Every year before Christmas vacation, we four kids would get off the bus at the end of the lane with a king-sized candy bar in our hands. Sometimes we'd get off humming a holiday tune we'd been singing with classmates, led by Mr. Owen.
Mr. Owen, our bus driver throughout our years in school, had a large cardboard box by his chair filled with candy bars in mid-December. As each child exited the bus, he'd hand one to them and say, "Merry Christmas!"
He could have done simple traditional candy canes, but the bars made such a better impression, especially to kids who didn't have the pocket money to buy their own and hadn't seen hide nor hair of a good candy bar since Halloween.
And, truly, those chocolately bars made the chilly walk down the long lane to our little square home so enjoyable-at least for Nate and me who ate them right away, pausing after that first step away from the bus to tear open the packaging. Vinca and Annie had the pleasure of holding them in their hands in plain sight, denying Nate and me the joy of twice our share as we pestered them to let us have them since they obviously didn't feel the proper urgency to enjoy them.
It's funny the little things you remember so fondly this time of year.
For instance, there was a farmer, a hard-working southern gentleman named Mr. Wellins, who lived just off Spann Road and whom Dad helped occasionally in the fall and summer in his fields. There were other farmhands who regularly worked for Mr. Wellins. At noon, Dad'd tell us, they'd all gather at the Wellins' place for lunch, and Mrs. Wellins would lay a fine spread on the porch table with biscuits, fried Chicken, pork, grits, gravy, carrots, corn, greenbeans, potatoes and dessert as well (you were always expected to procure seconds for yourself, because there was plenty of food, and one should never walk away from a Southern table without asking for more of something). Dad would still feel full when he came home many hours later.
I tell this to point out the fact that the hospitality of the Wellinses was not limited to their own home and table, for invariably we four kids would arrive at our own front porch after the walk down the lane one December afternoon, and there would be a plain cardboard box sitting by the door. Some years it had a card addressed with a Merry Christmas to us kids-sometimes no, but it usually contained the same things: apples, oranges, peanuts (still dusty), and candy bars as well as other yuletime confections. It was always a joy to climb the porch steps at the end of a school day and be greeted with that unpretentious cardboard box, its flaps hanging open expectantly. Mr. Wellins never forgot us. For year after year at Christmas, we'd find the box at our front door.
I know not whether we really showed our appreciation for these annual gifts, but I hope these family friends in Tennessee felt our thanks and knew that, in their own way, they were our Santa Claus.