In a Place Called Cory: Christmas Time Back Home
By Dick WYATT
With the mystical glamour that naturally belongs to the Christmas season one can add the romance that belongs to small-town America…especially the little town where I was born and raised…nothing short of enchantment. I do not think that even in the England of cavalier days was Christmas more picturesquely celebrated than it was in my old hometown of Cory, one of God’s chosen towns in Western Indiana, just a stone’s throw from Terre Haute.
Back home in Cory, the Methodist Episcopal Church was the center of all community activity. As a boy I attended Sunday school almost every Sunday. Since we lived just down and across the street from the church, it was given that I attend.
As the Yule season began, the Sunday school teachers and our minister began talking and explaining the greatness of the season. With each passing day, the spirit of the season began welling up in my chest until I thought it would burst with the excitement.
I remember well, participating in many of the church’s activities during the Christmas season. One I always looked forward helping to get the big Christmas tree, which was to be set up in the rear of the beautiful choir loft. Two or three of us boys, the names of Dale REECE and Bob BENNETT came to mind, would accompany a few of the men of the church to Almond KESTER’s farm where a multitude of great cedar trees grew.
Under the shadowy canopy of live trees we would always find a holy tree some 15 feet high with heavy-foliage, perfect symmetry, cone-shaped, and agleam with sensational greenery. Such men, long, departed to their final reward, as Harry LEICHTY, Clyde SHAW and Harvey FELL, had a great eye for beauty when it came to selecting a Christmas tree.
The tree would be cut and placed on the flat bed of a truck – one year my late father furnished the vehicle – and we would drive to the church whose white walls are as beautiful today as they were in those long ago days. The tree would be moved into the church where it would be placed in the choir loft and made firm, where it in its entire majestic spender, would supremely rule during those glorious holidays of old.
After the tree had been erected, the women and girls of the church would take over. I remember my own sainted mother lending a hand every now and then. They would trim the tree with stringed popcorn and popcorn balls. You see, in the Christmas times I am talking about, tree lights had not yet made their appearance in small town America, at least, not in Cory.
Anyway, the popcorn balls would have, of course, been dipped in boiling sorghum to give them a golden sheen. With the glistening white strings of popcorn, the golden popcorn balls made for a beautiful sight to behold. With such a beautiful tree standing in the church, it would not have been Christmas unless a Yuletide program was presented on Christmas Eve. Every youngster in the church would take part in those programs, usually directed by two of the community’s finest ladies – Mrs. Gladys MILLER SHAW and Mrs. Grace BUCK GLAZNER. There were several other ladies involved, but it was usually Mrs. SHAW and Mrs. GLAZNER who ran the show.
I remember reciting Christmas poems every year until I was about 12 or 13. My favorite, I guess, was the traditional “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Following the program, came the highlight of the night – one that all of the kids had been waiting for – the handing out of the gifts that had been piled high under the tree for several days.
Gifts were distributed by lottery. Every kid in the church wrote his or her name on a slip of paper and placed it in a box. When that was done, you drew out a slip, and you bought a gift for the boy or girl whose name was on it. The gifts were not to exceed more than 50 cents, but a half dollar went a long way in those days. The gifts, of course, were passed out, by whom else, Santa Claus. As I grew older, I learned Santa was being played by our neighbor, Bill JOSLIN, the village blacksmith, whose size made him the perfect one for the role.
Then it was home, where I would dream of the wonders that the morning would bring. Yes, there were always many gifts to open and enjoy. My young sister, Beatrice (WYATT), would do as well in that department. I remember the big smiles that crossed the wonderful faces of my late parents – supremely happy that they had once again made it a Merry Christmas for their children.
Every now and then as Christmas nears, I wander out on my home’s west porch and think of Christmas times past. When the nights have clear skies, I watch the moon cast its silvery glamor over the world and certain great stars blaze in the velvet void of heaven.
Far off, I can hear my old hometown friends of my youth singing their Christmas carols – the sweetest melody, I think, of which the human voice is capable. As the magic of the night spreads over the countryside, the serenity of joyous peace descends – the peace of human hearts of Christmastime. And so it was, in a place called Cory, a long time ago.