As a child, I was required to at least take a bite of two things that I hated on New Year’s Day—black-eyed peas and collard greens. That was the only time of year I would eat those two things and I only did it then because I wasn’t given a choice. According to my grandmother, it was something you were “supposed” to do. Arguing with her would have only gotten me in trouble. So every year, I tasted the peas and greens.
As I got older, I started wondering about the origins of Southern New Year’s food. We have our own menu for that day. The menu must include black-eyed peas, collard greens, ham and cornbread. People all over the world and throughout the U.S. celebrate the beginning of a new year with a variety of traditions, but the ones I have grew up with are the ones that fascinate me most.
The tradition of black-eyed peas began after Sherman’s troops raided the Confederate Army leaving only the black-eyed peas and salted pork, believing them to be animal foods. The Confederates considered these foods to be a sign of good fortune. There are some who toss a coin into the peas as they cook and the one who ends up with the coin on their plate is considered lucky, unless they swallow it. Definitely not the most sanitary of practices and I don’t want to risk anyone choking on a coin.
Collard greens are a simple of good health and wealth. These are two things that we’d each like to embrace as a new year begins. Another reason that both collard greens and cabbage are eaten on January 1is pretty simple—these crops are still in season in the South. You can’t go wrong with something fresh from the garden. The green color represents cash, or the wealth that each individual should hope to earn in the new year.
Cornbread is a southern staple that originated with Native Americans. It is a staple of Southern suppers. The reason it is a go-to on New Year’s Day is because of its golden color. Old wives’ tales say that the color represents that “golden opportunities” that a new year will bring. Besides the golden color, what would a proper traditional Southern meal really be without cornbread?
One traditional Southern New Year’s food that I have never tried and have no plans to is hog jowls. I am a fan of bacon and ham, but I won’t venture too far from those. Pork symbolizes wealth and gluttony and according to tradition, the more of it you eat on New Year’s Day, the luckier you will be the coming year. I suppose that could be true in a world where problems with blood pressure don’t exist! The popularity of hog jowls in the south dates back to the days when families would raise and butcher their own meet. A single pig could feed a family for months and the salt-cured jowls were considered treats at one time.
Southerners are steeped in their traditions, but they will branch out. A tradition that Southerners have embraced that did not originate in the South is fireworks. The Chinese have incorporated fireworks in their celebrations for centuries. Fireworks provide a bright beginning for the new year. The sounds are also said to frighten away any lingering evil spirits from the previous year. They also frighten my dogs and because where I live is not in the city limits, they are extremely popular!
I won’t be using fireworks to bring in the New Year, but I will plan for the food as tradition mandates. Thoughts of good fortune, health, wealth and golden opportunities are welcomed thoughts any day of the year!
Happy New Year!
“I do this for my own entertainment,” she says as she skillfully fine tunes a pencil sketch of one of her great-grandchildren. I watch as she glances at a snapshot, comparing what she has created to the camera’s image. Ruth Blount has spent a large part of the past several weeks working on Christmas gifts for her four grandchildren. I have no doubt that Stephanie, Andrew, Molly and Megan will be delighted with the pencil sketches lovingly created by their 90-year-old grandmother.
Blount, a former secretary retired from Ciba Geigy, says that she has always enjoyed drawing. She didn’t have much extra time in her younger years as she was raising her sons Mark and Mike, but since her retirement, Blount has enjoyed creating with pencils, oils and acrylics. She acknowledged that drawing and painting had come naturally to her, but she did take several classes as an adult at the urging of her co-worker and friend, Bea Cartee. The two would leave the plant in McIntosh after work to attend art classes in Saraland.
Ruth Blount consults photographs of her great-grandchildren and sketches what she sees. The sketches are Christmas gifts for her grandchildren. (SA photo by Shannon Courington)
Painting and sketching are not her only talents. Blount credits Bea Cartee with teaching her how to knit and crochet. She actively participates in Jackson Health Care’s crocheting and knitting group that meets weekly.
