Tag Archives: Christmas

Harris House of Good Hope

Good Hope, Georgia, has a population of 274. The Harris House, completed, July, 1908, has now been turned by a loving couple into a year round Christmas house for their family and friends.

We were in Good Hope visiting Betty Lowe Bowers (lifetime resident) and her husband, Nelson Bowers. Betty was my roommate at the University of Georgia in 1963-65. I had visited her in Good Hope when we were students and our families had visited once or twice over the last fifty years. But we had seen each other only seldom. Our friendship is such, though, that no matter how much time has passed, conversation is quick and easy as if we’d seen each other yesterday. We are both graduates also of Young Harris College, at the time a junior college nestled in a North Georgia valley, and that bond lends us fodder for long spirited interchanges.

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Brenda and Betty in the Harris House parlor

Charles and I agreed to meet Betty at her house that spring Sunday morning and go with her to the church several miles away where she is the pianist. We got out of the car laughing because, even in such a tiny town, we had gotten “lost.” I had forgotten to turn at the one store and drive up past the Harris House to arrive at the Bowers’ sweet beau-tiful home where they raised their three children.

When I called Betty to see if it was a good time for us to come I told her Charles and I would like to take her and Nelson out to eat after church. Her response was “Oh, no, we’ll eat at the Harris House if that’s all right. You know, it’s right around the corner from us, the house my daddy grew up in. Nelson and I own it now and we’ve made it into a meeting house, a guest house. I know you’ll like it.”

We went to church with Betty and Nelson, and Betty seated us close to the front on the piano side. That way I could fully enjoy the prelude music she’d picked out, I think, just for me. All old hymn favorites. It was food for my soul!

After church we rode through the countryside back to Good Hope, back to the Harris House. And there began a fantastic show. We were instantly captivated by this old house turned by a loving family into a holiday house for many to enjoy. While Betty and Nelson heated barbecue and set other scrumptious delights, like potato salad, we were free to wander through the house. Betty called out interesting facts along the way, such as “Yes, that really is my wedding dress hanging on the closet door” or “That’s the little room Nelson made cozy for his mother when she needed special care” or “That’s the room my granddaughter sleeps in when she comes for a few days.”

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Nelson and Betty preparing lunch

Betty has written a brief account of the house’s history to help us (and other visitors) absorb it. The house is affectionately referred to as “The Harris House” in memory of its original owners and occupants, Golden Charles Harris and Jimmie Robison Harris, Betty’s great uncle and aunt. “Uncle Golden,” Betty writes, “also owned The General Store in Good Hope and was Postmaster for fifty years. The house was completed in July 1908. The story is told that Aunt Jimmie said that she would not marry Uncle Golden until the house was finished! They married in July 1908! (I guess she meant what she said!)”

Betty and Nelson gained ownership of the property in 1993. “Since that time,” Betty writes, “we have been gradually attempting to restore the house to its original beauty and authenticity while, at the same time, making it a bit more comfortable with some structural changes and ‘modern’ conveniences.” Nelson is a skilled woods craftsman and can do “anything,” including making a little broom closet into the cutest little maze between kitchen and den. She adds that, though they’ve come a long way, it continues to be a loving “work in progress.”

Other family members and friends have been invaluable help. One of the ones she mentions is their daughter Christy’s husband, Justin Myers. He, it seems, is largely responsible for the Christmas decorations inside and out. Betty said that when they realized what joy the Christmas house gave for Sunday school classes, choir groups, and family gatherings, she and Nelson decided simply to leave them up all year. “It’s a lot easier that way, too,” she says with her infectious laugh.

I was fascinated by the egg tree. Yes, it’s a Christmas tree, but covered with decorations made from real eggs–ostrich eggs, chicken eggs, duck eggs, goose eggs, all kinds of eggs with tiny, intricate artwork transforming them to nativity scenes, poinsettia blossoms, Santa Claus’ workshop, etc. These eggs were all created and contributed by special lifelong friends, Chet and Marye Frances Phillips Moss.

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The Harris House main Christmas tree–all egg decorations! Notice the doll–so sweet!

I cannot refrain from giving you just a touch of “the rest of the back story” to this house. You see, when Betty refers to Uncle Golden and Aunt Jimmie it is really a reference to her second set of paternal grandparents. When Betty’s father was born in 1915 he had a twin brother. On that same day the babies’ mother died. The mother’s sisters stepped in and took care of the babies. The babies’ father, times being very hard, could not give them the care they needed. Golden and Jimmie all but adopted little Harris, as they named him. Abiding by the wishes of his father, however, they never changed his last name so he was Harris Lowe. And Betty always knew Golden and Jimmie as “Uncle” and
“Aunt.”

