Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve: favorite day of my childhood

Christmas Eve: all day at Grandma’s house

Christmas Eve: playing outside with my cousins and Jennifer

Christmas Eve: listening to Gene Autry’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on Grandma’s chest stereo

Christmas Eve: setting the table for the nine of us, then feeling the joy as we prayed, then fixed our plates, ate, laughed, talked.

Yes, that’s the Fonz!

One Christmas Eve memory is my favorite of my Grandma Whidby, Jason, and me. Every Christmas Eve, we spent from morning to late in the evening at Grandma Whidby’s house (my mama’s mama). Grandma, Mama, and my Aunt cooked enough food for two meals! We would have lunch, open presents, play, then eat again.

Many years, Grandma had this big red furry stocking she hung in the living room with the presents. The stocking held little things, candy, and fruit for her four grandchildren. When I was about 8 years old, Grandma had decided to hang the stocking in the hall near the front door with some other Christmas decorations. Jason and I could see the stocking was really loaded with goodies this year! Wow! Maybe Grandma even put some dollar bills in there, we wondered. I’m not sure who, but one of us finally took the stocking off the nail. We just had to peek inside. We dumped the contents out on the floor. We discovered the usual bounty from years past: candy and oranges, that’s why it looked so big! We quickly stuffed it all back into the stocking. Jason picked it up and tried to hang it back on the nail. He was too short. Now, Jason is 9 months younger than me; however, he was usually as tall or taller than me. I tried, but I knew I couldn’t reach it either. We were panicking! Grandma is going to get us! Jason was stronger, thus, he tried to lift me up. Then we both see Grandma reach over us, grab the stocking, and hang it back up. Busted! Grandma did not say a word; she just grinned, turned around, and walked backed into the kitchen. Jason and I looked at each other and laughed.

Christmas Eve: Memories of Family, Love, and Laughter.



How do you define family? Family is love. It is more than the people you gather with on holidays and special occasions. Families are united by common blood, but not always.

Childhood Family

I am grateful for the family of my birth and upbringing. My childhood memories are filled with love, laughter, and support of my family. My parents, my sister, and I sat down to daily meals together. I remember hearing my Daddy pray every night before he laid down to sleep. My Mama, she was sewing our clothes, cooking meals, and singing in church. My aunt Barbara offered her knowledge, perseverance, and work ethic. Both my Mama and Aunt Barbara worked as much as any man, doing what had to be done; even after being told, “You ladies shouldn’t be doing that.” Grandma Whidby loved to talk, calling folks on the phone to check on them. Grandma Samples told stories, fascinating me of times long past. My cousins, my sister, and I embarked on fantasy playtime and dreams of our future. We sang, put on shows, and rode the go-cart too fast. My family surrounded me with safety, comfort, and joy throughout my childhood. 

Present Day Family:

From the day each were born, my three children thrill my heart. I remember our many Christmas mornings. The kids were excited for the new toys. I wanted all their Grandparents to see them, so each year, we all had breakfast together at our house. All six of the grandparents gathered, enjoying this time with their grandchildren. I proudly watched my sons and daughter grow into young adults Each seek and are successful on their own paths. What a joy for a mother to witness! 

I have a family I chose, and they chose me. My husband and I and our families bonded in a special way years ago. Our mothers are the best of friends. They called each other, were confidants, and often asked each other, “What are we going to do with our kids? Are they normal kids?”. On our wedding day, our Moms sat together on a bench talking. I have that picture in my memory. That’s my family, my Mama and my other Mom, who loved the people in her life; she treated everyone as family, her gift to us all. 

Every day I have my husband, standing with me, our own family unit. We each have life-long friends that are family, too. Friends we can text, call, or share a meal.  We know these friends are there for us. Additionally, we are part of a unique family, a group that meets at least twice a month to play Dungeons & Dragons, or another role-playing game. Individually, we have traversed life’s ups and downs. However, for almost three years now, our gatherings have been the anchor and stabilizer. We come together to role play in a fantasy world, to laugh, and to escape. We know our friends here are supportive; a family we choose. 

How do I define family? Family is a kaleidoscope, composed of intricate, interlocking pieces, all forming a beautiful image of love. 

The Great Smoky Mountains

Waking up in the early morning,

Hearing, “We’re going to the Mountains!”

Exciting feelings deep in my tummy.

Riding to the Smoky Mountains,

Singing in the back seat,

Telling bird hunting stories,

Entertaining my sister and me.

Swerving car through mountainous curves,

Driving Sister to car sickness,

Pulling onto the side of the road,

Looking down the mountainside,

Fearing I’d fall.

