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Month: December 2018

Christmas, 2018

It was Christmas Eve and it was snowing. Or maybe it wasn’t. Snowing, I mean, but that makes a better story. Maybe it started snowing later. Yes, that’s even better.

Merry Christmas to all.

I was 16 years old and working at my first real job in a ten-cent store. For you youngsters, a ten-cent store is like a dollar store back before inflation. We stocked nearly everything, ash trays, socks, toys,hammers, skillets, toilet paper, and in season, Christmas decorations and school books.

I liked the job, liked the boss, who happened to be the owner which is the way things used to be done in retail…the owner working alongside the employees. I liked my co-workers and strangely, I liked working with customers. I learned a lot about customer service on that job and from that boss, things I’ve never forgotten and have practiced all my life.

Anyway, it was Christmas Eve and Bob (the owner) had sent all the working moms home and it was just Bob, Tony (the other teenager) and I, patiently waiting to close up the store.

Actually, I wasn’t feeling so patient. This was the first year I had earned my own spending money, and bought all my siblings and my mom and dad Christmas presents. Those presents were wrapped and under the tree at home. I wanted to be home on Christmas Eve, but I was in a small store on the main street of a small town waiting for the clock to tick over to 6:00pm, our advertised early closing time for Christmas Eve. As we all stood at the front of the store, we gazed out on an empty street. The phrase “not a creature was stirring” came to mind, but I knew Bob wouldn’t close the store a minute before 6:00. So, we waited.

You know what’s going to happen. You’ve read enough Christmas stories to know that at five minutes to 6:00, a battered and noisy car pulled up in front of the store. A young man in work clothes and only a sweatshirt for a coat jumped out of the car and ran to the door. The look of relief on his face when he pushed through and saw Bob, Tony and I standing there and all the lights still on was almost comic.

He went straight to Bob and breathlessly told his story…out of work, new job, just got his first paycheck, needs to cash it and buy some Christmas for his family. I glanced out the door and saw four faces peering at us through frost covered windows. My heart sank. I would not be going home anytime soon.

Bob put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and said, “Sure, no problem. Give me the check, I’ll cash it. Tell me how much you want to spend, and you and your wife go on back and pick out some things for the kids. Tony will bring them up to me to ring up. I’ll tell you when you’ve spent your limit.”

He looked at me, “Donna, I’ll take the cash register, you wrap the presents.”

I’m the oldest of five kids, all I could think of was the practical aspect… “We’re almost out of paper, I only have one kind left. How will they tell them apart?”

By this time, the young mother had entered the store. “It’s okay, we’ll work it out. The kids are in the car, the presents have to be wrapped.”

She didn’t look much older than me, and only had on an old sweater with baggy elbows for a wrap. On her feet were rundown flats that had seen better days, but the smile on her face mirrored the relief I’d seen on the young man when he felt Bob’s hand on his shoulder.

Everyone went to work. I could hear the young couple making their careful decisions about what to get each child and Tony began carrying their choices to the front of the store. Bob didn’t seem to be working very hard at the cash register, but I was soon busy wrapping what seemed like a lot of toys.

I didn’t miss the fact though, that every time Tony deposited some items by the cash register, Bob gave him a new instruction. I heard him say things like “…dolls” and “puzzles” and “books.”

When he wasn’t busy moving things onto my table, I saw Bob go to the candy counter and weigh up a bag of orange slices and another bag of chocolate stars. Then he picked up a couple of adult sized pairs of gloves and scarves and put them in a bag with a pair of lady’s tennis shoes.

I forgot to watch the clock. I have no idea how long we were there, but I remember Bob saying to the young couple, “Go ahead, pick out some more, you haven’t reached your limit yet.”

When the young couple finally came to the front of the store, they looked a little dazed at the pile of wrapped presents on my table.

In my short time in this job, Bob had started teaching me to work the cash register. I learned to do some running math in my head as I rang up items, so I had a general idea if the total sounded right at the end of each transaction.

My mouth must have dropped open at the total Bob announced, because he looked at me quickly and gave me a look and a slight shake of his head to stop any comment that was going to make.

