Christmas in 1916

Perry Piper remembers a pre-war Christmas in 1916

| December 2000

Even though more than three-quarters of a century have passed, one Christmas has stayed in my memory bank all these years.

It was Christmas in 1916 and Woodrow Wilson had just been reelected president by promising America would "never send her boys to fight on foreign soil." However, the sinking of the Lusitania with 114 Americans among the 1,184 lives lost was changing public opinion, and anti-German sentiment was building fast. Although the war was not yet declared, volunteers were flocking to recruiting offices, so there were lots of army and navy uniforms to be seen on the streets. Several of the older students at Spring Hill had enlisted, and I remember thinking how smart the Griggs boys looked in their Navy garb, and marveling at how they managed to keep those flat-top hats on in a stiff wind. The 13-button fly fronts were the topic of many a bull session around the pool hall stove that winter.

That Christmas in 1916, Dad and MaMa had done the chores early and loaded me, Lewis, and my baby sister Margaret, into one of the new Columbia wagons that had been filled with straw, along with lots of blankets and a big bag of salt MaMa had heated in the stove to keep us all warm.

The leather harness creaked and squeaked as the horses pulled the wagon. Their hooves made little plopping sounds in the snow and the trace chains kept time to the jingle of the snow bells Dad had tied on the lugs.

The frozen mud made a rough road, especially where the springs still flowed along Red Hill, and the saturated clay had frozen into a million shapes.

A huge snow owl sat on a telephone pole and watched us as we went by, his head seeming to swivel and the eyes unblinking. The balls of fur at the foot of the pole told of the owl's latest meal, an unlucky field mouse. The many characteristic and unmistakable tracks of the cottontail rabbit assured us that the hunting season could still be productive.