Notable West Virginians recall favorite memories of Christmases past
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Christmas this year, we reached out to some West Virginians of local and international renown and asked them for their favorite Christmas memories from West Virginia. Here are their answers, in their own words:
Kathy Mattea (country star)
In my early Nashville years, I was hired as a waitress in one of the few trendy restaurants in town. It was good money and allowed me the flexibility to pursue music.
But when Christmas rolled around that year, I was the new kid on the schedule. I could get Christmas Day off, but was going to have work Christmas Eve.
There had been long-running gathering on Christmas Eve of my Mom's side of the family. Every year on the 24th, my entire family -- Grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins (first, second and third) -- would gather at our house and eat copious amounts of food and, of course, open presents! It was my favorite tradition of the year, the thread running back as far as I could remember, stitching together the years of my life.
My mom would bake a ham, and they'd turn the washer and dryer in the kitchen into a makeshift bar. Dad would put our cars in the backyard, and as folks arrived, start lining them up on the grass anywhere they could fit.
As a kid, this was absolutely the most exciting thing -- watching Dad drive everyone's car into the yard! It was like all the rules got broken for that one big celebration.
So, for the first time I wouldn't be attending. I was beyond sad. I called home and broke the news.
But then the day before Christmas Eve, a friend (bless you, Chris Burgess, wherever you are) said he would take my shift. I was ecstatic.
The next morning, I called my sister-in-law and told her I was coming. It was a seven-hour drive, and I drove a '62 Ford Galaxy. A long trip was always iffy.
I pulled up our street just as the party was getting into high gear. There was about an inch of snow on the ground, and the Christmas lights were on. The house was full of people. You could see their silhouettes through the living room window.
I walked in the back door and casually asked my mom for something to drink. She whirled around and nearly started crying. Mom just kept looking at me and saying over and over, "Well, Kathy! Well, Kathy!"
I got a huge hug from the folks in the kitchen that almost crushed me.
Dad was holding court in the basement, sitting on bench under a deer head. He'd recently broken his ankle and wasn't supposed to put any weight on it. When he saw my face, Uncle Pappy had to hold him down to keep him from running across the room.
It is, to this day, my best Christmas memory. My folks are gone now, and we sold the house a few years back, but the history of that place, that safe place where everyone I know and love anchored me to the world in such a beautiful way, lives with me always.
Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. (2011 "America's Got Talent" winner)
There was a place we used to go to across the street from where I lived on Logan Avenue, called Lyman Terrie Hill. All my cousins and I would go up there and sled down the hill; we'd take buckets of water and throw them on the road to make it slick.
It's a blacktop now, but it was just dirt road when I was a kid, and we'd throw buckets of water all over it to make ice. We'd sled down on our jackets or on trash bags with shovels-- sometimes we were fortunate enough to have a real sled or inner tube!
That's my fondest memory as a child in Logan around Christmastime.
Helen Lodge (West Virginia Symphony volunteer extraordinaire)
I came here in 1968, expected to stay a year and now can't think of another city I'd rather live.
I worked at Charleston Area Medical as director of dietetics -- and this was back when hospitals had money. Every year, we'd do a Christmas buffet for our employees. We'd start planning in September, and it was almost like I didn't really have a budget (though, of course, I did.)
Every year, we'd have a different theme and feed some 2,500 people. A lot of the employees who'd come to eat, this was their Christmas. They didn't have families, and so, we were their family.
Christmas day everybody could invite someone to join them in the hospital cafeteria for our noon meal.
I really love those memories.
George Daugherty (the Duke of Dunbar/Earl of Elkview)
The local lawyer and musician sent along this photo, which is one of his very first memories. He's pictured at age 5 as the ring bearer in a Christmastime military wedding in Mannington, where his godmother had to prompt him onto the stage.
"It was the most nervous I'd ever been," he said. "I was shaking so badly I literally had to be shoved out from behind the curtain."