|November 2002 Feature Story|
“Christmas in old Blooming Grove”
(Written by Susan H. Little, and read at the Christmas Meeting of Lycoming County Historical Society, Dec. 19. 1940)
|Blooming Grove is the community in Hepburn Township, centering around the old Dunkard Church, built more than a century ago. Today there is not a member of that church living. My father, Christian D. Heim, was the last person living who always belonged there. The members of that church did not observe the customs and modes of dress of the Lancaster County Dunkards. Their leaders, Dr. Haller and later “Christly” Heim, did not think it necessary for the men to wear the broad rimmed hats. Or the women wear the little white caps, yet they lived simply and plain, honest in their dealings. The old Church was seldom opened in winter. No Sunday School was ever held in the Church. The only Sunday School was held in the old Klump’s school house, and then only in the summer time. Therefore in that community there was no Christmas entertainment or observance in the Church.|
What I am telling now is what I remember of my own family and our celebrating Christmas, which I suppose was typical of the families around there. Those were the days of large families and I think probably the Heim family was one of the largest. I am number five in a family of seven; my father was one of ten.
Jacob and Regina Heim, who lived on a sixty-acre farm near the old church, had five sons and five daughters. All grew up, married and had families. So the family gatherings on Christmas Day were not a small one.
In our own home, we lived on the farm of my maternal Grandfather Joseph Gross, and for good measure we had, living on the farm and boarding with Grandfather, old Doctor E.M. Adams, who was written up in the history of “Early Doctors of Lycoming County.” The Doctor’s word was law, so it seemed, but he must have thought he was entitled to have his say since he paid his board, the sum of thirty dollars a year, which included house rent and all his fire wood – but that is another story.
We were not taught to believe in Santa Claus. They used to say, “people who love you are the Kris Kringle” -much was made of the Kris Kinder Christ Child. There was however, an old “Bels Nickle”, who was supposed to visit children with a switch if they were not good. I can remember only once a neighbor young man played the part to frighten my younger brothers. We must have been good as can be “jes before Christmas”.
Several days before Christmas we children made long strings of popcorn and paper chains with which to decorate the tree our parents brought that in on Christmas Eve. We were hustled to bed early – but how could we sleep! The rattling of paper and voices of our parents, auntie and Grandma kept us awake a long time! About two weeks before, my mother had made her shopping trip to Williamsport, Grandfather’s contribution was a dollar, to be spent for candy at “Harrington’s Sugar Bowl”. Many of you remember the place, on East Third St. Especially were we to have candy canes and baskets of red and white candy. How they helped decorate the tree and how pretty we thought they were – seven canes and seven baskets.
Once a year the old doctor opened his purse strings to the amount of five dollars – given to Mother to spend for the children, “but nothing foolish.” I can’t remember that she ever got anything for herself from him, but she appreciated the favors and could make a little money go a long way. He seemed satisfied if we all got the useful things – sometimes school books, slates or pencils, caps, mittens or the long gray woolen stockings. Real stockings they were – how we despised them…yet they kept us warm and the ugly colors kept us humble, for they didn’t want pride to get into our little hearts. Once in a while, I think mother forgot the practical side and brought home dolls for the girls and even a pop gun for the small boys. The small doll I remember best was a little china one – and I broke her arm off on Christmas afternoon. For several years I dressed and undressed and cared for my little cripple. What a lark there was with the popgun, shooting paper wads for ammunition. Brother Joe, being left handed, we couldn’t tell which way he was going to shoot, and I rather think the old Doctor got a shot or two – by accident, of course!
The tree was put in the center of a table and seven places, from the oldest down, were allotted to us. No matter how early we were awake none of us dared go into the room where the tree was until Doctor cam. He wanted to see us enjoy our tree and gifts.