Her room at Jackson Health Care Facility is adorned with her work in a variety of mediums. It’s a miniature gallery of Blount’s creations in a variety of mediums with a variety of subjects. Sketches and paintings of flowers, landscapes, children and historical buildings cover her walls. “I’ve always enjoyed drawing. When I realized I was pretty good at what I did draw, I wanted to do more of it.”
Bonnie Pope, administrator of Jackson Health Care Facility, calls Blount “amazingly talented” and says that she is very thoughtful and creative in her gifting. Pope recalled several Christmases that Blount painted various gifts to surprise her family. One Christmas, the maintenance department even got involved in Blount’s Christmas planning. They measured and cut pallets to her specifications so that she could personalize them for her family members.
Blount says that the idea to surprise her grandchildren with portrait sketches of their children just came to her one day as she started thinking about Christmas. “I know they will enjoy these,” she said as she flipped through her sketchbook. “I am just not sure what the kids will think when they see their pictures,” she laughed.
I can’t predict how the children will react this Christmas, but I have no doubt that as the years pass, they will realize the time and love that their great-grandmother put into creating these very unique treasures.
Tom Krause, a uniquely talented opera singer is credited with the following: “Your purpose in life is to use your gifts and talents to help other people. Your journey in life teaches you how to do that.” Ruth Blount continues to learn from her journey and to use her talents and gifts to bring joy to her family and friends.
The title of this article names two of my favorite things. Julie Andrews didn’t sing about these, but she should have. Christmas trees and good stories are a part of an American tradition. Stories have been around as long as people have and Christmas trees have been sold in America since 1850. At our house, I have found a way to mesh these two things and I would not have it any other way.
As newlyweds in 2000, we were a one income family. I was in graduate school and my tastes in Christmas décor outweighed our budget, so we strung tons of lights on the tree and made cinnamon ornaments whose aroma filled the house. We started out with one “real” ornament that we bought commemorating Y2K and the year we married. Both of my grandmothers gave us an ornament for the tree that year. Per tradition, my mother bought us both ornaments and gave them to us on Christmas eve. So, when we dismantled the tree that year, we had a grand total of 5 real ornaments and a few dozen cinnamon ones.
I knew the meaning behind each ornament and where it had come from, so I decided to start my/ our own tradition of a Christmas ornament journal; however, if I depended on Mark to write them down, the tradition would end. I wrote down a description of those real ornaments and who gave them to us, along with the year. As the months sped toward Christmas 2001, I decided that it would be a slow process, but I wanted every ornament on our tree to be a meaningful one. That meant that the tree may look bare to the eyes, but it would be filled with memories and stories.
By the next Christmas, we had traveled and as keepsakes, we bought ornaments. Our family had grown to include a 5 year-old, so there were some handmade ornaments as well. I was teaching, so some of my gifts were ornaments. I wrote the descriptions and the names of the students who had gifted me with these. The stories were growing and the tree was not looking so bare.
Fast forward to Christmas 2018, there are barely enough branches to hold the wonderful ornaments that we have collected over the years! My grandmothers gifted me many of their ornaments, some of the same that my parents hung on their trees when they lived at home. They wanted new ornaments; I wanted their old ones. It was a fair trade.
As we unwrap our ornaments every year, we remember people and places. My daughter’s first trip to Washington, D.C. was commemorated by a ruby slipper ornament from the Smithsonian. She could not wait to see Judy Garland’s famous shoes. There is a Conastoga wagon that we bought in DeSmet, South Dakota when we visited Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead. There’s a football jersey emblazoned with our son’s football number. The Boyd’s Bear Barn in Gatlinburg may be gone, but we have proof that it existed. One of our daughter’s pacifiers is tied on the tree with ribbon. There are a few flower pics and some tulle from our wedding. We have black lab ornaments and basset hound ornaments. This year, we added a Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to the journal. There are several camera ornaments and one really cool typewriter given by a friend. It’s not a tree that you’ll ever find on the pages of Southern Living, but it tells the story of our lives perfectly.
Next year, I may have to start a second story tree, but the tradition will remain the same. Years ago, when we were packing to run from a hurricane, I made sure to pack a navy and white journal that listed my treasured ornaments, along with each child’s birthday party theme for every year and their “big” Christmas gifts. My husband makes fun of this nerdy trait frequently, but there is nothing sweeter to me than the combination of good stories and Christmas trees.
