Friday, December 17, 2010
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Christmas At The Old Tinney Home Place
By Joe Dan Boyd
Copyright © 2003 by Joe Dan Boyd
When Grandpaw Tinney turned over an acre of his farmland to establish what would become Tinney Chapel UMC, a Century had also recently turned. It was February 22, 1900, just 14 years after my Grandpaw, W. A. Tinney, left Alabama for what he hoped would be better farming prospects in Texas. The little church was erected less than a half mile from the sprawling, unpainted house where 18 children from my Grandpaw’s two marriages were raised.
By 1911, Grandpaw Tinney realized that his community needed not only a church, but also an educational system, so he gifted another parcel of farmland to form the nearby Vernon School.
Thirteen years after the birth of the church, my Grandmother, Elizabeth Gamble Tinney, gave birth to a daughter, Dolly Fay, who would become the youngest member of this agricultural aggregation at The Old Tinney Home Place.
It was a time when most Americans still lived on un-mechanized farms, a demographic which helps us to understand that era’s blessing on large families, which assured a readily available labor pool.
None of this was much different, in principle, from the demographics of an even longer-ago agrarian culture in a place called Bethlehem where the Virgin Mary gave birth to a Boy-Child named Jesus on the very first Christmas Day.
In the fullness of time, Dolly Fay would give birth to three children, but only my brother Tommy and I survived. Our older sister, Nelda June, died in infancy. Dolly died soon after Tommy’s birth, and our father, Dan Boyd, died less than two years later. We were immediately claimed by three mothers-of-the-heart under the same roof---Grandmaw Tinney (we called her Ma-Maw), Great Aunt Laura (we called her Yar) and Dolly’s sister, our Aunt Maude (we called her Bushy).
Tommy and I then became the last children to be raised on The Old Tinney Home Place.
By the time we were big enough to help on the farm, then sharecropped by Bushy’s husband, our Uncle Kay Cater, Tinney Chapel had been making disciples of Jesus Christ for four decades. The church had also by then become sufficiently well known that the enclave of small farms encircling it had itself acquired a geographic designation as the Tinney Chapel community.
Life for most Tinney Chapel community farmers was rustic, rural and ritualistic in that pre-World War II era, when most of us still did everything by hand or with the sometimes-stubborn aid of mules and horses. We milked cows by hand, churned butter by hand, butchered hogs and chickens by hand, picked cotton by hand and hitched up the mules by hand before a day of walking behind the plow.
At The Old Tinney Home Place, Tommy and I always had plenty of flickering coal oil lamplight to do our Vernon School homework. There, at Vernon School, our Christmas Season was always ushered in a few days early. The Big Boys (fifth through eighth graders) at the school always cut a cedar or pine tree from the playground area for our annual Vernon School Christmas program and gift exchange.
We always drew names for the Vernon gift exchange, but one year I got something extra, my best surprise Christmas present ever: Poochie, dog love of my life, whose picture is still framed prominently in my office! It was 1943, and I was in the fourth grade. A couple of years later, when I really knew how special she was, I recorded the experience, writing it by hand in a sixth-grade 8” x 10.5” The Spiral notebook, almost exactly as follows:
The complete and unabridged story of how I got Poochie, the perfect present.
The real holidays hadn’t started, but at Vernon School it was Christmas. Yes, even though Christmas was about a week off, Vernon School’s blackboards were gaily decorated with pictures of Santa, holly and Christmas trees. The fourth grade sat on the last row. All but one of the fourth graders were there. Norma Turner was missing.
Just a few days before, I had told her: “Sure, I want a pup. What kind is she?”
“Fice,” she answered.
Suddenly, the door flew open. The room burst into merry laughter. The girl, Norma Turner, put her lunch in the cabinet. Then, after Mrs. Burkett, the teacher, had quieted down the class, Norma put the pup she had on her books. She went to her seat, behind me. Recess finally came. I went to claim my pup, but---“We’re playing with it,” the girls told me, brushing me aside.
Imagine my surprise, and needless to say, dejection. Downhearted, I walked away. The girls then proceeded to play with it all the recess. Then finally the bell rang---classes again. So I had to wait until dinner.
Finally, after long hours the lunch bell rang. We marched out---the bell rang again---Into the house we thundered, grabbed our lunch and went to our seats. The girls again proceeded to get the pup from her sandbox and carried her to their seats---anyway I was not deprived of the pleasure of feeding the pup tiny morsels of food---indeed the whole school proceeded to feed her choice morsels of food. The pup must have thought she was in dog heaven, for all the choice bits she got.
When we finished lunch---the girls again proceeded to play with the dog---for about half or three-fourths of the period, they played with the tiny little white-black ball of Fice fur.
