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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas In An Appalachian Two Room School

I have mentioned in passing in the blog that I attended a two room school in Knott County Kentucky when I was in grade school.  It was the Salisbury Elementary School located at Dema, KY, about an eighth of a mile up Salisbury Branch just off Kentucky Route 7 on which I have spent most of my life.  I was reminded of Christmas at Salisbury Elementary School on two occasions today.  My wife, Candice, and I were at one of her regular physical therapy appointments and her physical therapy assistant asked what kinds of Christmas carols we enjoy.  The three of  us did a terrible job of singing at least parts of one or two while Candice was doing her therapy.  On the way to the hospital for the appointment, we had also been listening to the Faron And Scott Show on WSGS Radio 101.1FM which I have written about on this blog before.  They were playing Christmas carols and I heard "Bluegrass & White Snow" by Patty Loveless which is an awesome Bluegrass Christmas song about life in Appalachia.  

These two events combined to remind me of my childhood at Salisbury Elementary School which I attended for seven years since I had been double promoted from first to third grade.  At Christmas each year, the two teachers, Rita Mae Moore and Emily Martin, would stage a Christmas show which consisted to two one act Christmas plays, readings of several Christmas poems, and group singing of several of the classic Christmas carols which were popular in the 1950's and 1960's.  For about two or three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we would rehearse for an hour or two a day in preparation for the event.  All our family members were invited to attend but many of those less fortunate parents, or those who could not get off work would not be present.  Usually one of my parents would attend while the other stayed home to run the store.  Every year one of the older students whom the teachers deemed to have a better memory would be selected to read "'Twas The Night Before Christmas".   A few other classic Christmas poems would be read and several Christmas Carols would be sung by the entire group and any of the visitors who knew them.  That list usually included "Jingle Bells", "Silent Night", "Away In A Manger", "We Three Kings" and a few others.  

We also had a gift exchange based on drawing names.  A few students would always be too poor to participate and a few others would also be from families of very limited means but draw names anyway and bring the usual box of chocolate covered cherries which I believe cost about fifty cents in those days.  I realize now that it was the thought that counted.  But in those days, most students hated to know that their Christmas gift from school would be "cherry candy".  

Chocolate Covered Cherries "Cherry Candy" Photo by

Another unique feature of attending school in Eastern Kentucky in those years was that every student in every elementary school in several counties surrounding Knott County would receive a small gift from the Caney Creek Community Center which was a non-profit agency affiliated with Caney College which is now known as Alice Lloyd College.  These gifts would usually consist of a small age appropriate toy and a small bag of hard candy.  The gifts had been donated, in most cases, by wealthy donors from the urban northeast who no doubt believed they had done a great deal of good for the underprivileged children of Appalachia.  In another post at another time, I will address my personal opinions of all the missionary do good work which as been inflicted on Appalachia and Appalachian people over the last hundred plus years.  To continue the post about Christmas, at noon on the last day of school before Christmas vacation began, the show would be on.  

A piece of cotton clothes line would be strung across a section of one of the classrooms and some borrowed white sheets would be strung on the line as makeshift stage curtains.  A teacher or older student would be selected to act as master or mistress of ceremonies.  They would introduce each of the readers of poetry and the two plays.  A small group of students who it was presumed had some degree of musical talent would act as a facsimile of a choir and the audience would sing along.  At the end of the show, the gifts would be passed out and at the end of that activity Christmas vacation would begin.  It is wonderful to remember those days but I would not want to live them over.  I do regret that I do not have a photograph of Salisbury Elementary School to add to this post and the earlier general post I wrote about the school.  If any reader does have such a photograph that you would allow to be posted to this blog, please contact me at and I will give full photographer credit in the blog.  Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!  


Wayfarin' Stranger said...

My father loved chocolate-covered cherries and my mother hated them. Every Christmas he would give her a box of them, then have to eat them himself. I inherited my mother's distaste for them, so my family continues then tradition by giving me a box every Christmas. Merry Christmas, Roger and Candace.

Roger D. Hicks said...

Jim, It is great to hear from you. It has been a while. I hope all is well in TN. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!
Roger & Candice