Cinnamon ornament recipe
· Insert ribbon through holes and tie to hang. Decorate with opaque paint markers, found in arts and crafts stores, if desired.
Christina Waddill will celebrate her ninety-first birthday on Dec. 30. At age 90, she still drives herself to the Jackson Senior Center daily to have lunch with her friends. There are no afternoon naps for Waddill who is a great-great-grandmother. She is active in her church and in the community and has no plans for slowing down.
Waddill was born and raised in Jeanette, Pa. She never dreamed that when she traveled to California to visit her aunt, she would meet a young Navy recruit from the Eppesboro community of north Clarke County, Alabama. That’s exactly what happened when she met John Waddill and the rest is her story.
“Landing” in Clarke County
Waddill chose to begin her Christmas tales with the Christmas of 1946, the first Christmas that she spent in Clarke County. “I landed in the middle of a farm with no water, no gas, no electricity,” Waddill laughed as she remembered. Her memory is clear as she recalls, “Our son John was one day shy of one month old when we moved to the farm in Alabama.”
Life in Clarke County was certainly different from life in Pennsylvania or California. Prior to moving to Alabama, Waddill had cooked on a gas stove. This luxury was not available in rural Alabama, so Waddill learned to cook on a woodburning stove.
Milking cows was another task that was not familiar to the young Pennsylvania native, but with her mother-in-law’s help, she soon mastered it. “Miss Lou and Mr. Johnny” Waddill helped ease their daughter-in-law’s transition to country life.
Store bought socks
The Waddills moved to St. Stephens where they raised their family of six children. John, Darlene, RoseAnn, Warren, Frankie and Gann were raised knowing the importance of hard work and strong family bonds.
Waddill recalls that her children’s Christmas gifts were handmade from the time they were small. “There wasn’t a way to get to the store like there is now and that’s not what you did back then.”
Waddill did recall one Christmas when her children were small that she was given money to purchase a pair of store bought socks for each of them. Her in-laws provided the money for the extra expense. She says that the look of wonder on their faces when they received the socks is something she will never forget.
A handmade Christmas and lasting traditions
Luxuries like store bought socks were rare, but what she lacked financially, Waddill made up for in creativity. After moving to Alabama with her husband, she also learned to sew on a pedal sewing machine and learned to quilt and crochet. “Eventually I graduated from that pedal machine,” Wadill stated, but she never stopped creating. These skills would prove beneficial to her throughout her life.
She says that the greatest creative challenges that she took on was the creation of wedding dresses for her two daughters, Darlene and RoseAnn, who married brothers Joe and Terrel Smith of St. Stephens.
Waddill still uses her creative skills and creates handicrafts. She is a volunteer at Walker Springs Baptist Academy and enjoys creating with the students there. She faithfully attends Walker Springs Baptist Church where she teaches missions and handicrafts to young women.
A fresh-cut tree and the true meaning of Christmas
Some of Waddill’s favorite Christmas memories involve traipsing through the woods with her large family to cut down the Christmas tree. “We’d drag it in and we’d make the decorations.”
Church has always been a major component of Waddill’s life and she made sure that her family attended Christmas services at St. Stephens United Methodist Church. “I raised them to know the real meaning of Christmas is Jesus. That’s what I have taught them all; the kids, my grandkids, my great-grandkids, and now I have great-great-grandchildren.”
“It’s still Christmas”
“You ever heard of the Dirty Santa game?” she asks. I tell her that I have. “That’s a big change. Lots of people do that now.” She laughs saying that looks forward to playing with her large extended family in the next few days.
She shakes her head when she thinks about the changes she has seen throughout her almost 91 years. “It’s changed a lot, but as long as you keep Jesus in the center and celebrate with your family, it’s still Christmas.”
