Kindergartners get hands-on

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

By Lynn Rumley
For the Salisbury Post
COOLEEMEE ó It was more than 70 years ago that a young Ann Ridenhour lived on Davie Street in the mill town of Cooleemee. “I had four brothers and a sister and, like other families in Coolemee, there was very little money,” she recalled. “But our Christmas was great because we had love ó love in our family, love from our neighbors and love from our church.”
Now 79 and an “elder story-teller,” Cranford told Cooleemee Elementary School kindergarten students how the holiday was celebrated here when she was growing up. The 5- and 6-year-olds seemed to understand her message, although they were brand new at learning history.
It helped that they got some hands-on experience during their first heritage lesson. Upstairs a collection of over 100 vintage toys, none requiring batteries, got their attention. Volunteer historian Julie Spillman Prater, told them that “in the old days children expected a single gift under the tree.” A few minutes were reserved at the end of her talk for the boys and girls to play with some of them.
Each visiting class member also took their turn placing their handmade decorations on the historic Zachary House’s big cedar tree. On a second go ’round they got to throw a “snowball” of real cotton on to the tree. It will be a center piece at the town’s annual “Old-Time Christmas” celebration this coming Sunday and it will never be strung with electric lights.
Learning that families had no televisions in the old days, students tried to conceive of a time a family fun night meant signing together. Around the piano, volunteer Bonnie Byerly duplicated those times as she led several them in several Christmas carols traditionally sung in the 1930s.”Every Christmas Eve the church bells rang and everyone went to their own church,” Cranford told the children. “After the Christmas program, we really looked forward to getting our ‘Christmas poke’ with our name on it.” It would have an orange, an apple, raisins, nuts and candy. She showed the children how an adult could cut a hole in the orange (opposite the stem end) and use a piece of stick candy as a straw to suck out the juice.
As the kindergarten students put on their coats to leave, each received their own Christmas poke to take home. A rousing round of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” rang out.
Jennifer Godbey, coordinator of the historical association’s “Discovering Our Heritage” project, says that learning about the town’s heritage imparts knowledge of things past but also “an awareness that they have roots, they have a hometown.”