2008-12-25 / Opinions

Book Review

Christmas Gift! By FERROL SAMS
Reviewed by PEGGY BARNETT

Readers of Run with the Horsemen and The Whisper of the River will welcome this short account of Christmas days in Sams' youth. If you are not familiar with his writing, this book would be a good beginning. He writes with humor, gentle sentiment, and nostalgia.

You don't have to remember the "good ole days" to enjoy hearing about them. Christmas Gift! was published in 1989. Sams says that he is writing for his grandchildren. "I can remember their parents as children, their great-aunts when they were children. I remember their great-grandparents and their greatgreat grandparents. I have sixty-six years of Christmas past within me. I will give it to them."

He grew up on a working farm in Fayette County, Georgia. Families and the community added to their usual chores the cooking and baking and other activities of preparation for Christmas. "Auntie" made the fruitcake, which twice a week she doused with the blackberry wine that was usually reserved for medicinal purposes by that teetotaling Baptist. At a time when money was scarce, a major shopping trip was made to find appropriate gifts for a large extended family.

"The aroma of the bird cooking in the stove room mingled with the fragrance of the tree in the parlor and became the foundation for the perfumes of Christmas." The children were assigned tasks, and so were included at their own pace. One of Ferrol's jobs was to drain and crack the coconuts for the traditional dessert of ambrosia.

When Christmas Eve finally came, stockings (real, everyday, above-the-knee stockings) were draped across furniture and tables, with name tags pinned to them. Each child received a sky rocket and two Roman candles, as well as an apple and an orange, raisins still full of seeds, nuts and hard candies. Most years there were tangerines. But the real proof that Santa had filled those stockings was the pecans that clearly did not come from the family grove. "No one in our thrifty family would have stooped to paying out good money for any product that was raised on the farm."

When the wide-awake children were released on Christmas morning, the cry of "Christmas Gift!" rang all over the house. "You said it first and you said it fast. You said it to anyone upon first sight that day. It was the salutation of the season, used only on that particular morning." It was generations old, and it was said that whoever beat another person to saying it was supposed to receive a present from that individual.

The details of that glorious season are wonderful to re-live with Sams. He concludes by explaining that even though he and his sisters and cousins grew up and settled into their own homes, the traditions continue in many ways. "Christmas, they say, is for children. So, I think, is Christianity."

Christmas Gift! is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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