A LITTLE BROWN SACK OF FRUIT AND CANDY

by Greg Quinn

December 19th, 2023

I was born in a little town named Carlisle, Tennessee.  Typical small southern community in the 50ís.  No stop signs.  No traffic lights.  2 Churches.  2 General Stores.  Not a lot of people in Carlisle.  Everyone knew their neighbors.  Everyone helped each other.  There was Dad and Mom and me and my little brother Jeff at that time.  We lived in a little frame house with no indoor plumbing, wood heat, and plenty of love. 

Dad pastored a small country church, Carlisle Missionary Baptist Church.  Most of the church attendees were family.  Dad had 9 sisters; he was the only boy and the baby.  Mom had a bunch of brothers and one other sister.  And all the brothers and sisters on both sides had kids, so there were a lot of cousins.  Other than our large family, the community came together in this small country church.  It was a special time.  Especially at Christmas.

I remembered the Christmas Eve service at the church every year.  Most Christmases we had a snow back then so us kids enjoyed tramping through the snow to get into the church.  It was cold so the wood stove was hot and the inside of the church was warm and comfortable.  The big cedar Christmas Tree was all decorated and had presents under the tree.  I remembered Dad reading the Christmas Story from Luke 2 in the Bible.  I remembered we would all sing Christmas carols. People would often stand up and tell how God had blessed them that year.  No one had much in terms of physical possessions, but everyone was appreciative for what they did have.  There came a time in the service when a couple of the teenagers would hand out the gifts; everyone got something.  I remember the laughter and the songs.  I remember my Uncle Clay B Pulley playing the old church piano.  I remember above all the nice voices singing in chorus those old Christmas Carols, Dad and my Aunt Rita could be heard above them all (and that was not a good thing).  I remember toward the end of the evening that one of the men would stand up, go look out the window, and say, ďWait a minute.  I hear something outside.  Look!  Itís Santa Claus.Ē  Then a few minutes later, the door of the church would burst open and there stood Santa Claus!  Us kids were overjoyed.  Santa would proceed to hand out little brown paper sacks; everyone got one.   Inside the little sack would be an orange, an apple, and a few pieces of candy.  And us kids all got to see Santa Claus and tell him what we wanted him to bring us that night.

How things change over time.

Now at age 66 I look at things differently than I did at age 6.  Back then the little brown sack of fruit and candy was very special.  Today living in times of plenty we take these things for granted.  Back then we didnít have much in terms of physical possessions.  We had plenty to eat because we raised our own food.  Dad worked hard to get us kids a few toys for Christmas.  Then a home-made slingshot or a yo-yo was very special.  Today if the kids donít get the latest electronic gadget they think they are mistreated.  We had church shoes and everyday shoes and they had to last all year.  Today our closets are full of shoes and clothing, so much that most of it we never wear.  We live in times of plenty compared to small town families in the 50ís and 60ís.  So much that we tend to take it for granted.  Even at Christmas.

So perhaps we should reflect back on those Christmases past.  We all can remember special Christmas times years ago.  Perhaps we should think upon those and reflect upon the simple joys of being a child at Christmas.  Maybe you didnít have much either, but could it be that what you had then was more important to you than what you have now?

Of course we didnít have the ďrealĒ Santa Claus come to Carlisle church on Christmas Eve.  It was my Uncle Dalton I later discovered.  But here years later, after seeing so many department store and Christmas parade and movie Santaís, Uncle Dalton Lee remains the best Santa Claus ever!

When we get in our large churches now, with all the lighting and sound systems and instruments and great musicians, as good as this is, there are times when I miss the small church and the crackling wood stove and the cedar Christmas tree and the lone piano being drowned out by voices of family and friends that cherished each other more than possessions.

As I grew through the years, I appreciated the better gifts, such as Big Lou robot, Creepy Crawler set, my Red Ryder BB gun, and later my first shotgun.  But I always looked forward to Christmas Eve at the church and that little brown sack of fruit and candy that Santa would hand out.

