Oh Christmas Tree!

Isn't this a cute little evergreen.

Isn’t this a cute little evergreen.

When I was a girl growing up in south Alabama, one of our favorite Christmas traditions was to go fetch our Christmas tree.

Mom, Dave, whatever dog we had at the time, and I would bundle up in our winter coats, our “Bama” toboggans, and mittens and meet Dad around the corner of the house and store where he kept his red, Massey-Ferguson tractor. Dad would pitch some loose hay in the back of the wooden trailer.

Down the field road we would go on the puttering hay ride, singing Christmas carols until we were hoarse and trying to stay warm.

We crossed the railroad, and Mom would jump out to open the gate so that the tractor and ensemble could ride through. She would close it up behind us, hop back in, and we would drive through the pasture.

Across the creek and past wide-eyed cows and horses.

Many times we’d find the right tree along our barbed-wire fence line. We drove until we found just the right one—some obscure little one that would look like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the pasture, dwarfed by oaks, sweetgums, and large cedar evergreens. But once we got it into the house, it would be huge and majestic.


Dad would stop the tractor, and we would all follow him to the lucky tree. He would take the saw and pull it back and forth until the tree was free of its base. We would all climb back aboard the trailer, tree and all, trying not to get stuck by the tree’s prickly branches.

When we got back home, Dad would saw off some of the extra limbs so that it could fit in the Christmas tree stand. Then the decorating would begin!

I decided to find you all a similar tree along a fence line in north Alabama. I went out this 29 degreed-morning—a beautiful, blue, sunny day—to take the pictures. The forest looked beautiful and snowy with a sparkling jack frost that is impossible to capture with my little point-and-shoot. We don’t get much snow around here, but the frost still makes it a winter wonderland.





An Alabama winter wonderland.

An Alabama winter wonderland.









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Creep at the Creek

I’ve got another creek story for you guys. This one is scary, though, especially from the point-of-view of my grown-up, mom eyes.

When I was growing up in rural south Alabama, our pasture was about a mile from the Gihon Springs community. We would ride our bikes from our house, a little way down Papa and Gramma’s driveway, and then we’d cut down the dirt field road to our pasture. We rode way past Papa’s pasture, past Mr. Abe Findley’s pasture (Mr. Abe* was a distant relative), across the railroad tracks, through our pasture gate, and then down another pasture to the creek.

The field road was called “no man’s land.” No one owned it, and it was used to connect the Findleys’ and our pastures. It was kind of like public property. Until we were much older, Ben and I could only ride our bikes about a third of the way down. It was really isolated, once you trekked that far. When you got to the end of the road, you had to cross the railroad tracks, and the road ended at our pasture gate. The pasture was probably less than a mile to the north of the sawmill, where lots of people worked. Remember, this was the sawmill that got burned. (See March 28, 2013 blog post.)

Sometimes people would walk north on the railroad tracks. I’m not sure why, because it only led to more pastures. It wasn’t like there were more houses down there, somewhere. That’s one reason why Mom and Dad didn’t let us ride our bicycles all the way down there.

So as young kids, Ben and I were happy to be able to ride the whole dirt road with Mom to the creek on hot summer days.

One day, Ben and I were having fun splashing and playing at the creek. We heard someone coming over the top of the sandy creek bank. It was an acquaintance from the Gihon Springs neighborhood, Mr. Clay Teague*. We didn’t really know the guy that well, but Ben and I were happy to see our guest. He was a single guy, about 30 years old or so. He had ridden down the field road on his bike. Mom got up from her lawn chair and books and stood near us to talk to the man.

About five minutes later, we heard Dad coming on the tractor. We were delighted. It was like a party! Mr. Clay talked to Mom and Dad while Ben and I went back to splashing in the creek. Soon, Mr. Clay went on his way, and Mom and Dad continued to talk for a while in low voices.


