SunShine DixieLand Company
A Christmas Letter... with love...from Florida.

(Early December, 1983. Bryceville, Florida)

Its that time of the season... I hear carols ringing...

As I sit here with this pen in my hand...

Thought I'd write you a letter... wish you could see
this weather...

Down here in this warm Dixie Land...

So tell me how is it going... I heard that its been

I heard that this winter will be cold...

I hope you are all doing fine... hope your days are
all sunshine...

Hope your Christmas will glitter just like gold...

It will be a nice Christmas... a bright Christmas...

When the sun shines on the Florida sand...

I 'll be thinking about you... dreaming about you...

Down here in this warm Dixie Land...

So tell me how is Momma... bet she made a lot of

Bet the kids have eaten all they can...

And tell me how is Daddy... I know he must be

To see you all back together again...

This time of year I remember... all those white

And I miss those mountain lands...

It will be a nice Christmas... a bright Christmas...

When the sun shines on the Florida sand...

I 'll be thinking about you... dreaming about you...

Down here in this warm Dixie Land...

Merry Christmas... with love... from Florida.

Stephen Wayne
Copyright SunShine DixieLand Company 2011. All rights reserved.
A Christmas Tree
Chapter 1

The most beautiful Christmas lights I have ever seen were reflected in the eyes
of a child.

The best Christmas of my life was probably in the winter of 1964. I was eleven
years old. Daddy was out of work. St Joe Lead company had locked out all the
mine workers, the day before Thanksgiving, to prevent a vote on a united mine
workers contract. The lockout lasted until after New Years. Many of the miner's
families reluctantly took government assistance (commodities in those days)
including ours. We just knew there would be no Christmas presents that year.

Two weeks before Christmas a huge ice and snow storm, a killer blizzard,
came out of the north and fell on the Ozarks of southern Missouri and northern
Arkansas with a vengeance. The temperatures at night dropped below zero, in
some places down to -10, and for several days it never got above freezing. It
was beautiful... but deadly.

The ice came first and on top of that the snow, and some people where trapped
in their homes by ten foot snowdrifts. Power lines were down and all roads
were blocked for days.

Our home was heated by a wood stove and we had oil lamps for light. A few
days before the storm, Mom and Dad had gone to town to get our first
government commodities, so we had plenty of food. Most of it was in plain
looking cans with USDA labels. Vegetables, Peanut Butter, Powdered Milk, and
Powdered Eggs. There was also bags of flour, rice, cornmeal and salt. There
were even loafs of cheese wrapped in waxed paper in a cardboard box. I
remember there were tears in my Mothers eyes as she put those groceries in
the cupboard. They had a big argument about going to get those commodities -
Luckily Mom won.

For days after the storm my Dad was a very busy man. He wanted to fix the
busted water pipes under the house, many of our neighbors had the same
problem, but there was no way to get out and get the needed parts.

We lived in a small community of about ten homes a few miles from the main
highway which ran through the small town of Doe Run Missouri. The first thing
he done, when the storm let up, was to begin checking on our neighbors,
making sure people had heat, food, and water. The phone lines were down and
the only way to do this was to bundle up and go see. Some elderly folks
needed assistance, but most people were able to dig out by themselves and
begin to help their neighbors. No one died in our community, but several folks in
those hills lost their lives due to exposure during and after that storm...some
froze to death in their homes.

A farmer who lived down the road from us, Bill Abernathy, had a snow blade on
his tractor and he began to clear the local roads and help people get their cars
and pickups out of the deep snow drifts. As soon as Dad could, he got snow
chains on his 57 Chevy and drove to my uncles house in Doe Run. Uncle Donny
had two plumbing trucks fully equipped and ready to go.

The county crews were plowing the main roads but there was still a half inch of
ice on the black top under the snow - driving anywhere was treacherous and
slow going. It took Dad several hours to get back home with one of the trucks.
After he fixed our pipes, he worked everyday until Christmas, 14 and 15 hour
days, restoring running water to peoples homes all over the county. My older
brother, Jim, went with him as helper. I wanted to go along too, but my job was
keeping a good supply of firewood on the back porch.

It was tedious and cold work. I had to dig the pieces of wood out of the snow,
and bust the ice off with a hammer, before loading them onto my sled and
dragging them to the porch. It took about an hour to make one trip from the
wood pile, and by then my fingers and toes were aching from the cold.

I was standing by the stove, warming my throbbing fingers and toes, after one
such trip, listening to my sisters fussing about not having a tree up yet. Mom
stopped her work in the kitchen and came into the living room to interrupt them;

"You girls will just have to wait until your Daddy has time to get one."

