Christmas in Oxford, past and present
While searching for a theme for this week’s column and the fact that it is the Sunday before Christmas, I went to Volume 1 of the reprints of my column. Volume 4 and copies of all of previous columns is now available at the Lafayette County Historical and Genealogical Society, upstairs at the Oxford and Lafayette County Public Library on Bramlett Boulevard.
The first column I wrote at Christmas time was for the Dec. 23-29, 2004. It was my 13th column for the EAGLE. I have rewritten the column for today’s column and I know it will bring back great memories for you readers who are longtime residents of Oxford.
This was one of the first columns that I wrote using an old adage that William Faulkner was known for stating — “write about what you know about.” My family has been in Oxford since the 1920s and before that they were Lafayette Countians since the 1830s. So, I guess I can write about “Christmas in Oxford” from experience. Also the photograph with today’s column is from my first Christmas in 1946 when I was just a few weeks old.
I can remember as a small child riding out to Rivers Hill to look back at the Christmas lights. (Rivers Hill is where Kroger is located for those of you who did not know.) My sisters and I would pile into Uncle James’ car and ride east of town, down University Avenue, out to Rivers Hill, and look back towards down town Oxford and see the most wonderful, beautiful Christmas lights ever.
The City Fathers of Oxford, in their great wisdom, put lights on the Square that you would not believe — from the centerpiece of the clock on the Courthouse, to the buildings on all sides of the Square. The sight gave off a special aura of spokes in a wagon wheel. The lights were multicolored and were so bright you cold see them all the way past South 18th Street; all the way to the other side of South 18th; and back to downtown.
Several years ago, my Aunt Millie Roberts left me her house on Pierce Avenue. I can remember as a child coming over to her house at Christmas and looking back towards downtown from her porch and seeing the wagon spoke array of lights on the Square.
One of my great memories of Oxford at Christmas was to see what Olivia Lewis was going to put in the windows of their families’ store, Neilson’s. Over the years I traveled a great deal for my job. During the year, which included the time around Christmas, I would travel to Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington, Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, Kansas City, and Phoenix. When I would make it back to Oxford for Christmas, I would be reminded of my travels and the windows in the department stores of those cities and the holiday season. Olivia’s windows were as festive as any of those large city store windows and her niece’s have done the same for years.
Each Christmas season the girls in various classes would have a formal at the Community House. Several of the girls in a given class would get together and have a big party. Their parents would foot the bill for a local Oxford or Memphis band to come and play for the party. They would also furnish the refreshments and be the chaperones. The boys would wear coats and ties and the girls would dress in formal gowns. It was always quite festive.
My favorite memory of Christmas in Oxford was the hunt for a live cedar tree for the dining room of my grandfather’s home on South Lamar. Papa had a pasture behind his home in the area of Beanland Drive. Each year, until his death in 1964, my sisters and I would go with him to the pasture to hunt for a tree. This particular year we found the most beautiful, barrel shaped tree.
The tree had been cut about two feet above the ground a few years before for use as a Christmas tree. It had grown from the stump into a five topped, barrel-shaped tree. We all had a good laugh and still remember the five-topped stump we had that year for a Christmas tree.
I hope that your family will enjoy this Christmas season and that someday you and your family will have memories of Christmas in Oxford as I do. This will be my 70th Christmas in Oxford, all of which have been spent on South Lamar, either at my grandparents’ home, my mother’s home and now my sister and brother-in-law’s home, Sylvia and Jim Pryor.
Those 70 Christmas seasons and Christmas days have all been great and sometimes a little sad Christmas because we have lost a family member, but all still have some great memories of “our little postage stamp of native soil.”
Jack Mayfield is an Oxford resident and historian. Contact him at email@example.com