Christmas in Old St. Mary’s County

Christmas and Winter Activities

Lari Mako: “On Christmas Day, you had your private time and you had your breakfast and you opened your presents and by the time, I guess that would be about noonish, the first carload would arrive to wish you a happy new year. And it was certain houses that you went to. A certain time we went to the Briscoe’s; at a certain time we went to the Loker’s; at a certain time we had to be at our house. Almost every house got visited. And it started like with one or two cars; by the end it’ll be like a parade. And everybody would come at once and sing Christmas carols and eat fruitcake and eggnog until you were sick to death of it. And then by seven o’clock at night you ended up at Nancy and Bascom Braun’s house. And that night, Christmas night, when the Hotel St. Mary’s was still here, there would be a dance.”

Peter Wigginton: “Christmas to me was nothing but warm and beautiful memories. The family was all together, there was good times,there was laughter, we all visited each other, we’d go to people we knew, we laughed and talked. My brother and I both look back upon it as almost too good to be true. Christmas breakfast was a great occasion. They’d go to Mass and in those days you fasted before Communion. So when you came home, Ma would have this huge formal breakfast around the dining room and after breakfast you would go in and open presents. It was just wonderful. The warmth and the family and the good fellowship of Christmas exceeded both Easter and Thanksgiving.”

Eleanor Duke Storck: “Then we also went over behind St. Mary’s Academy and maybe did some sleigh riding. And we wore those awful snow suits. We didn’t have nylon like you do now. They were wool and they would rub against your legs and the inside of your leg above the knee. It would get so chapped, I remember that, how it stung, and Mother putting Vaseline on it. I tell ya, the good ole’ days; there’s a lot about it that wasn’t that good I can tell ya.”

Ann Camalier Wathen: “On Wharf Hill there was not traffic like there is now. So they would close it off in the wintertime and then everybody in town would bring their sleds and they would all go down to Wharf Hill. And my aunt Anita Thrift, she lived there; she would come out and bring us hot drinks and all that. It was a lot of fun. And then when they closed down the Wharf Hill a little bit, they went down the other hill which we called the Laundry Hill because the laundry used to be down there, as you go out of town past Duke’s. Anyway, it was a good life. You couldn’t exactly close the street off, it was just that there weren’t that many cars around town, and the ones that were I suppose they would take them home and put them off to bed.The people were very kind in those days, you have to understand. If they came up on something like that, they would be very cautious to not do any harm or inconvenience anybody sledding on the hill.”

Jeanette Connelly Dakis: “I’ve often talked about the difference between the weather when I was a young child growing up and the weather now. It got so cold around here that we used to be able to walk across Breton Bay completely and some people would drive cars across the bay. The snows were unbelievable compared to what we have today. My father was a carpenter and one winter he built a sled called the “Mae West”, although I am not sure why he called it that. During the winter time they used to close off the Wharf Hill in Leonardtown to cars and we used the hill to sled. We could maybe get 8 or 10 people on the Mae West. We’d start up at the top of the hill,past the courthouse there. You had to be very careful because you could keep right on going with that sled when it started it would go. That was mainly how we rode sleighs. Some people would ice skate, I did for a little while. We used to go down to Whirlwind pond and ice skate down there. Those were about the two things we did primarily during winter. My family wasn’t too well off so we didn’t have any big Christmas parties or anything like that.”

Betty Mattingly Shepherd: “We always had Christmas at my house, I can bet you one thing, we had Christmas. Oh, they were fun. I can say that about my mother and father. We’d visit, we really did.  Momma would have it one day and then somebody else in the family would have it another day, you went around. It seemed like come Christmas, it was a holiday.”

Elizabeth Fenwick on what was important during the holidays: “Nobody had big gifts when John was a child. If they had an orange in their stocking they were lucky. But it was all about eating the food, the big meal, and the old hams and the stuffed hams, and the oysters.”
Norris Shepherd: “Families would visit each other. You would go somewhere and sometimes they would have dinner at one house and then supper time at another house. And we being boys and young men and stuff like that, we had this one week a year where we hunted the whole week.Rabbit hunting and squirrels because deer weren’t around at that time. No turkeys were here yet, either.”

Besides the holiday festivities, winter brought other changes to life in St. Mary’s County. During the cold months, Al Gough recalls:”We used to hang out at Saunders’ as kids. There was a big pot-bellied stove there in the center and we would go in there after sleigh riding or snowball fights, put our cotton gloves on the pot-bellied stove to dry them out;course, they’d shrink up. It was, you know I remember, Cokes and candy bars fora nickel.”

Loretta Beavan Norris: “Then there was a sleigh in the winter time that would ride them up and down the road, because you know there wasn’t anyone cleaning the roads off. If it snowed, it stayed there until you shoveled it off. I can remember jumping into a snow drift up to my neck. You’d take a string and tie it around the bottom of your pants so the snow wouldn’t go up. I can remember snow down on the walk being between two and three feet high. You would be home from school for several days until the sun came out or you shoveled your way out.”