After we had enjoyed everything for a while, we all got ready to go to Grandfather Heim’s, a distance of two miles. It seems to be we always had snow, for my recollections are of the big sled in which we went. My older brother took his sled to go coasting with the cousins. When we arrived and went into the house – seven strong- it was always the same order of procedure, every family of the ten did the same. I think we were coached at home just what we must do, or possibly what to expect if we didn’t. The old kitchen and living room were large, with a fireplace on one side and a big wood stove on the other. We left our warps in the bedroom just off the kitchen, with its four-poster bed and patchwork quilt, home made rag carpet on the floor and a real Grandfather’s clock in the corner. Then we were marched up to shake hands with Grandfather, who was rather a stern person. By that time we were feeling a bit shaky. All of us were to say our “Christmas Verse” to him – “Glory to God in the highest,” etc. in German. When it came my turn I had heard it often enough I cold say it quite easily – and it is the only German verse I could say today. Grandfather then brought out a basket of English walnuts, something we saw only on Christmas. Each child was given three nuts. Then Grandmother came with her gifts. To each child a half-pound of Clear Toy candy wrapped in pages of the German paper, “Der Weltboten,” tied with colored carpet chain. Grandfather did some weaving and chain was cheap.
To the older boys and girls they gave gifts. Once I recall each boy got a quarter and we were quite impressed with such wealth. The girls got sewing kits, needles, thimble and thread. They were expected to be industrious and of course, couldn’t manage finances like the boys. To the small girls was given a bright colored piece of calico, two yards in length, to be used in making quilts. Imagine the thrill of a nine year old over a piece of calico. I never found use for mine, and still have several pieces among my souvenirs.
After all this was over we could go out to play. Grandmother passed out cookies; nice fat ones with a raisin in the middle, some cut out in the shape of stars or birds. The big girls helped set the tables and the aunties got the dinner, which was served promptly at noon. There were a healthy lot of men and women around that first table and the plain food was enjoyed. By the time we were called to dinner, in spite of all the apples, cookies and walnuts, we were ready to eat what was put before us.
Sometimes the old minister, Rev Carl Roose, who lived alone, was invited for the day. Once I remember he asked us all if we were good girls and boys. Some meekly said yes, they were, but when it came to my sister Hannah, it was too much for her, and she said, “Not always, just sometimes.” That was chance for a sermonette on always being good. For a time it looked as if she might not get her candy after all, but I think mother defended the child, saying she was glad she told the truth.
Another time the Doctor, who didn’t like women, came in and when he saw the group sitting around, each holding one of her offspring, he said “Well I suppose each one of you thinks you have the prettiest child.” Dear old Grandmother said, “No Doctor, not the prettiest, but the dearest.”
Before we went home all met in the largest room and Grandfather took down his family Bible and read the beautiful chapter, “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields,” ect. He told of the love, peace and good will the Christ Child came to bring, and that’s why we are happy on that day.
The day was spent and we went home, perhaps some of us went to sleep on the way. But we were happy and eagerly looked forward to the long time till another Christmas came. We didn’t seem to care how little we had; it was just one happy day with the cousins. Once when there forty grandchildren there, Grandmother said, “Well children, I was glad to have you come, but I’m glad too, that you all have your mothers to go home with.” What would she and Grandfather say if they saw the Christmas lights on our streets, the bright trees with all the modern tinsel, could hear the radio send out on the air, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht?”
I am glad I had the opportunity of taking my parents on their one visit to Philadelphia on a sight seeing trip and through Wanamakers’s just before Christmas. They could hardly believe anything could be so wonderful. Have children lost something of the thrill we had? Or does it take more for them? My young granddaughter, aged nine, calmly looking over her gifts, perhaps more than we had all together, said, “I still think there must be a Santa Claus, for daddy and mother wouldn’t put our so much money on us.” Money seems to have entered into the Christmas Spirit.
Our parents didn’t know about the “budget”. That was a new word to them. Nor had they heard of the installment plan or “buy now and pay next year.”
I’m glad I lived to know that kind of a Christmas, but am more thankful for the better things of now, which perhaps, we enjoy more because we didn’t have them then.
The ten children of Jacob and Regina Heim, who with their families celebrated Christmas as described in this article, were:
Gottlieb and Sarah Marvin Heim
Frederick and Dorothy Heim Shafer
Jacob Jr. and Mary Shafer Heim
John J. and Rosina Heim Heim
Chritian D. and Elizabeth Gross Heim
John (Johnnie) and Margaret Heim Heim
John B. and Regina Heim Waltz
Joseph and Catherine Waltz Heim
Simon and Christina Heim Waltz
Samuel and Mary Heim Shafer