In a 2017 biofilm, British author Charles Dickens was hailed as “the man who invented Christmas.” Dickens did not invent the holiday, per se, but his most famous literary work definitely changed the way Christmas is celebrated. A Christmas Carol requires that readers ask why Christmas is celebrated and encourages readers to reflect on their own lives. There are multiple screen and stage adaptations of the novella that Dickens composed six weeks before Christmas and published on December 19, 1843. Dickens was financially strapped at the time and was writing the holiday pamphlet just to pay the bills. There was no way he could have known that 175 years later, the story written to provide for his family would be a treasured, beloved tale for the ages and the phrase first printed in those pages have become our favorite wish for the season, “Merry Christmas to us all.”
A Christmas Carol is written with vivid language and includes lively characters that are relatable to the readers. It tells the story of the rich, exposes the plight of the poor and provides a timeless message of hope amidst difficult circumstances. Here are five wonderful lessons from the Dickens classic.
Rodney Rocker credits his parents, the late Mattie Perine Rocker and James Taylor Rocker for instilling in him the importance of doing the right thing, even when the task is difficult. On October 10, Rocker had a decision to make and there was no doubt as to what the “right thing” would be.
The Jackson native who attended all Jackson schools graduated from Jackson High School in 1997. During his time at JHS, English teacher Joanne Hagood recruited Rocker for the newspaper staff. Rocker especially enjoyed editing and developing photos in the school’s darkroom. This high school interest led Rocker to Troy University where he earned a degree in mass communications/ broadcasting and further developed his passion for photography.
Rocker’s first job after earning his degree was with a television station in Montgomery. When an opportunity arose for Rocker to come closer to Clarke County, he took a job with WKRG Channel 5 in Mobile and later moved to Fox 10 News where he has worked as a photojournalist for 13 years.
Fox 10 meteorologist Adam Olivier (left) and photo journalist Rodney Rocker (right) attended the retirement ceremony for the American flag they retrieved during Hurricane Michael in October.
As the outer bands of Hurricane Michael lashed Panama City Beach, Rocker and Fox 10 meteorologist Adam Olivier were braving the elements in the storm tracker truck to get footage of the area. Safety was a huge concern as the wind gusted between 70 and 80 miles per hour at times. Downed power lines and debris made it difficult to maneuver. As they inched past the Trustmark Bank, the two noticed that the large flag that had flown above the bank was now on the ground.
Because of the deteriorating weather conditions, the two did not get the flag immediately, but made note of its location and planned to report it. However, as they thought of the sacrifices made by so many to protect the freedoms that the American flag represents, they went back to it. Olivier shot video as Rocker fought against the wind to get to the flag, becoming soaked by the rain and battered by the wind. After struggling for some time, Rocker was able to unclip the flag from its ropes. He and Olivier folded it and transported it to Mobile.
The pair began to take action when they arrived back in Mobile. The entire news crew championed the flag and was instrumental in saving it. Fox 10 News anchor Eric Reynolds, a veteran, insisted that it be properly cleaned. The station supervisors contacted Marine Corps veterans to fold it properly and then notified the Trustmark branch from where it had come. Trustmark officials stated that since the flag had hit the ground, it must be retired. Rocker and Olivier were invited to take part in the flag retirement ceremony and the raising of the new flag over Trustmark.
Rocker said before attending the ceremony he truly did not see the depth of his actions in retrieving the flag. “I just did the right thing. I knew what it meant for me, but until I saw the looks in those veterans’ eyes, I did not understand what it meant for them. To have them thanking me was surreal. I had planned to thank them for their sacrifice. Instead, they were thanking me.”
In spite of the deteriorating weather, rising water, flying debris and safety concerns, Rocker said, “At the end of the day, it was the right thing to do. I’m glad I was able to do it. Rocker urges his friends and family who were on the “safe” side of Michael to remember the ones who have been devastated by the storm. “Those people are going through so much. It will take them a long time to recover. Please remember them.” Rocker says that he is humbled to have been a small part of the recovery process.
“It doesn’t matter how small or big an action is. If it’s the right thing, do it. You don’t know the impact you can make.” His seemingly small action was very much appreciated by the Panama City Beach community. Rocker continues to work with Fox 10 News as a photojournalist and travels to his hometown of Jackson and the surrounding areas frequently to give television coverage to local schools and events
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.