Needless to add, I really enjoyed and loved getting to know “The Harris House,” having loved Betty and her family all these years. She quotes T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings at the end of her little history: “Why do we love certain houses, and why do they seem to love us? It is the warmth of our individual hearts reflected in our surroundings.”

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Hope in Bethlehem

Stories of the creation of Christmas carols are uplifting, sometimes humorous, but always they bring me joy as I see how God has used people of all walks to bring us His message. The following story of the creation of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is one of my favorites. This carol came from the soul of a man who was in deep despair and found the hope he so needed in the little village where Jesus was born.

Phillips Brooks was born in Boston, December, 1835 and died in Boston, January, 1893. He has been called “the greatest preacher of the 19th century.” He was known for freeing slaves and for hi influence in allowing former slaves to vote. He was chosen in 1865 to deliver the sermon at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral.

Brooks had already been fighting fatigue and the dark hopelessness of the times even before Lincoln’s assassination. Praying for strength, he was able to offer hope at Lincoln’s funeral, but afterward he felt broken and unable to go on. In spite of all he’d contributed in volumes of sermons and compassionate pastoring, he felt completely inadequate and empty.

Brooks took a sabbatical and traveled in the Holy Land. Experiences there rejuvenated him and he eagerly returned to his congregation. But no matter how he prayed and sought after the words, he couldn’t explain to his flock how precious his experiences had been walking where Jesus walked.

He told his people how he’d felt burdened even in Jerusalem on Christmas Eve, 1865, and had borrowed a horse to travel out into the countryside, to get away from the crowds. He found himself at twilight in the village of Bethlehem and entered a small church where, as he describes it, his “heart sang.” He writes of that experience: “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.

It had been a strange and wonderful experience, yet Phillips Brooks knew his congregation wasn’t “getting it.” He longed for them to understand.

It was Christmas Eve, 1868, three years after his return, as he sat at his desk trying to prepare for the Christmas Day services, when he felt a certain release, a powerful peace. He was able then to pen the words to Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. He rushed to share his poem with his friend and organist Lewis Redner who exclaimed that this was “it”; he could see now what Brooks was talking about.

Lewis Redner (1831-1908) and Phillips Brooks had worked together to draw hundreds of children into studying the Bible and singing songs together. When Brooks showed him his poem it was understood between them that Redner needed to compose a melody for the poem that very day. He set to work and struggled, trying one tune after another, but none was appropriate for Brooks’ powerful and descriptive poem. Finally, he went to bed, spent and dejected at his failure.

He woke up in the night with a simple straightforward tune in his head and stumbled quickly to try it out on Brooks’ poem. It matched perfectly, a gift from heaven!

The children sang Oh Little Town of Bethlehem for the first time Christmas Day, 1868.

How many times has God used the valley of despair to bring hope and joy to His children, to us who plow along in the darkness. Read the words to this carol (two stanzas of) and take hope, dear friends.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by;

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

How silently, how silently

The wondrous Gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming,

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him still,

The dear Christ enters in.

—Phillips Brooks

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One Starry Night

I love stories. Just begin “Once upon a time,” and my ears are perked. The song “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Edmund H. Sears starts like a story and I love it dearly, along with all the other Christmas carols. When I hear Christmas music, even before Thanksgiving, I experience a feeling of peace and wonder and nostalgia. Some carols remind me of specific wonderful times and I’m transported to the scents and smells and sounds of that experience. For instance, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”…..

Who knows it was really midnight when Jesus was born? But it could have been. It was at least night because it says in Luke that the shepherds were keeping their flock “by night.” Anyway, when I was nine years old I wasn’t worried about theology or philosophy either one, but I absorbed the story and enjoyed singing the words that etched themselves into my heart for later perusal: “It came upon a midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold:…”

The night Jesus was born, I considered, could have been a night such as the one when I, along with several of my brothers and sisters, took a very special Christmas Eve walk.

