Memories of Christmases Past: Stories from the Oral History Collection

Creche from the home of Baylor University president Abner V. McCall, 1975. Photo from The Texas Collection Photographic Archive.

Christmas is a time for family, celebrating and the making and sharing of memories. Many times, those memories are presented as stories told during family gatherings (sometimes for the hundredth time), and oral traditions are an important part of any get-together.

One of our most-used resources is composed almost entirely of personal stories and memories: the Baylor Institute for Oral History collection. So we decided to search the collection for the word “Christmas” and see what kind of stories turned up. What we found ran quite a gamut, from fond family reminiscences to heartbreaking stories, tales of plenty and memories of want. We hope you enjoy these selections for what they are: documented history.

Ophelia Horton Allison
Interviewed  March 24, 1989

Ms. Allison was a resident of the Methodist Children’s Home during her youth in the 1920s. Here, she recalls Christmas celebrations at the Home, as related to Dr. Patricia Ward Wallace.

Wallace: Do you remember Christmas at the home?

Allison: Oh, yeah. We always had a big, big, Christmas tree or else a big one and then little ones on the side that filled the stage. And we always got the toys that were sent into the home. They would try to see that each child got gifts off of the tree. They tried to give two or three gifts to each child. Small items or big items, whatever came out to the home. And then they gave us our lunch sack which was an apple, orange, nuts and some candy in a paper sack. And that was our lunch or supper that night on Christmas eve.

Wallace: That would have been in the dormitory or in the auditorium?

Allison: It was at the auditorium. And the whole shebang went up there. And you had the Christmas tree and Santa Claus came. He called out the names, Santa Claus would give out gifts.

Wallace: Was Mr. Barnett [director of the Home] Santa Claus?

Allison: No, he always heard him coming. He’d say, “Listen, I think I hear
something.” And he’d have someone up on the roof stomping or something or ringing a bell. (laughter)

Ronald E. Clements
Interviewed April 25, 1989

Ronald E. Clements was the Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament Studies at King’s College, University of London and visiting professor in the Department of Religion at Baylor at the time of his interview with David Strickland. Here, he recalls visits to London during his youth before World War II.

Stricklin: When you were growing up, before the war, and you would have only been ten or so, did you have occasion to go into the inner city much?

Clements: A little. It was really a kind of holiday event. My father’s brother was also a policeman in central London, in Victoria area, which is very central. There was a very close relationship between the two families, and since my uncle had no — an aunt, had no family, we would go across there. And always at Christmas time we would go and see the big department store displays at Christmas. It was quite an event. So I associate central London and certainly Yorkshire Street, the shopping area, very much with a kind of holiday festive occasion.

Hannibal Joe Jaworski
Interviewed November 10, 1989
Hannibal Jaworski was a famous Waco physician for many years. Here he was discussing an early job he had and how it led to his lifelong nickname, as related to interviewer Daniel Lyman.

Jaworski: I started to mopping the floor, and Mrs. Rogers stopped me after a while, after one day, I think, and told me, said, “What’s your name?” And I told her, and she said, “I can’t ever remember that. The Mexican boy that quit, his name was Joe. From now on, I’m going to call you Joe. And if I holler ‘Joe,’ you come running.” So I got my name Joe, and it stayed with me all my life. I was “Joe” when I mopped the floors. I was “Doctor Joe” when I finished medical school. Then I was “Colonel Joe” when I was in the army. I was “Bwana Joe” when I was hunting in Africa, and I was “Shikar Joe” when I hunted tigers in India. So “Joe” has stuck with me, and for many, many years when I started practicing medicine, I would receive Christmas cards just addressed “Doctor Joe, Waco, Texas,” and I would get them all.

Henry James Landes
Interviewed July 9, 1976

Henry Landes was a Southern Baptist pastor, president of Hardin-Smmons University and executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. In this excerpt, he recalls a conversation with his sister about a covenant he made with his wife, Irene, regarding Christmas presents.