Mary (13) and Diana (9) began to moan and groan. Sheila (6) did not say
anything but had the saddest look on her face - she knew that Christmas just
wasn't coming that year. Lorna was just a baby, eleven months old, and Laura
would soon be born, in the coldest January that I can remember. I spoke right

"I can get us a tree."

All my sisters looked at me with hope in their eyes, but Mom said doubtfully;

"Its bitter cold out, and you would have to go a long way into the woods to get a
good ceder, and I would worry about you with the ax."

"MOM!" I exasperated;
"I've been chopping wood for months - I can get a Christmas tree!"

She hurried back into the kitchen, commenting,
"Well - ask you Father tonight."

Mary began immediately telling me what a perfect tree looked like,

"It's got to be big and bushy at the bottom - perfectly round with plenty of good
strong limbs for ornaments - it can't be lopsided, but shaped exactly right to the
top - AND, it has to touch the ceiling."

I just rolled my eyes and continued to warm my hands at the I didn't
know what a Christmas tree is supposed to look like... gee, older sisters can be
so bossy.

Sheila wanted to know,

"But if its too big, how can we get the star on top?"

"Don't worry honey" I smiled at her, " We can trim the bottom and it will be

Her eyes lit up,

"I want to put the star on top - Can I - please!?"

"NO!" said bossy Mary,

"You're too little!"

Sheila's smile vanished and tears welled up in her eyes. I glared at Mary,

"Yes she can! Daddy can lift her up and let her do it... just like he used to let
you... before you got TOO BIG!"

Mary glared back,

"If she knocks over the tree and breaks the bulbs and ruins Christmas...IT WILL

She ended by sticking out her tongue... as always.

Mom yelled from the Kitchen,


I hissed at Mary,

"You ain't the boss...bossy pants."

She hissed back, louder...

"AIN'T is not a word...Stupid Stevie."

Mom came back in the room,

"That's enough Mary! I need your help... in the kitchen, now! Stevie, you go get
some more wood... and Diana you play with your little sister... and be nice!"

Diana mumbled sadly,

"Christmas IS ruined - no presents."

Mom looked at her astonished,

"Who told you that?"

Diana just shrugged her shoulders... everybody knew there was no money for

"Well..." Mom sighed wearily... "I guess you kids will just have to wait and see...
in the mean time... stop picking on each other... that would be a nice Christmas
present for me."

Mary stormed off to the kitchen in a huff, Diana and Sheila sat on the hardwood
floor in front of the stove rolling a homemade car back and forth - one I had
made out of thread spools and a wire hanger - and I bundled up to head out for
more firewood.

I watched the girls playing, they were smiling and happy for the moment. I
wondered just where I was going to find a good Christmas tree. Daddy didn't
have the time, and Jim had to help him on the truck, so it was up to me... I had
to find the perfect tree.

To be continued...
Chapter 2

Dad could not find much work, to begin with. Uncle Donny had given him what
repair jobs he could, but things were normally slow at that time of year. Which
all changed drastically when the storm hit and so many people's pipes busted...
now they couldn't keep up with all the work, and a lot of folks were still carrying
water and waiting for a plumber to get to them - those who couldn't do the
repairs themselves - and most couldn't, water lines were still mostly copper
then, and not the more easy to repair PVC (plastic) pipe.

When Dad and Jim would finally get home late in the evenings, they were very
tired. They would leave the house before six am, most days, and it was
normally after eight pm when they would walk through the front door, weary and
hungry. The last thing Dad needed to hear was more bad news.

Mom always had supper ready and waiting for their return, keeping it warm in
the oven, with the table set and waiting. We were all in the living room that
evening, around the stove, waiting expectantly.

Mom was working on a quilt. She could make the prettiest patchwork designs
out of mere scraps of cloth, and they were warm and comfy...witch was
necessary, because none of the three bed rooms in our little frame house were

Mary and Diana were busy sorting through and checking decorations for the
tree. Both had pleaded with Mom to let them get the boxes out of the attack,
and she had finally relented, telling me to get them down. To do this I had to
place a step-ladder beneath the access, climb high enough to reach the panel,
left it up and push it back, to reach the carefully stored boxes. The girls were
watching eagerly. As soon as the panel was open Mary handed me up a flash
light. I shined the light into the dark attack... and gasped,


The girls screamed in horror. I looked down at their shocked faces - grinning,

"JUST KIDDING!" I laughed.

Mary glared at me,

"You are the worst brother in the whole wide world!"

Diana added,

"How can you be so mean?"

But she grinned in relief, and Sheila laughed because I was laughing.

I carefully handed them the boxes of treasure and they began their yearly ritual.