My two playmate brothers, Charlie and Stanley (the other three had already grown and left home), had been building a small house in our woods that fall of 1951. They had allowed five-year-old Suzanne and me to help–that is, up to a point. As soon as it was “dried in” when we could have really enjoyed it, they put us out. We were forced to find our own amusement. Hopeful that the hammering and sawing we heard might just mean the boys were making us a present, we tried to think of something we could give them in turn. Mamma helped us hem handkerchiefs after we’d given up on our success in pottery and aircraft construction.

Christmas Eve finally, finally, arrived. Mamma and Daddy banned us from the Hall about 5:00 that afternoon so they could bring in the Christmas tree and decorate it. We could hear swishing and sliding as they wangled the tree in, hear Daddy instructing Mamma, “All right, now, up she goes,” and Mamma then eying its straightness with “No, to the right, little to the left, there that’s good. Here’s the string. Catch!” We knew, though we were not supposed to look, that Daddy was now tying the tree to the balcony rail.

Even the oldest girls, Pat and Ginger, home from college, were not to see the tree until the candles were all lit and Daddy blew the trumpet. In fact, the girls were in charge of feeding us all our supper. But no one was hungry except Stan who was never full. Suddenly, instead of prodding us to eat our bread and milk, Pat was putting on her big coat, fluffing her hair out over the collar and grabbing coats for Suzanne and me. Somehow everyone else seemed to know what we were doing, but it was a mystery to me.

“Oh, Suzanne, where are your mittens?” asked Ginger.

“In my coat pocket with mine,” I said. “Her coat doesn’t have pockets. Anyway, our mittens are so full of holes our fingers are sticking out.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” said Pat helping Ginger fit them on us. “If it weren’t for the holes they’d be too little. Hmmmm. Too bad you two don’t have new mittens. That’s a shame.” She sounded a little as if she were telling a joke but I wasn’t getting it.

It was a moonlit night with a dome of stars overhead, so clear it felt almost as if they were pulling my eyes right out of my head. Jackie started singing It Came Upon a Midnight Clear as we trailed down Sunny Lawn, across Sand Flat, and crunched in frozen ruts of an old road that wound around Tulip Hill. I could almost imagine one of those angels appearing in our path, “bending near,” especially when Pat said in a hushed voice, “There! Do you see that one bright star?” We looked where she pointed and sure enough, the brightest star actually did have a shining longer point like stars on Christmas cards.

We were so intent on studying the stars, Suzanne and I, that we didn’t notice Stan, Charlie, and Jackie running on ahead leaving us far behind. The cold crept into my holey mittens and I fisted my hands to warm them. It had gotten pretty dark in the deeper woods and I stayed close by Pat’s side, glad when she took one of my hands in hers. At least that one could be warm. Suddenly Ginger said in the most startling voice, “Halt! Look through the trees! What is that?”

For a tiniest second I thought, The angel has come down! Then I took a deep breath of cold air and realized the light, like a tiny pinpoint through the trees, was exactly where that little house should be, the one from which we’d been exiled weeks before. I let go Pat’s hand and, suddenly fearless, dashed ahead.

The Little House as we began to call it had been furnished and decorated by Jackie and our brothers. It was the most fantastic playhouse anyone could have imagined. There were curtains, wallpaper, stove, quilted doll-size bed–and a window with a sill on which a candle gleamed. I can remember this very minute, all these years later, the pounding excitement in my chest. It was a gift of love that would last long after the walls caved in and the shingles disintegrated.

It was time, then, to hurry back to Stone Gables house and line up for the Christmas tree, the youngest, Suzanne, in front. I can taste a piece of hard candy right now, feel the warmth of new mittens, and smell the tantalizing scent of a brand new book.

And in the distance I hear the tune to It Came Upon a Midnight Clear…

 

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Fifty Christmases Ago

As Christmas 1965 approached, our house, Stone Gables, was buzzing with excitement. Windows had to be washed, every piece of furniture polished, the Christmas tree dressed early instead of, as our tradition was, on Christmas Eve. This was to be a different Christmas. Charles and I were getting married on December 20.

Looking back, I’m amazed that my mother was so calm through the whole season. It was “a time set apart” for her, my younger sister Suzanne, and me. Suzanne was commuting to a nearby college, I was teaching a combined first and second grade class at a local school. Mamma was there every afternoon when we got home to help us meet the newest challenge, to smooth the wrinkles of any plans that went awry, and, if time from homework and grading papers, etc. allowed, to read together as in the “old days.” We laughed ourselves silly over some book about a Dr. Latimer.