He counted the rest of the young man’s wages into his hand, his “change,” and everyone began the process of carrying packages out to the trunk of the car while the mom climbed in the front seat and distracted the three children.

That’s when it must have started snowing. Or it didn’t. I don’t remember, but it would really top the story off, wouldn’t it, to stand at the door of that ten-cent store and watch the young family drive off into the snowy dusk of a Christmas Eve that at least one of us would remember for the rest of her life.

Because I do remember that Christmas. It was my first grown-up Christmas, the first year I earned my own money, the first year I shopped for presents for my family, and it was the year I saw a business man with a heart of gold create Christmas for someone who never realized (but must have suspected) they had encountered a Christmas angel.

Yeah, I don’t remember whether it was snowing or not, but every year I remember that Christmas.

Odds and Ends

Writing a journal may seem a boring thing to do, but it can tell the story of a life lived.

This past week has had an air of the terrible,-horrible,-no-good,-very-bad-day story. Without going into details, it’s enough to say that, in case anyone noticed, I did not get my usual Thursday blog posted.

Please don’t worry, there is no physical or even long-lasting mental damage…just the frustration of huge projects that did not get completed and co-workers who moved on to greener pastures and the looming holiday that I cannot seem to get under control.

So, today, a few days late, you are getting a bag of odd sand ends of facts and thoughts. This may not be too satisfying for you the reader but will clear my plate for a continuation of family stories after the holidays! There are more adventures to come.

Some readers (well, one reader) wanted a little more information about Henry Crist, survivor of the attack and long journey home on hands and knees.

During and after a long recovery from his injuries, Henry became a salt-maker and acquired several parcels of land in the Bullitt County and Shepherdsville area of future Kentucky. As a land owner and respected businessman he participated in the act of creating the state of Kentucky, became a justice of the peace, was duly elected to serve in the state legislature representing Nelson County and later, Bullitt County. He went on to serve in the 11th Congress of the United States (1809-1811) and was commissioned a general in the Kentucky state militia.

Henry died in Shepherdsville, KY in 1844 and was buried there, but in 1869, the Kentucky Legislature elected to recognize his service to the young state by having his remains moved to Frankfort, Kentucky, the state capitol, where a monument stands in his honor.

I want to explain once again that Henry Crist is not a direct relative of mine, but the Crist family is related to mine by marriage and by long time association. I came upon the Crist story while doing research into my family, the Collings. At one point, I became very frustrated trying to account for one of the women of the family at a certain point in our history.

Family research is interesting and frustrating at the same time, but it is further complicated because the records of females mostly depends on the records of their fathers and their husbands.

I was delighted to finally answer an important question about my fifth great grandmother with the help of the Crist family journal or account book. For this reason, I have become a strong advocate for journaling.

A group of us talked about this in a writing workshop recently. Journaling is one of those activities which seems mundane and kind of useless at the time, but which records for all times the details of a life lived. I’m sure that Nicolaus Heinrich Crist had no idea when he started his journal, that one day over 200 years later, I would find one line written in that journal that would answer a burning question for my family (or at least for me).

Today, more than ever before, we have a problem with recording the details of ordinary lives. Living on into eternity we will have official records of the politics of the day, the wars we fight, the major disasters we experience. But where will future generations read about how we as individuals feel about those events?

I read in the Crist journal about how families suffered during the Revolutionary War and how it felt to have sons fighting, knowing that any news of their fate could take months to reach them. I read about the concerns of traveling into unexplored wilderness and setting off for a land only heard of in other travelers’ tales.

Nicolaus Heinrich Crist wrote early on in his journal these words: “I am going to write in my account book about me so if we die they will know who we are.”

I can’t think of a better reason to start a journal and would only change the word “if” to “when” to make it the motto of my own writings.

Desperate Journey

Cover on both shores made for dangerous travel.

Henry Crist thought he was about to die. As far as he knew, all his companions and his business partner were dead, killed in the sudden and brutal attack on their way up the Salt River to Mud Garrison. He had watched from the riverbank as the woman in their party was captured, and during his frantic escape he had been shot in the foot. Unable to walk upright, Henry crawled deep into the brush and assessed his situation.

As he lay weak from loss of blood and the terror of the battle, he though some of the men made it into the woods. Crepps, who had been running beside him, was hit by a ricocheting bullet and had disappeared into the brush, bleeding.