Dad has been gone for years, but Carlisle Missionary Baptist Church remains.  No, its not in the same building as it was back then.  Now it has indoor plumbing and central heat and a kitchen and plenty of room and tables.  It has a sound system and carpeted floors.  Itís brick not clapboard.  My brother Jeff was a Deacon till he died three years ago.  Now my brother Boge is a Deacon in this church my Dad once pastored.  When years ago the pews were full of family and community friends, now most of our family have gone on to Heaven, and the friends we knew back then have mostly passed or moved away. 

Jesus was also born in a small town.  Jesus was born in a little town named Bethlehem.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the Messiah, the Word, the Bread of Life, God in the flesh who came to earth very humbly to die in our place, to rise from the dead to give us eternal life.  Letís look at the story of Jesus birth as recorded in Luke Chapter 2.

LUKE 2 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
 

We still read this Christmas Story every year as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.  The birth of Jesus our Savior.  As the hustle and bustle of life in this modern age buzzes all around, please take a moment to reflect upon the real meaning of Christmas.

Let us remember that God sent his Son Jesus to save us from our sins, to prepare a place for us in Heaven, and one day come for us to join Him for eternity in everlasting life of peace and joy and happiness.  Thatís the true Christmas Story.

Let us remember the times in our past, perhaps in our childhood, reflecting upon things we may have long forgotten.  But remain important.  As I have shared above, Iím sure you have similar stories of childhood.  Iím sure that when you reflect upon these times past, in a simpler life, through the lens of the child-you, that a smile will come upon your face as you remember these times.

I bet when you look back you wonít think so much of what you got for Christmas in terms of presents, but you will likely remember the times and the people that made Christmas special back then.

As we compare the family we have now with what we had as a child, we experience the loss of those who are gone on before us, and we often feel lonely.  But let us not allow the missing of those who are no longer with us dampen the joyful memories we had in times past.  The family, friends, sights, sounds, smells of Christmas long ago that exist in your memories can brighten your days of today.

For me, the memories place proper importance on things and people, and bring things into proper perspective.

Today, I have many guns.  But I still cherish that first Savage single-shot 20 gauge that I received as a kid.

Today, I have plenty to eat.  More than enough.  And Christmas treats are much better and more elaborate than back when I was a child.  But I still miss that little brown sack of fruit and candy.

Back then I had a large family, and Christmas at the church was being surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins, Mom, Dad, and grandmothers.  Today, all but three of my aunts are gone, all my uncles are gone, Mom and Dad and grandparents are gone, one of my brothers and several of my cousins are gone, but their departure from the challenges of earth to the glories of Heaven should bring me joy instead of sadness.  We miss them here but we cherish the memories and know one day we will see them again in Heaven.

So this Christmas, I challenge you to do something different.  I challenge you to make old things new again.  Go back in time through your memory banks and pull up the Christmases of times past when you were a child.  Reflect upon the things that were important then and give them new importance now.  Perhaps most of your family is gone also; you cannot bring them back but take the time to open old photo albums and revisit the times of the past.  Think of your family through the memories of the past.  Revisit your childhood, the good times not the bad.  Reconsider the importance of the simplicity of toys and food and Christmas gifts back then and relive the joys of being a child at Christmas.

Open your Bible.  Get what family you have and read together the Christmas Story.  Think of the true meaning of Christmas.

Appreciate what you receive this year for Christmas, whatever it is, but reflect back upon the gifts you received through the eyes of a child.  I bet the gifts long ago, without nearly the value of what you may get this year, all of a sudden become more important than anything you can receive today.

Volunteer to help others.  Visit the nursing homes.  Take something to an underprivileged family.  Support programs financially that feed the homeless and give toys to the children.

Call an old friend.  Call or visit a family member.  Share with your brothers or sisters or cousins the memories of growing up in a different time and laugh as you share the Christmases past.

And perhaps at some time this year, Christmas of 2023, you can take a moment to remember simpler things.  And let your heart be filled with appreciation.  Of how God in Heaven saved you through his Son Jesus.  Childhood memories.  Family and friends of old.  How the gifts of little cost back then are much more valuable than the most expensive gifts of today.

Enjoy Christmas.  God has left you here another year for a reason.  Celebrate Jesusí birthday.  Celebrate the memories of times past.  And Celebrate life!

And, I hope you get a little brown sack of fruit and candy.

Merry Christmas.

Greg Quinn