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Christmas in the Valley of the West Fork

By Carolyn King Albaugh


The Albaughs gather at their home in Lewis County on our author Carolynís second birthday in 1935. Sheís seated in the white chair on the right. Standing at the far left
is Carolynís mother, Beulah, and at the far right is her grandmother, Mawie Albaugh. The other children are (left-right) David Morrisette, Sam Dye, and Jim Brady. All photos courtesy of the author.

With excitement, I’d been at the front windows all day, watching the storm. The heavy snow swirled, covering the bare tree branches of the big maples in the front yard. Peering through the snow-laden limbs and down the riverbank, I could see my grandfather Carroll’s farm across the ice-covered West Fork River. Snow was sticking to the milk cows huddled by the barn. My world was a wonderland, the special happy time that came only once each year. It was Christmas 1935 in Turnertown, about seven miles north of Weston.

Dad hiked to the top of Lot Hall’s Hill and cut a tall pine. I helped him secure it in a special tree stand. Ready for Christmas, the tree stood majestically between the wide front-parlor windows. We listened to holiday carols on KDKA radio out of Pittsburgh, while Mother directed us in trimming our tree in red and green velvet bows. I helped string popcorn for the final touch. It was a sight to see.

Mawie Albaugh was mixing her famous holiday cake while I sat anxiously, wiggling on the tall kitchen stool, waiting to lick the bowl. She’d soaked the raisins and currants in apple cider for two days to soften them. The kitchen was filled with fragrant spices, and my mouth watered in childhood delight. A smoked ham, which I helped stick with cloves, was in the oven.

Listening, I could hear the fierce wind coming straight at us from Jacksons Mill—the childhood home of “Stonewall” Jackson. It was blowing more snow down the valley of the West Fork. I’d been laughing and talking a blue streak, bouncing off the walls all day. Mother made me sit in the rocker for a while. When I was allowed up, Mawie said to Mother, “Carolyn is going to be wild today. You may as well give her a spanking, Beulah, and settler her down!”

I don’t remember many spankings. I guess just the threat of it worked best. Santa Claus was on his way, and the snowstorm hadn’t dampened my spirits at all. Neither did sitting for 10 minutes in Mawie’s big wicker rocking chair. It was Christmas.

I couldn’t help but notice—I never missed much—that something was just a little different today. It was much more than the storm and Santa put together! There were uncommon activities, a lot of hushed talking and extra phone calls. Mother was more quiet than usual. To keep me occupied, she told me stories and read two chapters from Three Billy Goats Gruff. But I could tell something wasn’t right. Mother wasn’t wearing her apron.

When I asked, she assured me, “Everything is fine, and if you’re a good girl, I’ll let you feel my baby kick.” Smiling, she told me, “It won’t be long, Carolyn, you’ll have a brother or a sister for a playmate.”

I could hardly wait to be a BIG sister. Later in the day, Mother whispered to me, “Sweet girl, your baby is on the way.”

The hushed talk got more intense. Dad, in a nervous voice, called the central switchboard and told the operator, “The baby is on the way! Please call Dr. Hudkins to come pick us up. We’re ready to get to the hospital.”

After placing her overnight bag by the back door, Mother and I sat by the Christmas tree. She said, “I’ll be home soon. Pawie Albaugh will be staying with you until I bring home your new baby. Be a good girl. Mind your manners and don’t worry Mawie.”

The snowstorm raged, and I wondered, “Where will they find the baby in this storm? Where is it coming from? Could it be the place across from the Butcherville store where the mail plane drops special packages and letters? Do they drop babies? Maybe Santa Claus is bringing me the new baby?”

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.