Henry was wounded and alone, his only hope to reach the closest settlement, Bullitt’s Lick. With the bones in his heel shattered, he tried to stand, but fell to the ground He would have to crawl.

Still bleeding, Henry removed his moccasins and tied them to his knees with strips of cloth torn from his shirt. He wrapped his hands with his hat and pieces of his hunting vest and began to crawl. All day, he moved slowly on hands and knees, following the river towards safety. He crawled over rocky ground, down into ravines and up out of them.

Knowing he needed to cross the river, he crawled until nightfall, then found a fallen log, slowly rolled it into the river, climbed on and let it float him across to the other side. There he pulled himself into a thicket and tried to rest. Exhausted, scared and weak, he lay on his back with his swollen, inflamed leg propped up, but found no relief and very little sleep.

Staring at the stars, he wondered if he would die. He thought about the battle. Could they have done anything different? Could he have done more to save the men who died? Were they all dead? He thought he had seen Moore escape and Crepps, though shot, he had last seen running, so perhaps they were alive. He thought about the woman and how steadfastly she had refused to move from the boat. If he had physically picked her up, they both would have been captured or killed. Should he have done that?

As despair set in, Henry made up his mind that he must move on if he wanted to survive. He couldn’t just curl up and die in the forest with no one knowing his fate. He renewed the makeshift padding on his hands and knees with the last of his shirt and trousers and began to crawl.

Sometime deep into the night, he saw a campfire and heard a dog barking ahead of him. He hesitated. How desperate was he? Should he call out for help? Creeping closer, he heard the voices of a group of Indians. Fear washed over him, and he lay flat to the ground and very still. As the voices quieted, the dog stopped barking and the fire died down to embers, he moved away from the camp as quietly as he could. He dropped into the water of a small branch of the river and pulled himself across large river rocks so as to leave no trail.

As morning began to bring light, Henry crawled up a small hill, hoping to be able to get his bearings. As he looked out over the land around him, all he could see was wilderness. He had not eaten nor had decent water since the day before the battle. Hunger, exhaustion and terrible pain washed over him.

He reckoned that Bullitt’s Lick was nearly 8 miles away and that he was able to crawl but a half mile an hour. He rested briefly, adjusted the wrappings and set off again. His injured leg was now so swollen and painful that he could no longer bear to use it, it dragged uselessly behind as he moved forward, but he knew he must keep moving.

Through another day and night, he crawled, resting—crawling—resting—crawling, ever so slowly, painfully. He could not give up. He would not give up.

As the third day of his ordeal turned into early evening, he knew he must be nearing the settlement, but he was growing so weary and so weak he finally began to consider that he might die. Even worse, he might reach Bullitt’s Lick only to die from his wounds.

As darkness fell, he could see numerous campfires that must be Bullitt’s Lick, but still over half a mile away and he had no strength left. He was nearly delirious from hunger and pain and he could crawl no further. His hands and his remaining knee were bloody raw wounds that were almost as painful as his wounded leg.

As he lay there exhausted and hopeless, he heard the sounds of a horseman approaching. Could it be? Could help be here now? He called out, weakly at first then louder. He heard the horseman stop briefly, then take off—riding away fast.

His last hope passed him by. He closed his eyes and gave in to death, wishing he had just been killed in the boat with his companions.

Meanwhile, the frightened horseman rode into the Bullitt’s Lick camp, shouting that Indians had called out to him along the path, babbling about being called by a name he didn’t recognize. The men in the camp realized that Indians would not have called to him but, more likely, would have killed him. An armed group quickly formed to find whoever was lurking outside their camp.

In the gathering darkness, they came upon the half-dead, 24-year-old Henry Crist, barely conscious and gravely wounded and brought him back to camp.

Henry survived, making a long slow recovery over the next year. He went on to live a long and productive life in the frontier territory that became the state of Kentucky, serving in the state legislature and even a term as a representative in the US Congress in Washington, D.C.

Henry Crist, one of those ancestors who crossed the Atlantic to America to seek a better life, who survived hardships we can only imagine and who helped build that better life for those of us who came after him.

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