Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 23, 2013

The best Christmas memories don’t have to be grand to have beauty

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — I didn’t really think about the date this column will appear in the paper until I started writing, but thinking of this day and how close it is to Christmas reminded me of my two favorite Christmas memories, and both involved my late mother-in-law, Marjorie Cozart. I’ll start with the most recent one first. The winter of 2002.

Earlier in the year, my wife and I had moved Marge to the West Virginian Manor where she lived in an apartment on the 9th floor. It was a new experience for her, but life in a high-rise building was also new to all of us. Marge was used to fending for herself, so life in the Manor was a big change. However, as a student of Bluefield history, I was thrilled to travel up to the ninth floor, visit Marge and look out at the city from that vantage point. It made the city seem so big.

My mom, Florence Archer, was at the Maples by that time. Evonda and I were just planning to go to the residences of our respective mothers to spend time with them on Christmas Day. When we were about to go our separate ways, I suddenly thought that it would be fun for me to pick my mother up, and for the three of us to drive over to the Manor for a Christmas lunch. Mom was all for it, so I loaded her in our Pontiac Sunbird, mom, Evonda and I drove to a grocery store to pick up something we could fix for lunch.

Apparently, that was the wrong Christmas morning for grocery shopping. We drove all over town in search of an open grocery store to no avail. We eventually went to the Corner Mart in Bluefield, Va., bought the last six hot-dogs they had, picked up some soft drinks, snack cakes and chips and headed for the Manor. As soon as we walked inside the door, we bumped into James Hopkins, and invited him to join us at our humble Christmas luncheon.

We visited for a little while, ate our hotdog Christmas dinner and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying each other’s fellowship. I could see the snow-covered railroad yard from Marge’s living room window. A few coal trains moved through the mostly quiet railroad yard that day, but for me, it was an exciting experience to see the world from that location. By the time we got home that evening, I was exhausted in a good kind of way — happy with sharing that day with family and a friend.

My other Christmas story came on Christmas Eve a few years earlier. I was on the schedule to work on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so Evonda had driven up to Fairdale to pick up her mom and bring her back to Bluefield. We were living on Union Street at the time. After I finished work that day, I stopped to visit with my mom for a while, but then went and picked up the five kids I was matched with as a WE CAN mentor. To make a long story short, I had originally been assigned to two brothers, but their neighbors, also a pair of brothers, liked hanging out with them, so Joanne Boileau matched me with them as well.

In less than a month, I picked up a fifth client, and we became like a big family. From time to time, we would pick up a few other young men to take to baseball, football or basketball games, ride go-carts, eat ribs, eat chili, eat deviled eggs and just about eat everything else in the house. I called the extra kids we brought into our home, stow-aways, and we had one with us that Christmas Eve. The six guys ripped through the Christmas dinner that Evonda made — leaving only a few turkey bones. We had bought them some presents, but when one of the guys realized that there were only five gifts, he gave his remote control car to our stow-away. It still makes me cry when I think about it.

When I got back home after taking the guys back to their respective homes, Marge and Evonda were in the kitchen just finishing the dishes. Evonda doesn’t do the dishes very often, so to me, that was a special Christmas gift. But when I sat down, Marge said one of the most precious things I had ever heard.

She said: “I wish I could have seen those little fellers when we were at the store before coming here today. All of those poor little fellers were struggling the whole time they were here to keep their britches pulled up. I would have bought each one of them a belt.”

Of course, that was the style at the time, but I loved the way Marge’s mind worked — especially on Christmas. Both Marge and my mother always thought of others on Christmas. They knew the true reason for the season — the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Bill Archer is the Daily Telegraph’s senior editor. Contact him at