They all had their favorites from passed years and were anxious to see that
none were broken. They kept up a constant chatter, gasping with delight over
the prettiest ones and occasionally moaning in agony if something was broken.
If one was completely shattered and hopeless they morned over it dramatically.
But if it was just a chip or scratch, they would implore me to fix it - somehow. I
usually could, and we had quite a few repaired ornaments on our tree each
year...they were all precious things to the girls... and I enjoyed fixing those that I

After a time, Shelia yawned, and got up on the couch beside me. I was reading
a book - my favorite way to pass the time.

"What you reading?"

She asked sleepily.

"White Fang!"

I growled at her and grinned viciously, showing her the picture of the wolf-dog
on the cover of Jack London's novel.

She giggled and screeched as I tussled her red hair and began tickling her. She
wiggled away, caught her breath and pointed to the picture saying,

"He's mean like you... Tell the glass dog story... Please!"

Mary groaned, and made her best, most disgusted face,

"Not that stupid story again... PLEASE!"

Mom glanced at her sharply, but said to Sheila,

"OK little girl... But if you wake up scared tonight, its your own fault... So don't
cry like a baby and wake up the rest of us."

"OK Mommy."

She whispered, with her eyes big and round... Just thinking about it scared her.
For some reason it was her favorite story... even though I changed it around a
lot... depending on what was going on in our lives.

Diana said, in a matter of fact tone,

"Wouldn't a Christmas story be better?"


I said, thinking, while getting up and walking over to the big picture window of
the living room.

There was ice around the edges where the sweaty moisture that always
collected there during the day had frozen quickly after sundown. The frosty, ice
crystal patterns around the whole window framed a pretty picture. A three
quarter moon was shining brightly on the deep snow of the yard, and into the
woods on the hill beyond the town... giving everything a rather blueish glow. I
could see a couple of the neighbor's houses down the lane, and the lights of
their Christmas trees flashed green and red and yellow on the blueish snow in
front of those windows. The chimneys of both houses in sight had blueish gray
wood smoke curling upward into the cold, clear, black velvet sky. That lovely
sky was twinkling with the brightest stars. The whole scene was much more
beautiful than any Christmas card could possibly show.

The girls were waiting quietly so I began the story,

"It was a week before Christmas a few years ago, a lot like this Christmas, with
a heavy blue snow on the ground... it was bitter cold out side... on a dark
evening with the wind howling like a banshee around a little cabin at the edge of
the big woods... where three little SWEET sisters lived. They were all alone...
hungry, and scared. Their Mommy and Daddy had gone into town earlier that
day to get some things they needed (and maybe some Christmas presents
since THEY were SWEET little girls) but, more snow had fallen and blocked the
roads - they couldn't get back. Their older brother had gone into the woods a
while before dark to find a Christmas tree, and he wasn't back either."

Shelia got up from the couch and went and sat down between Mary and Diana,
clutching her little rag doll in her arms. Mary whispered to her,

"Its just a stupid story."

Shelia nodded her head, staring toward the window with wide fearful eyes.

"What happened then, did the glass dog eat them?"

I smiled and continued,

"It got very dark right at sunset and they were really getting worried, and
wondering if they should try to cook supper... Then the Moon came up big and
full. This made them even more worried... because everyone knows that on the
night of a full moon the glass dog forms himself out of the ground in his cave
way back in the deep dark woods. He can be anything he wants to be, like a
pirate or a bandit, and no one has ever been able to catch him because he can
melt and disappear into the ground... right in front of your eyes. He usually likes
to be a big ugly dog with razor sharp icicle like fangs... he loves to catch little
girls who have wondered too close to the woods."

Shelia exclaimed breathlessly,

"If they stay inside he can't get them... can he!?"

Diana sighed,

"Of course not... silly...he isn't real... anyway!"

But she looked very startled... when Mary suddenly froze, and exclaimed,

"LISTEN... do you hear that!?"

We all looked out the window then, and saw headlights coming slowly down the
icy lane...

"Daddy's Home!"

In a matter of moments, Mom and the girls had our supper steaming on the
table. Dad and Jim came in quickly out of the cold. They went to wash up and
the rest of us took our seats around the table. Mary and Diana were chatting
about the Christmas tree that I would hopefully find. But Dad didn't pay them
any attention as he sat down to supper. He bowed his head and we all bowed
our heads and waited.

Dad was not only a lead miner, he was also the minister of a small christian
congregation out in Granitville Missouri, about twenty five miles back in the hills
from Doe Run. The road twisted and turned through those rugged old hills and
the round trip was probably over sixty miles. They were a poor church, and
about half of what they were able to pay him went into the gas tank. No matter
the weather, we made that trip three times a week...summer and winter... sleet
or snow did not stop a good Chevy with snow chains. But those old cars were
gas guzzlers. Even though high test gas was only .25 cents a gallon, in those
days, still... a lot of folks would not have driven all that way... for "near to
nothin". But, Dad didn't see things like most folks.

"Every little bit helps".

He said that a lot, after the lead company lockout.

