brother nice Rawlings baseball gloves with our names stamped on them.  We were very proud of those gloves.

I worked full eight-hour shifts as a reporter for the Knoxville Journal on both Thanksgiving and Christmas in 1968 since I was low on the totem pole at the paper.

This made me realize how many people have to work full-time on holidays, and I have appreciated their sacrifices ever since then.

I think one of the most beautiful sounds is to hear “O Holy Night” sung on Christmas Eve at a candlelight service.

I hope you have fond Christmas memories and a very merry Christmas this year.

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