Getting back into the car relieved,

Asking, “Are we there yet?”

Singing more songs,

Telling more stories.

Stopping at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign,

Snapping pictures of our smiling faces,

Arriving, finally.

Our first of many pictures at the Great Smoky Mountains sign!

Uncle Kent

Throughout my life, stories have been told whenever there was a gathering of people, no matter the occasion. Daddy and my cousins are the best story tellers. Here is a family story that was a popular one.

My sister Jennifer and cousin Jeff were young. Daddy and my Uncle had a small mule at the barn lot at Grandma’s farm. They put a saddle on it, and Jennifer and Jeff rode the mule with Daddy or my Uncle leading it around the lot. The two young kids enjoyed the mule ride.

At last, time had come to leave. My Uncle and Daddy took the saddle off the mule. My Uncle turned to Daddy, “Get on it and ride it around the lot.” Daddy wasn’t sure, but he did climb on the mule’s bare back. Before he knew what was happening, my Uncle slapped the mule on the rump; the mule ran off. Daddy was barely hanging on, the mule turned left, and he tried to turn it right. Daddy fell off to the ground, landing on his arm.

The fall knocked the breath out of him. As he laid on the ground, trying to catch his breath, little Jeff came running over, shook his head, and said, “Uncle Kent, you’re suppose to say, Whoa!” Daddy wanted to laugh, but he had no breath. He wished he would have said, “Whoa,” because now he had a broken wrist.

That line, “Uncle Kent, you’re suppose to say, Whoa!” has been repeated so many times over the years. I smile every time I hear or think about it, as it reminds me of the laughs and good times our family shared.

Gardening at Grandma Samples’

I developed a taste for Mother Earth at an early age. Yes, I’m eating a rock!

Gardening at Grandma Samples’ Place: Playing in the Dirt

From a young age, I enjoyed nature and playing outside. Mama and Daddy planted gardens every year. We had a big one at my Grandma Samples’ place. In the spring, Daddy drove the tractor from the farm to plow up the ground. As I rode with him on the tractor, the luscious smell of overturning soil comforted me: I loved playing in the dirt. I dug holes, looked for worms, made mounds of dirt, even baked mud pies. The garden at Grandma’s provided me that dirt playground.

Gardening was hard work. We helped Mama and Daddy plant seeds, hoe weeds, and pick ripe vegetables. The first things planted and harvested were green onions and potatoes. I remember one summer day, we dug up potatoes and brought them back to our house. I wanted to eat one right away. Mama told me she needed to wash them and cook them for supper. I picked up a dirt covered potato and ran into our house to our bathroom sink. I scrubbed that potato with Dial bar soap, scrubbing and scrubbing to clean it. Mama came in there asking, “What are you doing?” I replied to her that I was just washing this potato so I can eat it. Mama shook her head, “We don’t need to wash them in the bathroom sink with bath soap!” I wanted to be sure that potato was squeaky clean.

Visiting with my Grandma Samples was the reason I enjoyed the garden. She was quiet mannered, loving, and had a sharp wit. She was born in 1903, a fascination for me, being born at the beginning of the century. Often, we brought in peas or green beans, sitting with Grandma to shell or string them. Grandma was always so much faster at that than me.

One story she told about her Grandfather Thompson both intrigued and horrified me. Grandfather Thompson served as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. He told his grandchildren, “I was so cold, so hungry, I was afraid to put my fingers near my mouth, afraid that I’d start eating my own fingers.” There is no doubt, Confederate soldiers suffered greatly.

Grandma Samples lived a simple, long life. I admire her immensely, living through the remarkable historical events of the 20th Century. I remember walking out to the garden with Grandma, seeing her smile. She enjoyed playing in the dirt, too, I can imagine.

Christmas Day, 1977 with Grandma Samples

Class of 1989

Here I am! CHS Graduation June 2, 1989

Thirty years ago, I sat on the football field at Cherokee High School’s Class of 1989’s graduation. That night culminated our high school experience. My best of friends surrounded me. How did we get here?

For me, my high school years laid the foundation for my future. Life-long friendships formed. Music experiences solidified my joy of music. Other experiences offered a chance to explore my prospective career as an educator.

My memories of our last weeks of high school bring joy to my heart; that’s what I felt at the time, joy, the best time of my life. We had our End of the Year Chorus Banquet. Our chorus teacher made us all feel special and loved. Our theme for the banquet was, “Who is your Hero?” She invited us to come dressed as our heroes. Characters that arrived at the banquet included the Ultimate Warrior (a wrestler), Indiana Jones, and even Freddy Kruger. I think I dressed as a teacher. Our chorus teacher entered wearing a red graduation cap and gown. We, the graduation seniors, were her heroes. What a statement! Her joy and love for us inspired us to be our best.

