Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 17: PMSS Publications (Published by the School)
Dear Friend Letters 1917 – January 24, 1917
CONTENTS: Dear Friend Letters 1917
January 24, 1917, pages 1 – 5
Dear Friend Letters 1917 ; Christmas reminiscence ; accomplishments in two years ; neighbors bring presents ; letter from Santa Claus ; bells heard far off ; birthday cake from Santa ; delivering Christmas trees to four neighbors ; children give window to neighbor ; other celebrations ; children receive stockings filled with toys ; five hundred people came to see community tree ; watched Nativity Scene ; visited with Santa ; seventy children at school ; need for givers of money for spring and summer ; signed by Ethel de Long ;
GALLERY: Dear Friend Letters 1917
TRANSCRIPTION: Dear Friend Letters 1917
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PINE MOUNTAIN SETTLEMENT SCHOOL, INC.
PINE MOUNTAIN, HARLAN COUNTY
Security Trust Co.
January 24, 1917.
This letter is a Christmas reminiscence from Pine Mountain.
“Well, Christmas, hit used to be the rambangin’est, shootin’est, killin’est, chair-flingin’est day in the hull year till the school come, and now look what a pretty time we’ve had today. I didn’t know you could git so many folks together, and have sich a peaceable time. I never did come to one of your Christmas trees before, but I seed you never had no killin’ at em yit. So I come this year.”
Not a chair was flung at Pine Mountain on Christmas, nor a dram drunk, and no one was killed! These are meaningful negatives to us at the “Back of the Beyond,” telling of something accomplished since that Christmas two years ago when we collected the pistols before the party began. But you “furriners,” who have dwelt under the wing of peace, “since allus ago,” can scarcely imagine how pretty a time the negatives made possible.
Our neighbors know that we like gifts of hemlock and holly and mistletoe better than any “fotch-on” presents. So, for two weeks before Christmas, we were continually interrupted by visitors bringing us greens; — grey worn figures, honest, plain, kindly faces — what a glory they gained from the marvellous boughs of holly or the great bunches of mistletoe that somebody had “clomb a tree fer.” The golden apples of the Hesperides could be given with no sweeter grace. Sometimes a neighbor brought us a gift of eggs, a rarity at Christmas when “the hens…
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…aint layin’ good.” Sometimes honey just “robbed” out of a beegum, and once it was a great bunch of gorgeous “feathers of the pea-fowl.”
Some ten days before Christmas just at dusk Santa Claus left a letter at our gate, full of kindly information about himself and his ways, for the thirty or forty children who have never seen Christmas before. He not only laid stress on his well-known love of good behavior, but went into particulars, writing:
“I won’t bring any candy to little boys or girls who leave their nightgowns on the floor in the morning, or don’t open their beds, or keep their noses clean.”
Our chattering little boys and girls discussed these commands from every angle, and with whole-hearted faith. Much-desired ends were accomplished by Christmas magic.
One night reindeer bells were heard far off. Undoubtedly Santa Claus must be riding along the hill-tops, hiding presents against Christmas Eve, when he could not possibly bring enough for all from the North Pole. The children, just dropping off to sleep in the dark of the sleeping porches, quivered with joy; but small William, six years old, remembered the least boy’s morning shortcomings. “Pleath, Santa Claus,” he called out in the dark, “ecthcuse Cam just thith once for leavin’ hith nightgown on the floor. He won’t never do it again.”
A few nights later, when the bells were heard again as the children were undressing, little Green already in his pajamas, dashed across the room for his handkerchief. “Look out for your noses, fellers,” he called, “thar’s Santa Claus.” And then, with irreproachable nose tilted high, he leaned against the window,…
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…hoping that Santa Claus would favorably note him.
One night, when we were all at supper, Santa Claus left a birthday cake for himself on the living room table. No other explanation could account for the mysterious frosted cake loaded with candles, and exclaiming on its top in red letters: “Merry Christmas!” Every night the baby Christmas tree was lighted, when the children danced round it, singing Christmas songs and blowing kisses to it.
The day before Christmas each one of our four household carried its baby tree to some dear old neighbor’s. If you could know how those trees are cherished! Sometimes they are kept through a whole year, treasured as a joy even when the needles have dropped off. To one old lady, living three miles of at the backside of a mountain in a dark little, windowless house, the children carried a window — a common barn sash let from our building operation. “Why,” she said, “why I wouldn’t take ten dollars for my window. I’ve had to set in the dark by the fire cold or windy days when the door had to be shut, and I couldn’t see nothin’. There haint much to see here, ‘way off the road, at the head of the holler as we be, but hit’s mighty lonesome in the dark on a winter’s day.” Then, carrying her little winder gently in her arms, she laid it on the bed in the one safe place in the room. “Lord, I wouldn’t take a … for my winder,” she cried.
Was this the sweetest incident of Christmas, the carrying of light to those that sit in darkness? Or was it the carolling of the boys at four o’clock in the morning, singing through the dark from house to house, “Hark, the…
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…herald angels sing,” and “God rest you, merry gentlemen.” To the small ones, of course, the dearest moment came when their stockings were handed to them, and they drew out barley candy and oranges, a french harp or a doll, — some trick, the like of which had not come to their ken before. Table manners at breakfast were suspended while whistles and harps and laughter and “Christmas gift,” perceptibly reduced our daily consumption of oatmeal.
Of course, there was a beautiful community tree, and how peaceable a time we had at it you already know from the first sentence of this letter. Some five hundred people came, among them an old lady sixty-nine years old, who had started before day to come clear across Pine Mountain. “I’ve never seed a tree,” she said, “and I allowed thar mought be a pretty on the tree for an old woman sixty-nine years old, what had never seed one.”
Silent and spell bound, we all watched the progress of the beautiful Nativity Scene, which had the simplicity and sweetness of an early mystery play. Then Santa Claus came tramping through the woods. We hailed him with joy, we laughed at his jokes, and we had a “big time’ flinging confetti at him and blowing balloons in his honor. You, who treasure your Christmas ornaments from year to year with wise economy, do not blame us that we gave most of ours away to the mothers who looked so wistfully at the radiant wonders on the tree, and who carried the tinsel and the balls home to brighten lives and homes already too grey.
I cannot write you of all the bits of joy, that pieced together made Christmas so lovely a mosaic. It seemed to us that the wealth of beauty that centuries have given the Christmas fes-…
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…tival was all flung into our laps. We want you to share with us the most beautiful Christmas we ever knew, and then we want you to share with us the shrinking of spirit we feel as we think of the months from April to August, when we go through the profoundest anxiety about money.
The School is too large now with its seventy children, to be kept in cold storage through the pleasant Spring and Summer, when givers forget that there are wolves howling at poor folks’ doors. Now, while it is cold and poverty seems bleakest, will you not help us to build up our annual income to carry us through the year? We want five hundred givers of one dollar a year, five hundred of two dollars a year, and five hundred who will give five dollars a year. If you are already a subscriber, won’t you try to find somebody who will fill out the enclosed card? We will tell them of our children, and not send merely a cold receipt. They shall hear of our six-year-old who wanted to “do somethin’ for his country” with a penny he earned carrying kindling for twenty minutes in his play time; or the little girl who wrote Santa Claus for two tooth-brushes — one for herself because hers was wore out, and one for her little sister at home.
We workers who for weeks last Summer faced the question of breaking up school and sending the children home, and saw our bank account drop to one cent, feel that another such experience will put us in the class the preachers pray for, “those whose heads are abloomin’ fer the grave.” Please help us find another Rock of Gibraltar, — an annual giver.
[signed] Ethel de Long