Hunger never shortened Dad's prayers... and that evening was no exception.

As soon as the blessing was over, we all chorused Dad's Amen, and the girls
began again... chatting about the Christmas tree, as the bowls of hot food were
passed around the table.

Jim joined the conversation with real interest,

"There are a lot of pretty ceders on the old railroad dump behind the Abernathy
place... me and Stevie could take the sled early tomorrow... get a good one...
and be back in no time."

He glanced at Dad while saying this. But Dad didn't seem to hear. He was
listening to Mom.

She had told him reluctantly about the water spiting and spewing at the kitchen

He waited until after chewing and swallowing his first mouthful before

"I know Nettie... its doing the same in the bath room...we'll get under the house
after supper and fix it."

He then said to my brother,

"You're going on the truck with me in the morning, we got work to do here
tonight... and plenty to do tomorrow... Stevie can get the tree."

Jim looked at his food dejectedly... he obviously wanted a break from plumbing
work. He was only 15, and already doing a man's job.

I tried to be helpful,

"I can go with you Dad... Jim could probably find a better tree."

Dad eyed me a minuet, thinking and chewing his food,

"No... I would have to train you... Jim already knows what to do...and a lot of
folks are depending on us to get their water running tomorrow."

He looked around the table at the suddenly silent girls, and at Mom... she was
obviously worried... and apprehensive about saying what was on her mind. She
was then eight months pregnant with Laura, looking after Lorna (who was just
learning to walk) and, Mom was feeding, clothing, and careing for the rest of us.
Of course the older girls helped, as did I... if I couldn't sneek off and explore the
woods... BUT, Mom was in charge of everything while Dad was working. She
amazed me then, and she still does today... a truly great lady. She always
deferred to Dad on everything, and seldom discussed anything, in front of us
kids. She did speak up that time,

"I saw on the news that another storm is coming...supposed to be here
sometime tomorrow..."

She said quietly.

Dad considered this a moment,

"Well... we'll deal with that when it gets here... God looks after his own!"

Then he gave me instructions... I think to reassure Mom,

"Don't carry the ax on your shoulder... you could slip and fall...tie it to the sled
with some rope... you'll need some to tie the tree down too. Do like your
Brother said, go down the rail dump behind the Abernathy's place... stay on the
road till you get there, and don't cut across people's property."

"YUP" Jim said flippantly,

"Whatever you do... don't be messing around Joe La Combs place... you might
get your throat cut!"

Dad gave him a stern look...

"That's not something to talk about at the table, boy!"

And he added,

"Joe La Comb isn't any different than most folks around here... he don't want
people traipsing across his land, uninvited."

To every ones surprise Jim spoke back to Dad,

"That why he cut Uncle Wilburn's throat?"

Dad got red in the face as he stared Jim down... I nervously fiddled with my
food, and the girls tried to start the conversation about the tree again...but it
died flat, as Dad thundered at Jim...

"You Listen to me BUB! When I say don't talk about something you keep your
mouth shut... you hear!"

After a long moment of awkward silence Dad said to Jim in his normal, but stern

"That whole affair was over a bunch of silliness. Both your Uncle and La comb
had been drinking Liquor that night. Wilburn's fox hounds had been all over Joe's
place, raising Cain... and when he turned his pickup around, right in front of
Joe's front door, it messed up his TV reception... That was the last straw for
Joe... He should have stayed inside and Wilburn should have drove away... But
liquored up men don't think straight...and usually want to fight... and that's what
they did... I've worked with both in the mines, and would not enjoy a tussle with
either... especially knowing they both carry long knives...they are both lucky to
be alive... either one could easily have bled to death that night... "

Dad paused a moment... shaking his head... remembering....

"Right in front of Joe's wife and Children... and Wilburn's boys in the truck...
brawling like the drunks they were... both men were at fault...AND...what YOU
need to remember about all of this... BUB... IS DON'T DRINK!"

He stared at Jim long and hard... and I wondered if he knew about the bottle
hidden out in the woods... he probably did... I don't think Dad missed much of
anything me and my brother ever done... even if he chose to ignore some of it.

Dad stood up and supper was over,

"Get your coat on... we got to get under this house and find a leak... and then,
get some sleep for tomorrow."

I jumped up immediately,

"Let me help!"

Dad turned around and glared at me a moment... he was still angry about the
liquor thing... after a moment his face relaxed, and he said,

"OK... come on... but pay attention and try to learn something... and don't get in
the way!"

So everything was decided. The next day, before the new storm hit, I would go
out and find the perfect tree... and, be sure to stay miles away from Joe La
Combs place... or at least that was what I was thinking that night, as we
crawled under the house to fix our own pipes... again.

To be continued...
Copyright SunShine DixieLand Company 2011. All rights reserved.