As a group, we decided to sing, “Wing Beneath My Wings,” during graduation, to dedicate the song to our parents and chorus teacher. We gathered at a friend’s house to practice. I think we all wanted our graduation to be special and memorable.

As a class, we practiced the graduation ceremony during the hot summer-like day on the football field. Over 300 teenagers gathered. I remember taking pictures with my camera, sitting beside my homeroom friends at the front. It was so hot, but we had a blast. This excited me, we were graduating! 

The night of the graduation arrived. At home, my parents captured the moment with pictures of me in my white cap and gown. Anticipation filled me, knowing this was the last night of my high school years. The end of one chapter, the beginning of a new one.

Sometime during the ceremony, our chorus gathered to perform, “Wings Beneath My Wings.” Yes, tears were flowing. My heart overflowed with emotions: the last time singing as a group, the pride of our parents, the gratefulness for my parents, teachers, and friends, the memory of a dear friend present only in her Spirit, and the knowledge this night was the launching of our future as young adults.

After receiving our diplomas, we celebrated!

Our gang, our parents, and many others gathered at John’s house that night: The biggest graduation party ever! I had never seen so many people at that house before, as it was a usual hang out spot. The party proved to be the perfect ending. The people I cared for deeply, all in one place, once again, to laugh, talk, and have a grand time.

To the Class of 1989: Thirty years ago, we stood at the edge of a future, not knowing the life’s path we would traverse. I am thankful for my years at Cherokee High School, for the foundation created for my future.

Now, I feel the joy of my 17-year-old self, surrounded by my family and dear friends. As my youngest son graduates from Creekview High School, I wish the Class of 2019 the joy and excitement, of standing on the edge of your future.

Summertime on Grandma’s Farm

All of us during our childhood could not wait for the last day of school, for our summer vacation to begin. Summers when I was young, meant I would spend days with my Grandma, my sister, and my cousins, playing all over cow pastures, Grandma’s yard, and my cousins’ house. Grandma and my cousins lived on 25 plus acres of cow pastures and a small lake in the middle. Their houses sat at the front of the property, a short distance apart. When I went to Grandma’s house early on a summer day, I would yell for Jason, wave to him to see if we could play. He’d ride his bike or go-cart and join me. The hours passed as we climbed trees or roamed through the pastures on make believe hunting adventures. We mashed poke salad berries to make ink, dipped a stick in it, and wrote on rocks or pieces of wood. We threw crab apples to see who could throw it the farthest or feed them to the cows. We even played on top of the LP gas tank, a great submarine, ship, or horse!

When my sister and I traversed to our cousins’ house, summertime meant hours of our favorite game: War. Jeff and Jason had a plethora of play guns: pistols, rifles, dart guns, cap guns. We split into teams, usually Jeff and Jennifer vs. Jason and me. It was a hide and seek, stealth mission game. One pair hid outside, while the other pair stayed inside the basement, no peeking! The goal was a surprise attack. If you were seeking, you wanted to find the others and shoot first. If you were hiding, you wanted to jump out and shoot before you were spotted and run back to home base.

One summer day, Jason and I climbed up our favorite magnolia tree to hide. Minutes passed. We sat on the branches, silent, waiting with our guns ready. Jeff comes walking up to the tree, looking around on the ground. I am ready to jump down, but Jason motions to me to wait. Jeff walked away. We stayed in the tree longer. Finally, Jeff came back around. That time, Jason and I leaped off our perch, landing on both sides of him. “Pow-Pow, we got you!” Victory for us! Jeff was totally shocked! We laughed as we recalled how Jeff had walked right under us, not suspecting anything.

Summer evenings, as the sun set, we ran around Grandma’s yard catching lightning bugs, placing them in a mason jar. By that time, our parents finished up working on the farm. Everyone gathered in Grandma’s driveway, sitting on tailgates of a truck or jeep or in chairs in the yard. I looked around feeling the warm coolness of a summer evening, feeling the joy of my family being together, a magical way to end a summer day at Grandma’s farm.

Grandma’s Farm

Music in My Early Life

Ready for Sunday morning!

Of all the changes in my life, music has been a constant, a calming balm, a passion within me. Music evokes emotions and memories vividly within me. Hearing a song can take me to a place I have not thought about for years. I often express myself with music by humming, singing, or reciting lyrics. Music became a part of me when I was very young.