Landes: During those days, Irene and I were living on ninety dollars a month and I remember one Christmas Irene and I just sort of made a covenant, you know, as kids, as students, that we wouldn’t give anybody anything at Christmastime, that I wouldn’t give her anything, and she wouldn’t give me anything. And we’d just give everything we could give to Lottie Moon [a Baptist missionary to China] – which wasn’t much. But we could give a little something if we didn’t buy any gifts.

I went in one weekend and it was just before Christmas and my sister said to me, “What are you giving Irene for Christmas?” And I told her about the covenant. And she said, “Covenant or not, you’re not going to treat Irene that way.” (laughs) So she saw that our family life was very important and she said, “No, we’re not going to do it that way. You’re going to give her a gift.” And I so remember with some delight, I think, I said, “Well, Lord, my sister’s going to make me do this anyway, so I’m going to go ahead and do it.”

Eugene Hudson Long
Interviewed August 18, 1982
Eugene Long was chair of the Baylor University Department of English. In this excerpt, he discusses what it was like taking classes under legendary English faculty member Dr. A. J. Armstrong (namesake of the Armstrong Browning Library). He is being interviewed by Dr. Thomas Charlton.

Charlton: How did you feel about Dr. Armstrong’s approach to students?

Long: Well, nobody else could have gotten away with it, and I don’t think he could have gotten away with – oh, today, he couldn’t have gotten away with it at all. And neither could Pat Neff. I don’t think either one of them could handle things today. You could say Doc [Armstrong] was a bully, but then that wouldn’t be fair because his objective was not to bully, it was to galvanize you and make you do something. He wasn’t doing it for himself; he was doing it for you.

Charlton: How responsive were you to that approach?

Long: Oh, I responded. Now, I knew people who didn’t understand what he was doing. He’d do this sort of thing: We were through with the first term before Christmas. The first course I took under him, I handed in my term paper. He gave me an incomplete and he said, “Now, you rewrite this paper completely during the Christmas holidays.” Why, I was going home for Christmas to have a good time. Heck, I sat in the Dallas Public Library during the Christmas holidays writing that theme. And – now, that’s the sort of thing he’d do to you. Well, some people, it’d make them mad. I was sad, I was unhappy, but I wasn’t mad about it. And, of course, after I’d had several courses with him, I began to understand what he was doing.

Loyd Hickman Robb
Interviewed May 25, 1987
Loyd Robb was a life-long officer in the Salvation Army. In this excerpt, he discusses his love of hunting with interviewer Rosalie Beck.

Robb: We used to go down and hunt squirrels, and birds, and rabbits, and snakes sort of for the fun of it. It wasn’t – we never took any squirrel home. We always gave them away before we got home. And rabbits we never took home. We would take the snakes home to — to skin them and try to preserve them. But the other things we gave away before we ever got home. We didn’t — we didn’t do it for — for food. We just did it for the fun of hunting.

In fact, I can remember at least three Christmases there were, after all night of caroling, we picked up our guns while we had our Christmas tree, presents, and things; and we picked up our guns and went hunting for the rest of the day or until early evening, say around four or five o’clock.

Linda M. Skiles-Hadduck
Interviewed January 31, 1989
In this excerpt, Skiles-Hadduck talks about her courtship and eventual marriage to her husband. She is being interviewed by David Stricklin.

Skiles-Hadduck: And I was in Kearney [Nebraska], and he was in McPherson, and that was four hours drive. But we ended up — see, that was in the end of — that was in August, and for that whole year, every third weekend I would either go to McPherson and see him, or he would meet me in Alma at my folks’. Every third weekend we did that. And then after he graduated — we were pretty much engaged before — long before anybody knew it. Actually, we met in July, and in October we talked about, “We’re engaged. Should we tell everybody at Thanksgiving or Christmas?” “We’d better wait until Christmas; we just met in July.” We didn’t want to shake everybody up. So we waited until Christmas and made it all formal at Christmas time, and nobody was surprised anyway. And that was Christmas his senior year in college and my sophomore year.


There are literally thousands of stories housed in the Baylor University Institute for Oral History collection. Discover them for yourself by clicking here.

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