COVID-19, the real "Grinch," has stolen Christmas and put something of a hold on our time honored celebrations and traditions.

Usually, for most Americans, Thanksgiving is the preamble to Christmas, the one, truly special season of the year when human expression is on full display.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has gutted Thanksgiving because the essence of that special day is about families gathering together to express thanks for their blessings. And, since families won't be coming together in usual numbers for this holiday season, I choose to recall and bask (in my mind) the smells, sounds, and atmosphere of Christmas seasons gone by, especially in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky when I was a boy.

Sure, I harbor good, even great memories of the Thanksgivings and Christmases enjoyed by my own children growing up in the city. In their lives, through no fault of their own, commercialism has been the order of the day, or should I say, of the season. Black Fridays and sales blitzes of every description, beginning, now have dulled our senses to the real meaning of the holiday season.

COVID-19 has snatched even that morsel of joy from our holiday plates. So, I'll fall back to the revelry and jubilation of earlier generations, back to Camp #3 in the little coal mining community of Lynch, Harlan County in the 1940's and 1950s.

Lynch was one of many coal mining towns set up by U.S. Steel in collaboration with local coal companies, and in the case of coalminer Willie Jackson, it was Blue Diamond Mines. Besides the hillside tiers of two-family dwellings leading back into a holler, Lynch had a post office, hospital, a school building for grades from first through 12, U. S. Steel's company store, and a bath house expressly for the miners, since there was no indoor plumbing except for drinking water piped into the kitchen.

One of the treats of my childhood was to accompany my father to the bathhouse for a shower! Against the backdrop of a hardscrabble existence in the coalfields, many memories and values were forged which have become strong influences in my life.

Ironically, looking back, the less I've had and enjoyed, the happier I've been.

Makes sense?

The approaching season reminds me of hog-killing time and the festive nature of genuine hard work mining communities engaged in, and cherished. The women made tallow and lye soap from the rendered fat of the hogs, crocheted, and made quilts. Each family dwelling had a smokehouse where the hams, shoulders, and tenderloins were cured and preserved through low smoking and salting.

Me, and my little buddies were running and playing through the camp, struttin our new clodhoppers (shoes), newly purchased from U.S. Steel's company store, immortalized in "Tennessee" Ernie Ford's hit song, "Sixteen Tons."

After the end of school in the summerm, until school started again in the fall, we didn't wear shoes!

How my family longed for the holiday season, especially Christmas, when all the youngsters along with our parents, would gather in the school auditorium awaiting Santa Claus.

I'll never forget Santa's little brown paper bag, containing an apple, orange, some nuts, and a small candy cane. Our eyes danced with joy and we nearly burst with excitement. Daddy would cut our Christmas tree from a hillside and we would decorate it with little more than hand-made ornaments. The smells of food cooking permeated the entire camp and a few blinking Christmas lights could be seen from some houses after dark.

Camp #3 was bustling with activity, and happiness abounded in an environment some might call austere and deprived.

But, life was good in the hill country of holiday seasons gone by and I miss them.

I miss the coal dust settling on a fresh snowfall in the mountains, the risky walks across an elevated train trestle, and the haze rising above the tree line on a bleak, wintry day.

Even my chores of retrieving coal and wood for the house, and maintaining the outdoor facilities won't dampen those warm memories.

My father was at the center of my universe and my mother stood alongside him. My siblings and I felt safe and secure, abiding in their love for us.

The time frame I've just talked about is gone, and it won't return.

I know that!

But, all of us can cling to the shared values embodied in our families.

And, in looking ahead, it still can be the most wonderful time of the year in spite of this worrisome virus.

Happy Holidays to one and all!

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