Finally---“Here, she’s all yours now,” said Norma,, handing to me the tiny bundle of fur. For the remaining part of the period, I played with and carried around the pup, which was finally---yes, finally, mine, all mine.
While the other boys and I played, the girls fixed the Christmas tree in the other room. Finally---bong---we lined up---bong---in we marched
---the puppy under my coat---we marched into the “Big Room,” where the higher classes resided---except at Christmas---then we all went in---and handed out the presents. The teacher usually gave us some candy and fruit also. So in we went and---sat down.
Mrs. Irene, the “Big Teacher,” teacher of higher classes, picked out some to hand out the presents. Finally, “Joe,” she said, “Do you want to or do you?”
“I have the puppy,” I said---Carl Casey said, “I’ll hold it for you Joe.”
But I didn’t. I just held her and let someone else hand out presents.
Finally, all the presents were handed out and---we went outside---Johnny A. Turner had brought the dog under his coat---so I did likewise. Johnny A. was Norma’s brother. So, with all my presents and my dog we piled in Mrs. Burkett’s car and went home.
When we got home and put our presents down, I went into the garden where Bushy was. I had my dog with me, as they knew nothing about it. “Can I keep her Bushy,” I asked.
“No,” she said, “I don’t imagine Kay will let you.”
I then remembered what Bud King had said as we were going out of the room. “That’s a squirrel dog, Joe.”
“Say that again,” I said.
“That’s a squirrel dog,” he said it earnestly.
So I said, “Bud said it was a squirrel dog.”
That night I told Kay the same thing---we made her a bed by the fireplace and put her in it. I wanted to keep her and it looked like I would.
I wanted to name the dog Trixie—--and I called her that for a few days but it looked like I was out-voted for her name turned out to be Poochie.
That is how I came to get Poochie---I was proud I had gotten her for Christmas.
Poochie was a gift to me, and I’ve called her the Perfect Present without fear of overstatement.
Someone, Kinky Friedman, I think, has said that while money may buy us a fine dog, only love can make a dog wag its tail, and my four years with Poochie proved the wisdom of that observation to me each and every we roamed over hills and meadows.
I also recall seeing a quote by someone named Roger Caras which made a strong case for having a dog in our lives: Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole!
Without question, my grief at Poochie’s death was exceedingly profound, nearly five years after that memorable Christmas at the school founded by my Grandpaw Tinney. I could not have missed Poochie any less than if she had been a human member of my immediate family. I cried so, I scarcely could see.
Thus, I must have more in common with Kinky Friedman than our penchant for unusual country music. I read somewhere that Kinky’s vision of the Afterlife suggests that when we approach the gates of Heaven, all the dogs we’ve ever had in our lives will come running out to meet us!
That is a comforting thought, indeed, and lends credence to another of my favorite philosophers, Will Rogers, who once quipped that no one gets into Heaven by merit, else our dogs would make it and we, alas, would not.
I do hope to be reunited one day with Poochie, along with all the other Dear Hearts & Gentle People associated with my time on God’s Green Earth.
Meanwhile, back at the Old Tinney Home Place, Tommy and I helped Uncle Kay cut our firewood by hand and warmed ourselves in front of open fireplaces. It was on the mantle, above one of the two fireplaces in the Old Tinney Home Place, that we always hung our Christmas stockings!
Nearby was our Christmas tree, cut from the farm’s timbered area, and decorated naturally, without electric lights.
It was Tinney tradition that the kids wait in a remote part of the rambling Old Tinney Home Place so that Santa could come down the chimney and leave his presents, before all could gather around the tree for a family gift exchange. After Santa came and went, a designated adult came to the “waiting area” and fetched the kids, who then mounted a boisterous Christmas charge to learn what treasures Santa had brought them.
One Christmas, after Santa came, the kids were summoned by Wallace Bellomy, son of Lillian Tinney Bellomy and brother of Beth Bellomy Newkirk.
“Ole Santa has done come and gone, and he burnt his coattail,” Wallace announced with his always-pleasant smile. Later that night, Wallace helped me learn to ride in one of Santa’s presents, a pedal-pushed car with brilliant battery-powered headlights, perhaps the most elaborate gift Santa ever brought me. I pedaled it, up and down the dark hallway at The Old Tinney Home Place, until the battery-powered lights burned out.
But, that same year, Grandmaw Tinney’s personal gift to me, and the same to Tommy, was even more special: Identical books to each of us, large, hardbound, colorful, illustrated volumes titled, The Story Of Jesus.
I like to think of that Christmas as the time Jesus brought the Light to our Walk with the Lord!
Copyright © 2003 by Joe Dan Boyd