A VIEW from LICK SKILLET: Recollections of our past Christmas parties

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By Gerald Largen

Gentle reader, as we wrote a few weeks ago we are increasingly grateful for the gift of friendship, but all too often we are reminded of the meaningfulness of our friendships most strongly when one or more of those friends is called from us by their death.

Thus it was this past week when we lost one of our old South Harriman High School friends, Bill Gibson: and almost simultaneously came the news of the death of Mary Lou Bradford.

We did not see Bill too often after our school days, but no matter, when we did see each other it was as though we were in constant touch.

It seems that way with so many of our school friends, doesn’t it?

The shared common experiences from school, whether high school or college, appear to create a bond that no length of time can weaken.

And thus it was with Bill. No matter how long the time between meeting each other, it was as though we had just met the day before.

Our relationship with Mrs. Bradford was on a different plane.

She was the mother of our one-time law partner and long-time friend Robert L. Badger, and he introduced us the first day that we came to Kingston after passing the Bar.

She has been a friend ever since, although we rarely saw her in later years as she advanced into her centenarian status.

At the time of our first meeting, Kingston was not only smaller, but it was much closer, and we were all one big happy family, so to speak.

Inasmuch as she was the sister of Paul Walsh, the founder of the Hut — which could have been more aptly named the Hub, since it was in fact the hub of so much of the activity downtown back then — and she helped Paul by doing his baking for several years; she was also an integral part of the town, and her passing leaves yet another void in the community for so many of us survivors of those earlier, happier days.
Mentioning those earlier, happier days, and with Christmas fast approaching, our thoughts return to a period when we like to think that we made some small contribution to the community’s happiness and good cheer, which was our annual Christmas party.

We are not sure how the notion originated, but, sometime in the mid ’60s, we decided that we wanted to express our best wishes and affection for the friends and neighbors in the community in a manner beyond sending out Christmas cards, etc., so we decided to have a party.

Our office at the time was in the building facing the old Court House, which was the second floor of the old Kingston Bank and Trust Company, in the same space now occupied by McDonald and Hall.

It had previously been the site of Kingston Tile and Paint Center, owned by Bobby Parker, which had recently moved to the Cox building on the corner of Race and Third streets.

As mentioned earlier. Bob Badger and we had formed a partnership and rented this space from the bank.

A short time thereafter, due to Bob’s being the General Sessions judge, we felt it necessary to dissolve the partnership, but we built a partition and continued to share the space.

It was in our half of the building that we had the first Christmas party.

We had announced the fact that we were going to have the party a few days beforehand and said that everyone was welcome to attend.

Though such an office party was relatively novel at that time, that first party was very well attended, and apparently very well enjoyed for by Thanksgiving of the following year several people had already asked if we were going to have another party that year.

We were delighted to say that we were, and for some 15 or so years thereafter we had our Christmas party, beginning at 2 p.m., on the Friday before Christmas Day, when we closed the office for our two week holiday.

After a year or so, it became obvious that neither Bob, nor we had enough space, and we moved up the street into the old R.H. and Nelle Ward house, in which Mr. and Mrs. Ward had lived until the time of his death, and where he had his law office for all those years.

And we moved the party with us.

The additional room, and the fireplaces in the rooms we used made it a much more festive venue.

When the county began to plan the construction of the new courthouse, this location was needed, and so we moved a few yards westward into the old Kingston City Hall Building.

E. Eugene Eblen and we had purchased the building and divided it to provide for his and Judge Elmer’s offices and for our own. E. Eugene used to say that we took our half in two-thirds of the building, and maybe we did.

In any event there was plenty of room to continue the traditional Christmas party, even though the attendance had continued to grow, and on at least one occasion there were more than 200 people who came by and had a drink and good fellowship at some point between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

One of the high-points of this site for the party was the fact that we could have a piano in the back room.

The late Frank Sigmon, then Registrar of Elections, had in his earlier years been a professional musician and was willing to be drafted to play, especially when Archie Blankenship would lead the singing, with the able assistance of the good humoured Helen Slayton.

The time of which we write was during the real estate boom and there were a dozen or more Realtors who always joined us, as did all the Court House employees, the city employees, the bank people, the welfare office, and some one or more people from all the stores and offices, as well as many retirees, housewives, and good-old boys and girls.

Those were genuinely “Good Old Days.”

Unfortunately, when we became the first county executive, the county was still “dry” and many of the citizenry objected to the notion of the Court House being the site of such revelry as delighted so many others.

Thus this glorious tradition died, but for years some of the old attendees would suggest that we ought to revive the festivities, but it didn’t seem likely that those old experiences could be duplicated.
As indicated last week, this is our last column for the year, as we continue as we did for so many years, to take two weeks off during Christmas and New Year’s Day.

We wish to all our readers and their loved ones the Merriest of Christmases and the Happiest of New Years.