My earliest memory of music is being in church. I remember no matter what church service or where, I opened the Red Hymnal Book, singing, even before I could read all the words or music. And I probably knew page 57 was “Amazing Grace”, p. 333, “I’ll Fly Away”, and p. 120 “Victory in Jesus” at that early age, too. (You still remember those page numbers in the Red Hymnal!) My family and I attended church singings on weekend nights to hear local groups. Mama had many albums of them that we played frequently on our stereo. I listened to the records wishing I was the one on the record singing.

My sister and I did start singing together in church. Mama says she gave us a dollar the first time we sang in a church service; although since I was so young, I cannot recall that moment. I know Mama played the piano, and we sang a song during the service. Known as “Kent’s girls”, we sang, and then Daddy preached a sermon in many churches for years.

Around the time I was six years old, Mama and Daddy bought an old upright piano. They placed it in our living room, which had doors separating it form the rest of the house. Jennifer started taking piano lessons first, then when I was nine years old, I began my lessons. I was so excited! I practiced every chance I got. My lessons continued for about two years. Learning a little more on my own, I began to play basic church songs. However, going in to the living room and playing the piano became my sanctuary. I stayed for one to two hours there, never becoming a grand pianist, but I created a sound along with my voice: music.

Throughout my teenage years, much of my life centered on music. One of my greatest joys in high school was chorus. The every day thrill in my heart, walking into a class and singing, was phenomenal to me. I had never experienced being surrounded by so many people who loved music, too.  And here, I found some of my best friends for life, including my Love, my awesome husband.

My early life experiences so deeply intertwined with music molded me. Music is a constant, a calming balm, and a passion.

Everywhere was a Stage

Music and performing have been a part of my entire life. When I was young, everywhere was a stage. My sister and I had a small play piano in our play room. Jennifer and I pretended to have church services and lead songs. Then we performed shows. In our bedroom, we played Shawn Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Andy Gibbs, and ABBA on our small record player. Even to silly songs like, “One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater” and “Disco Duck,” we sang and danced to an audience in our dresser mirror.

Outside, our small front porch was the stage. We practiced cheerleading. Jennifer loved to cheer.  She could do cartwheels; when I tried, I landed on my head and flat on my back. Jen did splits and jumps, and I just yelled loudly. No matter what, we performed outside cheering our Macedonia Wildcats to “Gimme a V, dot the I, curve the C, T-O-R-Y!”

The best stage award goes to Grandma’s outside marble table. My Grandpa had bought the marble and built an outside picnic table about eight feet long and four feet high. Yes, we had picnics and lots of watermelons on the table. However, we utilized it mostly as the grandest stage ever!

We climbed up and performed the most magnificent shows: Disco-Saturday Night Fever, HeeHaw, Greatest Gospel Hymns, Alabama. We enjoyed all kinds of music. We made up entire shows with introductions, singing, and dancing. Sometimes, our cousins joined us. I loved singing, “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy,” by John Denver with them. That song personified our times there on Grandma’s farm. In my mind, “We are Family,” by Sister Sledge, became our anthem, often ending our shows. There on that marble table, I knew I wanted to be a rock star, or Dolly Parton, when I grew up!  

Church Pasture or Pastor?

Daddy told his preacher calling when I was around four years old. He told our home church the Lord had called him to be a preacher. I had no idea how this would change our lives or really what it all meant. I do not remember Daddy’s first time preaching. My first memories of his ministry began when a small church called Daddy to be their pastor; Daddy accepted. Daddy would be ordained as a full Baptist Minister.

The week before the ordination, Jennifer and I were riding to town with my Grandma. I was sitting in the front seat beside the door. Grandma asked me, “Well, what do you think of your daddy being a Pastor?”

As I looked out at some cows, all I could think of were cow pastures. I just could not put together Daddy and a cow pasture. I said something to Grandma like I thought a pasture was for the cows. Grandma laughed and said, “No, a church Pastor, you know, the Preacher of a church. Like our Preacher Harold.” I was relieved that Daddy would be going to a church as a preacher, not to a cow pasture. However, maybe the cows needed preached to?

Sunday Mornings

“Jubilee, Jubilee, You’re invited to that happy Jubilee.”

I wake up hearing this song and smelling sausage cooking. It’s Sunday morning! The night before Mama had washed my long hair, so I felt all clean and ready for day the ahead. I nudge Jennifer sleeping beside me as I got out of bed, saying, “It’s Sunday morning!” She just moans, “I know,” It took a while for Jennifer to wake in the mornings. I go in the kitchen to see Mama cooking our breakfast: sausage, biscuits and gravy, and scrambled eggs. Mama and Daddy had a Sunday morning routine. While Mama cooked our breakfast, Daddy showered and dressed (except his dress shirt and tie). Then after breakfast, Daddy cleaned up the kitchen and washed the dishes, while Mama dressed and helped us get ready. This was one of the many ways my parents worked as partners in their marriage.

