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Thursday, May 26, 2016

"The greatest gift": recalling Christmases past in Monett

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas is a magical time in the eyes of a child. The colors, the smells, the promise of gifts all excite the imagination and leave an indelible impression.

The early years of Monett were no exception.

Peggy Pinnell remembers her childhood Christmases fondly. Born in 1925, Peggy was the youngest daughter of Oltie "Gus" Davis and Jessie Davis. Their family lived close to the corner of Lincoln and Cale. On the corner lived her grandparents, James and Molly (Moore) Johnson. Peggy's grandfather served as Monett's police chief for 25 years. Peggy recalled there was a well worn path between the two houses, and the families went back and forth constantly.

Christmas meant going out and cutting a little cedar tree and bringing it into the house.

"We had a pot-bellied stove in the corner," Peggy recalled. "The heat from the stove brought out the smell of the cedar, and it filled the house."

Decorating the tree was a modest operation for the Davises. Peggy recalled taking strips of paper, gluing them together into interlocking rings and draping the tree with ropes of rings. No candles or electrical lights were added.

The biggest fun came from the annual ritual of making candy. Peggy's aunt, Maud Fly and her grandmother made fudge and assorted candies of all types.

The grandest of all the concoctions was the taffy. Made from syrup and lots of vanilla, the taffy was stirred up in a big pot and then rolled out and stretched across the kitchen table. Then it would be twisted and turned until it gained the right consistency. The twisting was so demanding even the neighbors came in to help.

"They would color it, and when it got cold, they would slice it and put it into boxes," Peggy said. "The boxes weren't that small. We'd dive into them with both feet and hands. It was the greatest gift you could ever have."

Christmas manifested itself around town in a number of ways. Peggy recalled the community Christmas tree set up by the train station at Fourth and Front streets. Some decorations were placed on light poles. In time, electric lights were displayed on Broadway.

Peggy attended school at the Plymouth School around the corner at Euclid and Cale. A Christmas program would be held each year.

"Mother would sew us gingham dresses for the program," Peggy said.

The school was decorated with ropes of paper rings for the holiday. Children's pictures hung up as festive decorations. School would let out for the holiday only the day before Christmas and would only be out for a few days.

Some of Peggy's best memories came from the family gatherings. Her other grandmother, Minnie Davis, lived nearby on Central. Minnie had nine children and her husband died after the last child was born. She ran a market with the help of her children. Gus and his brothers Raymond, Hoppy and Si joined forces to run the Davis Brothers Market as a thriving business.

"We all got together at Grandma Davis' house," Peggy recalled. "Her house was small. There would be 60 of us at the table for Christmas. It was crowded, but we didn't know it.

"When we would get together, Mother would always play the piano," Peggy shared. "She played for three movie houses in town. She knew every song ever written and could play without looking at the music. As we were growing up, she'd play for us, and you could see the Indians coming over the hills. You knew what was going to happen.

"We had such fun. We'd all gather at Grandma Davis' on Sunday nights, and we'd play and sing until midnight."

Peggy's sister had a birthday on Dec. 29 and always had reservations about whether she was getting her fair share of Christmas and birthday presents. Peggy's birthday was on Jan. 9 so she had fewer concerns.

Peggy didn't recall having a lot of toys. Those she remembered were handmade. Her uncle, Young Moore, made toys from wood. She still has a ship he created.

"Nobody had much money in those days," Peggy said. "We were poor and didn't know it."

What she remembers most fondly is those boxes of candy and the family having fun together.

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