Charles and I had become officially engaged on my birthday in September. Though I caught Mamma crying in the laundry room she insisted they were tears of joy. As plans for our wedding in December developed, she never tried to put it off until spring or until June. When we planned a Monday afternoon wedding she never tried to dissuade us, to warn us that we might have very few guests at such an odd time. She never once reminded me that my sister and I were the last of ten children, that Dad had died not too long since, that my next oldest brother was in the service stationed in Germany, and that Charles and I could just wait a little while. To tell you the truth, she had become particularly fond of my Charles. Who wouldn’t?

Charles came up often from Athens where he was in his second year of Veterinary school. He applied himself to working on the grounds around Stone Gables, and Mamma was quite charmed. With my brothers so scarce, Charlie in Germany, Stan running a country store from 6:00 a.m. till about 9:00 p.m., the nandinas were out of control, young oak sprouts in the lily beds, and the thorn hedges wild and ragged. She was, though, quite startled sometimes at the subjects of conversation Charles and I got into.

One day while taking a break from work Charles was describing to me the manner in which farmers kept their cows having calves on schedule. It had, in part, to do with artificial insemination. Mamma walked into the parlor, took a seat, always interested in whatever was being discussed. However, as she realized what Charles was talking about she turned quite red in the face, got up abruptly, and left the room.

Monday, December 20th, 1965, dawned crisp and lovely with blue sky framed by bare oak and fuzzy pine. I think Stan closed his store that day. Anyway, he came for breakfast. As we ate eggs, grits, bacon and toast (actually, I was too excited to eat!), the boys talked about the great adventure they’d had the night before climbing Blood Mountain as a bachelor party for Charles. I ignored the conversation pretty much, still feeling stung that John and Stan had taken the South Georgia boys on a mountain trip leaving very convincing suggestions with both Mamma and Stan’s wife Zelda, that they were likely going to leave them on some country road and let them find their way back home. I poured Charles’ Dad some more coffee and realized with relief that he, at least, thought the whole episode a great joke. I still wasn’t quite sure about Charles’ mother. I can just see her now that dark night peering out a window and saying, “Don’t you think they should be back by now?”

Mamma served a wonderful lunch and, contrary to superstitious tradition, Charles and I sat together on the piano bench eating fried chicken and pimiento cheese sandwiches. Ginger had arrived from Dug Gap to help Mamma in the kitchen. Suzanne and I had been busy, with my friend Betty’s help, doing hair, ironing our dresses, then dashing down to welcome the florist who’d come to set up poinsettias and candelabra in front of the arch. Three sisters had gotten married ahead of me but theirs were summer weddings in front of the great fireplace banked with greenery. Mamma said the preacher’s legs would get too hot if I had mine there!

Upstairs again, I heard Mrs. Cook arrive to arrange the reception table. Brother Dick, student campus minister in Athens, arrived with great laughter erupting over something, probably to do with his flight from Athens to Toccoa in his private plane. Rev. Holmes, my local pastor, arrived. They would both take part in the ceremony. Suzanne and I could hear their voices along with others as she and I were donning our finery. Her red dress was gorgeous and, thanks to Mamma, I was very happy about my wedding dress.

My dress, ordered from Montgomery Ward only three weeks before the wedding, had arrived just the week before and, miracle of miracles, fit perfectly. Her ordering my dress was another sign of Mamma’s patient calmness in the midst of flurry that fall. The dress I had planned all along to wear, a special satin one worn by my sister-in-law, had finally arrived at the end of November. But when I saw that it was obviously ivory, not white, I’d burst into tears. The little girls’ white dresses would not “do” with this one, no matter how beautiful it was. Mamma picked up the Montgomery Ward catalog and said with absolute conviction, “We’ll order one. It will get here in time.”

“Nervous?” asked Suzanne arranging my train behind me.

“No. Not really. Just shaking a little bit.”

Betty came in with her radiant smile, ready to pin my veil in place. “The way you look now, maybe I’ll reconsider and plan to get married,” she said cheerfully. “Last night I wasn’t sure.”

We stood ready on the balcony out of sight of the guests: flower girls Carol and Jill, Suzanne, Stan (who would give me away), and I. Ron Collins, a dear friend from the University, began to sing. Stan gave me a careful, sideways hug. “We just wanted to give Charles a good welcoming into the family,” he said. “No hard feelings?”

“Of course not! But if you had left him up there….”

Stan grinned. “I know, it wouldn’t have been safe for me to come in the door.”