Mama continues cooking, I watch the Gospel Singing Jubilee on our television, the theme song that woke me every Sunday morning. Gospel groups such as the Florida Boys, The Goodmans, the Inspirations, and the Nelons perform as I sing along. At last, Mama yells, “Breakfast is   ready!”

We sit down at the table. As we begin eating, I can’t wait to ask Daddy, “Where are we going to church?” When Daddy was not a pastor of a church, he would visit churches throughout Cherokee and Forsyth counties, sometimes further away into Pickens, Dawson, Hall; well, across North Georgia. Daddy prayed, studied, and mediated on Scripture in his King James Version of the Holy Bible throughout the week. The Lord would send him to a church to visit on Sunday morning. Most often, Daddy would preach the sermon there. I often did not know where we going to church until breakfast Sunday morning. That was exciting to me; awaiting the adventure of our Sunday.

When Daddy tells us where we were going, the next question was: What time are we leaving? We could be going to a church 15 minutes from our house or an hour and 15 minutes away. If it was a church where I knew I would see my friends, I was doubly excited. If it was a church I had never been to before, I would be nervous. Even though I viewed Sundays as an adventure, walking into a church as a visitor caused some anxiety.

Finally, we finish breakfast. Jennifer and I dress in our Sunday dresses, knee high white socks, and black patent shoes. Mama brushes my hair. She makes sure we are all ready to go. Meanwhile, Daddy cleans the kitchen, washing dishes and pans. Then he’s putting on his dress shirt and tie. I watch him tie his necktie and wondering, how does he do that? Daddy puts on his suit coat. Mama puts on her red lipstick. Daddy picks up his blue leather cover Bible. We all climb into our car. Jennifer and I settle into the back seat. We are off to church.

Our Sunday morning is coming to an end. Soon it will be church time. A time shared with other people. Sunday mornings were my family time. From the moment I heard, “Jubilee, Jubilee,” until the I saw a church parking lot, I was happily embraced in my family, anticipating our Sunday adventure.

Prepare to Meet Thy God

Careless Soul, why will you linger?

Wandering from the fold of God,

Hear you not the invitation,

O Prepare to meet thy God.

Standing up and opening the Red Hymnal, I read those words, “Prepare to Meet Thy God.” My heart pounded heavy in my chest, I was not prepared. Thursday night, the fourth week of July, at our church summer revival, I was 8 years old. All week I had seen other folks being saved. I think I knew this week of revival was going to be different for me. I recalled the night my sister was saved a few years before. On the way home, I wept to my family, I’m just so happy she was saved. I felt the joy of Mama, Daddy, and my sister.

However, this evening, my heart felt different. I do not remember the sermon that night. Those words, “Prepare to Meet Thy God,” convicted me. I looked up at Mama and said, “I’m lost.” She hugged me and guided me to the altar, the front bench of the church. I cried, prayed to God to save me. I wanted to go to Heaven. Suddenly, all my insides filled with an indescribable peace, a joy began to flow. I heard within me, “Yes, you are saved.” When I looked up, everything was so bright, my eyes adjusting to the light, but I recognized it as God’s light shining down on me. I spoke out loud, “I’m saved!” Mama and Daddy were hugging me, rejoicing, shouting. My sister hugged me tight, too. Then the Preacher asked everyone to come around and shake hands with me. What a feeling to be hugged on by so many people at one time.

The next day, Mama, my sister, and I went to downtown Canton to shop for a new dress for me. That night, I would join the church to be baptized on Sunday morning. I’m sure we probably told the ladies in the store I had been saved the night before. With my new soft pink lacey dress on, I stood in the front of the church that night. The Preacher asked me to tell the church my desire. I said, “I was saved, and I want to be baptized and join the church.” Once again, the congregation came around to shake my hand. Afterwards, I told my family that I had never smelled so many different perfumes in all my life at once.

Sunday morning, I dressed in the same dark pink, terry cloth dress I wore the night I was saved. This was now a special dress. The other people who had been saved and joined that week gathered with the church at our outside baptism pool. The Preacher spoke a few words, and he baptized everyone except me. My Daddy baptized me, filled with the Holy Spirit, and saying “By the authority of God’s Word and the profession of your faith, I baptized thee, my sister, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” (This is from my memory, so it may not be the exact words!) I came out of the water, and once again the indescribable joy filled me. I smiled a huge smile the rest of the day. I now had within me what my Daddy, my Mama, and my sister had. I was a born again child of God. I was saved. I was prepared to meet my God.