  1. Frank Raley: “I remember we used to like to go hunting on Saturdays and my brother and I would get our friends to come up and help us shuck the oysters. We were shucking a lot of oysters, I’m talking about a couple of bushels…… So we would get our friends to come and help us shuck the oysters so we could all go out that afternoon and go hunting….That was what we did, I mean our recreation. Of course, you can only do it in the winter time. It was a social thing, we just loved to get together with the boys and go hunting and it was, I don’t know, it was both the chase, the competition, the feeling free.”

Staying Warm in Winter

Loretta Beavan Norris recalls what family’s like hers had to do for heating in the winter: “There were two or three furnaces in Leonardtown. I remember the Hamilton’s had coal and the St. Mary’s Hotel had coal. My grandfather [James F. Mattingly] had a bunch of laborers; they and my brothers would go down to the Leonardtown wharf and haul coal from the wharf and pack it under the Hotel St. Mary’s. The Hamilton’s had a floor furnace in the middle of their house and they had coal that they heated the house with.The coal furnace was built under the first floor. Heat came up through the grates in the front hall. There were no heat elements of any kind on the second floor. The heat just rose up the staircase; it was very, very open and a very easy house to heat.”

Lari Mako: “We had a wood stove. You sat around the stove or a fireplace. In the winter, they’d put a wood stove in the fireplace. You’d set the stove and put the wood in it and you’d sit around it.There was one in the living room; there was one in the dining room; and one up in their bedrooms, I think. We used to use bricks wrapped in stuff; all the help used to warm the beds with bricks.”

Jeanette Connelly Dakis: “My house was heated by wood mainly and one of those oil space heaters. Where we slept upstairs in the house there was no heat. When you got dressed in the winter, you grabbed your clothes, ran downstairs and put your clothes on down by the heater and the wood was really mainly that, that was the big thing. Mother did all the cooking on the wood stove and we had a well out in the yard and we had to bring the water in buckets. It’s unbelievable for the children of today. To take a bath you had to do it with a basin, I mean we had a washtub that we took our bath in, and we’d heat the water, take the bucket upstairs and then take the buckets of hot water upstairs and take a bath. Which we didn’t do real often, maybe every three days was about it. There were 13 of us in my family and I was the youngest out of the 13. I was well taken care of, with all the older ones. But no you had to learn how to share and to conserve what you had. That was all that there was to it. ”
Eleanor Duke Storck: “We had a furnace down in the cellar. We didn’t say basement. It was a dug out cellar that was part of the house. I guess it would be under where the dining room was. And Daddy would come down early in the morning and stoke that fire and get it going.  It was a big furnace and it was wood. He would have wood delivered. I guess it was Moakley Mattingly or somebody that would come with their saw. It was like great big, they were like trunks of a tree; and then they would cut that wood and then we would throw it down in the cellar. Then that heat would come up.”

“Well anyway there was a grate and you stood on that grate to get warm and the heat came up right there. It went straight up and there was the landing to the second floor. Maybe that was good in a way because maybe that helped circulate it around. But then we also had woodstoves. We had a wood stove in the dining room and in the library. And if it was the morning and it was real, real cold, we’d come downstairs to get dressed. And Marie Kane, who worked for us, we had a big wood stove out in the kitchen and she’d come in and get the fire going in the dining room. But then after a while we just used the fireplace and the cellar.”

“Well anyway one night Lucille Abell had a party and it snowed. We had to spend the night because it was down deep in the woods, the house was down like two miles of narrow gravel road so the parents weren’t gonna come get us. We all spent the night and I can remember Mrs. Abell coming in, I don’t think they had any heat but she was putting another blanket and another blanket, it was just funny, we giggled about it all night.”

Dr. John Fenwick notes how they heated his home at Hanover Farm: “Wood. We had a kitchen stove and a pot belly stove in our living room. On Sunday’s that was lit, otherwise it wasn’t. We lived in the kitchen other than when you went to bed. The stove upstairs was attached to the same chimney as the stove in the kitchen. And that was only lit if somebody was ill.”

Betty Mattingly Shepherd: When asked if they kept the fire going pretty much all the time, “Daggone right, and we didn’t have no heated bedrooms. Daddy had brought a big woodstove and had it in the dining room. Now we did have a fireplace in the living room, and that stove would heat. But the next morning the fire would be down,and let me tell you something, I’ve gotten out of bed a many of times and the toes would turn up because it was so cold. And we had feather beds and I hated them. Dear God, I did hate them things. They were hard to make up. You had to fluff them and beat them and….No sir, I did not like them. And blankets; Mama even had some old buggy blankets when it got real cold. When it got real cold at night in the bed, they would take them and throw them over us because we didn’t have heat. Now, it’s a luxury.”