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Skating and tree selection were yule traditions

December 23, 2016
Bob Madison - Shepherdstown Chronicle , Shepherdstown Chronicle

The ice on the one-acre pond was thick enough to skate away the early-evening hours.

Bodies were bundled against the exploring fingers of the cold. Ice skates were handed down from generation to generation.

A bonfire was ablaze after safety precautions to be sure it didn't escape bounds or send sparks or embers off into the night to cause problems.

The ground was covered in a thickness of snow that fell in regular intervals -- enough to leave six inches of white around the edges of the cleared pond surface.

The rural folk could skate so well it was as if it came as natural as milking by hand, scattering hay in feed lots or scooping silage into troughs for the dairy cows.

Laughter filled the always-crisp air. Hot chocolate was a staple. Coffee was there as a reminder that your stomach could stay warm even if your fingers and toes were rebelling against the cold.

Anybody with access to a car was a popular figure. Five or six would-be skaters would spill out of any years-old vehicle that came to the frozen pond.

A few came by bobsled, a long swath of finished wood with curved runners and a rope in front if pulling it became necessary.

But a real star on those bygone nights when gathering to skate and swap Christmas tips and tell of recent escapades was an honest-to-goodness, one-horse open sleigh. The roads weren't menaced by high-speed vehicles or semi-trailers. They were at times even orphans without any traffic at all for an hour or more.

A one-horse sleigh could dance the distance between "downtown" Kearneysville and the pond next to the Leetown Fish Hatchery without any real danger of an auto making the horse do more than shake its head.

The sleigh had its runners and at least three or four passengers clothed in the layers of wool and fur under a wide blanket that held sway against the coldest night.

The young people skated for a time and then retreated to the side of the bonfire to get a little warmer and see the winning smile of someone they really came to visit with while using skating as a ready excuse for being there.

Plans were made to go afield in search of the perfect Christmas tree, pine boughs, festive greenery, holly with its bright red berries and maybe even osage orange balls that could be used in outside decorations.

Off to the woods or areas where fir trees had been planted by design, the sons and daughters of farmers, orchardists, small-town merchants or school teachers would be "armed" with honed axe, tree trimmers ordinarily used for orchard use and reliable saw.

The mantels of area homes awaited the greens. Doorways and window sills received their share as did the railings beside stairs that led from the bottom floor to bedrooms above.

Mistletoe could be bought at local markets or relatives from down in Virginia could use their marksmanship to shoot down some from the upper branches of trees.

The fir trees had to pass the inspections of at least a dozen pair of eyes. When properly cut the tree would be loaded on a sled or hay wagon for transport. Two people could carry a tree of less than mammoth size.

Greens were selected to be used in making wreaths that were also constructed by plying together dried apples, holly, colored milkweed, dyed thistles, pine cones and other things provided by nature.

Decorating a tree called for meticulous planning by all concerned. Ornaments, tinsel, strands of dried popcorn, handmade and handcrafted objects from decades gone by had to be strategically placed. Placing tinsel could take the patience of a person trying to keep pace with a two-year old.

When everything was in place the air smelled richly of pine, loose whiffs of smoke from the fireplace, a bough of cedar in a corner, coffee to renew the energies of the decorators and the brightly-lit tree itself.

Skating on the pond. Planning and then finding just the right tree and all the season's accessories.

Christmas was a celebration time for groups of friends and families who enjoyed each other's company as much as any part of the season.

 
 
 

 

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