One day, when I was an adult, Mom and I were talking about our memories of the creek. Somehow we got on the subject of Mr. Clay Teague. And I heard the rest of the story…

On that long-ago day, Mom, Ben, and I got to the creek and parked our bikes at the top of the bank. Mom settled herself in her lawn chair with her school books, and Ben and I were whooping and chasing water bugs in the creek. She heard someone call a greeting from over the top of the creek bank. It was Mr. Clay Teague, walking his bike down the road that led to the creek. Mom’s adrenaline rushed as she was on instant alert. She was far from anywhere that she could call for help, as this sandy-headed almost-stranger approached her children. Knowing Mom, I’m sure that she lifted a little prayer.

Maybe he would just go away.

A few minutes later, Mom heard the familiar puttering of a diesel engine. She felt relief course through her body. Dad parked the tractor at the top of the bank and came down to talk. Soon, Mr. Clay got on his bike and road back down the road.

Dad knew that his family had just left for the creek that day. And somehow he happened to see Mr. Clay start down the field road.
From that day on, Mom didn’t take us to the creek unless Dad was working in the hay field. And Dad was usually in the hay field during the summer, so it was all good.

I call that Providence.

I don’t know if Mr. Clay Teague would have hurt us that day. When I was talking to Mom about blogging about the creep at the creek, I said, “Mom, he probably just went down there to talk to us. He probably didn’t mean any harm.”

Mom looked straight at me and said, “Stephanie, that man just wasn’t right.” As a kid, I just couldn’t detect that kind of thing.

Whether Mr. Clay Teague had ill intent or not, I’m just glad Dad came at the right time.

* Please note that all names have been changed to protect privacy.

Picnic on the Shore of Gihon Springs Creek

Picnic by the creek.

Picnic by the creek.

Hi Readers! I promised that I’d dig up some pictures of the creek, and here they are.

The pictures of Dad, baby Ben, and me. Mom is the photographer. We’re on the sun-speckled shore of Gihon Springs Creek, having a picnic. Ben is about 6 months old, and I’m about two and a half.

I’m ready to take on the water, as seen in the picture. I still wear my long hair in a pony-tail 99.9% of the time. And I’m still always ready for a swim.


As I’ve mentioned before, the beautiful creek ran through our pasture and then emptied into the Tom Bigbee River, about seven miles away near old lock number two.

Still does, actually.

I just traced it on Google maps. In satellite view, I can even find white sandy beaches along the shore.

The Creek and a Galvanized Wash Tub

Summertime always reminds me of the creek that ran through our pasture and then all the way to the Tombigbee River.  The creek was icy cold on a hot summer day.  Dad made his own bridge across it that would be swept away nearly every spring with the heavy rains.

I’ve seen that creek as high as the railroad trestle that crossed it to the east.  We were far enough into the Alabama coastal plains for the creek to have sugar white sand, soft as silk to little bare feet.  Since the water was so cold, I would have to start off with a little tippy-toe.  It was otherwise a full body shock to go in all at once.

Mom would watch us play while she sat in a folding chair and did her graduate school studying.  She was working on a master’s degree in early childhood education.

We would have played all day at the creek if Mom would have let us.  It was so much fun to chase water bugs and minnows.  We would get a big, round, steel galvanized wash tub that Dad used as a feed bucket for the ponies and horses.  Then we took turns floating down the creek in the tub.  The creek wasn’t very deep, but if a cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds, my 9-year-old self was light enough to float the craft.  

If you find this hard to believe, consider concrete canoe races that engineering students have around here once a year. http://www.uah.edu/student_life/organizations/ASCE/

I don’t have a picture of the creek on hand.  I think Mom has one in an album at her house that I’ll try to scan for you, later.  Meanwhile, since I did mention horses, here are a couple of random pictures that you may like.  They were taken from Gramma Findley’s back yard in 1968.

Aunt Joyce pats Preacher.

Aunt Joyce pats Preacher.

Preacher, Midnight, and Big Boy.

Preacher, Midnight, and Big Boy.