There was a pause after Ron’s solo as he sat down. In that quietness Suzanne whispered frantically, “I can’t find the ring!” As she felt about in her bouquet, the ring hit the floor and rolled, rolled, rolled toward the edge of the balcony and the open arches. Carol and Jill giggled and both grabbed for it. Carol had barely gotten it back in Suzanne’s hand when Zelda started playing the wedding march.

It was time. Stan and I passed the big piece of coral Dad had brought from Florida, passed the oak seat where I’d read into the sunset so many times, passed the bookcase full of “Heidi,” “Little Women,” “Girl of Limberlost,” along the straight stretch under Dad’s painting of “A Walk in the Snow,” around the turn and down the last flight past the arched stained glass window Dad had created. And now I could see Charles waiting for me, handsome and smiling. Everything else receded into the background.

We enjoyed saying our vows. It was as if no one else were there except us, and yet it was as if the whole world were celebrating with us. As we lit one candle from two we quoted together from the book of Ruth (with shaking hands!): “…Whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God…”

During every Christmas season we’ve celebrated our anniversary, sometimes at a Sunday school party, sometimes at a family party, sometimes with delightful little shopping trips, very special evenings out, always with beautiful Christmas decorations. This year, celebrating our Fiftieth, will, again, like fifty Christmases ago, be different. We are very blessed to have reached this milestone and we don’t take it for granted. Fifty Christmases ago we were blessed to pledge to each other. Now we’re blessed far more. As Charles likes to say, “I love you more than yesterday, less today than tomorrow.”

Why is this anniversary different? Because this time we’re going to have a party and celebrate with our friends. And what can be better than that?

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Christmas Bells

Edgar Allen Poe wrote about bells. He wrote about silver bells, wedding bells, alarm bells, and frightful knelling bells of funerals and other solemn, terrible times. Think about all the kinds of bells there are–sleigh bells, elevator bells, door bells, victory bells–so many, many bells. I’ve never ridden in a sleigh. I think it would be such fun. We do have a door bell. When it rings we know that either a stranger has come or the children are playing. An elderly friend has told us about when he was a little boy and lived in this very old log house where we now live. He remembers standing at a northern window and listening to the ringing of the courthouse bells at the end of World War I. What an awesome memory!

But I’m here to remind us of Joy Bells. They’re little knitted Christmas bells so fun to hang on your Christmas tree, wear on your sweater or coat, or to decorate a package, or simply give as a gift. They remind me of the joy God gave us when He sent Jesus, His Son as a tiny helpless Babe to grow to manhood and die to save us from our sins. “God loved us and sent His Son.” (I John 4:10) KJV)

I first learned to make little knitted bells from a very talented, dear lady in our church named Emogene Harrison. It was about 1975 and she, along with some helpers, made bells enough that every participant who came to the international missions prayer meetings received one. The directions were printed in our mission magazine. Ever since I’ve enjoyed making these little bells and giving them away. I’d like to pass along this fun little pattern to all of you who knit. If you don’t knit, you can buy a beginners’ kit from Joanne’s, knit shops, even some Wal Mart stores. It may take a while to make your first one but when you get the hang of it you can make one in minutes. Have fun, God bless, and spread the joy!

Joy Bells

Materials you will need: size 5 knitting needles, red (3 or 4 ply) yarn, a yarn needle (needs to have a very large eye for threading with yarn), a pair of scissors, and a  little jingle bell (such as you might put on children’s shoe laces) for each bell you want to make.

cast on sixteen (16) stitches

Knit four rows

Fifth row: purl

sixth row: knit

Continue in purl/knit (known as straight stitch) for nine rows.

Tenth row: knit two stitches at once all the way across.

Eleventh row: Purl

Cut off yarn about fifteen inches from your bell. Thread end of yarn through your yarn needle. Run your yarn needle through your remaining eight stitches and draw up tightly. Fold bell inside out and sew side seam. Run your yarn up through the seam to top of bell. Attach jingle bell to this strand of yarn. You may have to thread it through the bell opening by hand as your yarn needle may be too big for the bell. With yarn through yarn needle pull thread up through top of bell which you’ve now turned right side out. Make a loop if you want to use it for a Christmas tree ornament. Thread an extra eight inch strand of yarn through the top of the bell making it even on both sides. Tie into a bow. The bell naturally lends itself to having the bottom turned up and your jingle bell should barely show at the rim. Merry ringing of the Joy Bells!!!!!

Questions? Let me hear from you!

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