This is the eighteenth in a series of columns by State Rep. Sheilla Lampkin about historic sites in Monticello. Lampkin is active in historic preservation in Arkansas and has received several awards from the Arkansas Historical Preservation Association. She writes a regular historical column for several area publications.
During this week before Christmas I have a special Christmas story for you. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the former businesses down the south side of West Gaines Street between the town square and Hyatt Street. In doing so I mentioned the site of the old Stephenson-Dearman Funeral Home and the home sitting downhill and west of it.
I said the home was once owned by Charles Porter and that the Stephensons later lived there. There’s actually much more to the tale and it highlights a wonderful family Christmas tradition. Laura Lee Stephenson Dearman shared the story with me and I thought it a great Christmas story appropriate to share with readers during this holiday season.
The two-story home on West Gaines house was actually built by Raymond and Francis Stephenson next door to their mortuary business just before the beginning of World War II. When the war began, Mr. Stephenson anticipated that he would be drafted into military service and sold the house to Mr. Charles Porter.
When Stephenson learned he was not eligible to serve in the military due to a heart condition, he moved his family into an apartment inside the funeral home and next door to “their house”. Now Laura Lee Stephenson and best friend Janet Porter found themselves living next door to each other. Their friendship and next door neighbor status brought much joy to the girls over the years. Janet was even a bridesmaid at Laura Lee’s wedding to the affable Charles Dearman.
After a year or two, the Porters sold the house back to the Stephensons and moved to a new home (for them) in the two-story house that is presently being remodeled on South Main just two doors north of the Drew County Historical Museum.
The Stephenson family moved back into their home. After Raymond Stephenson died, Mrs. Francis kept the family home the rest of her life. At her death, son Ray and his wife Pam purchased the home and still reside there today.
So every year since the home was built, the Stephensons have spent a part of their Christmas Eve in the home. Each year is now a milestone and this upcoming Saturday, Christmas Eve, will mark the 72nd Christmas Eve the family will share in the home. Each of the Stephenson siblings feels fortunate to have been together each year of their lives in the living room of the home where they grew to adulthood. As the family circle grows, may the tradition continue much, much longer!
Hopefully we all know the reason for the season. When we think of the joys of the season – Christmas, family and tradition – that, too, is the spirit of the season. May you and your families have a wonderful Christmas time during this holiday time.
I’d intended a shorter column this week, but a letter in the Sunday Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reminded me of a forgotten family tradition. When I was a child, Christmas was nearly the only time we had fresh fruit. My father or grandfather would always manage to come home with bags of apples, oranges, tangerines and bananas at Christmas. There would always be at least one fresh coconut too. I can recall the hammer and nail used to punch a hole and later crack the hard shell. All three sisters enjoyed the “meat” of the coconut and I can recall many “spats” over the fresh, tasty coconut juice.
I thought this just an idea that amused Daddy until I read about a book, Stories of Survival, by William D. Downs. The book credited the holiday tradition of fruit, nuts, hard candy and a coconut to Arkansas families hard pressed to have many gifts or pleasures during the years of the Great Depression. That’s a reasonable explanation. We were simply having a wonderful Christmas time!
I bought a coconut a year or so ago. It neither tasted as good, nor seemed as much fun, as I remembered from bygone years. It did bring back many happy memories though.
If you have special or unusual family traditions, please send them to me. I will compile them for a special column next year. Meanwhile, we wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!