First Christmas I Remember by Dan Nix
Christmas at the Nix house was wonderful. Sharing all the joy with a large family, especially at Christmas is beyond words of expression. I was number nine of ten children; so you can imagine how much attention I received from my older brothers and sisters. The first Christmas I remember, I was only three and half years old, and that was the first Christmas I remember seeing Santa Claus. In those days, Santa came to the big stores in Birmingham, so my mother took me to downtown Birmingham to see Santa.
Seeing Santa in those days is just about the same as seeing Santa now, except they did not take a picture. You had to wait in a long line with your parents waiting and watching proudly. Santa would ask your name and ask what you wanted for Christmas.
As I said, I received a lot of attention from my older brothers and sisters. My oldest brother took pride in teaching me to spell my name in a very clear manner. When it came my time to sit in Santa’s lap, I was very excited. Santa said “Sonny what is your name”. I replied in a loud clear voice just like my oldest brother taught me, spelling my first name –“D A N Bullsh##”. Well, as you can imagine, my mother almost died of sheer embarrassment, and Santa almost HO HO HOED himself to death. My mother and daddy were not very happy with what I said to Santa, and they were even unhappier with my oldest brother. After some corrective measures, I don’t think I spelled my name in that fashion again.
It was not all bad that Christmas. In fact, I was good enough to say a poem in our annual Christmas program at church. I still remember the short but sweet poem I recited that Christmas Eve night. So, this is for you kids of all ages.
Merry Christmas girls and boys
I hope you get a lot of toys.
In the summer of 1960, a few of us had the privilege and honor to take a Democracy course under Principal Glenn C. Gant. We chose to take the class during the summer only because he taught the class during the summer, and possibly we would not have the opportunity to be in his class during the regular school term. It was well worth giving up a little of our precious summer vacation. Mr. Gant had a very distinguished voice and style of speaking and teaching that was captivating to any audience. The primary thing that made the class so interesting was that one never knew exactly what specific subject matter he was going to discuss or teach each day.
One special day in June, Mr. Gant asked the class how many had ever ridden on a train. He was very surprised to learn that few of the class had done so. I remember him saying that very moment “I am going to take you on a train ride.”
It was on a beautiful, bright June morning in 1960 when the Summer Session Democracy Class met at the old Dora Depot at 6:30 A.M. to catch the train to Birmingham. We were a very excited and happy group. Along with Mr. Gant, others in the group included Jimmie Sue McMichen, Sadie Roberts, Gwen Andrews, Tim Robinson, Sarah Campbell, and several others. When the train stopped the conductor got off the train. He was an older gentleman and looked like a train conductor you would see in an old movie. Dressed in a special conductor’s uniform with a shiny watch chain and a pocket watch, he was exceedingly excited when he saw the large group of young students. He said over and over again with gleeful disbelief, “I haven’t seen this many at Dora in years.
Getting on the train we made ourselves known by waking everyone on our passenger car with loud exuberance.
I remember this one woman who kept placing pillows over her head trying to cut out the noise. Needless to say she had little success.
In exasperation she complained to the gracious gentleman conductor. He then did one of the nicest things. He took her by the hand and led her to another passenger car. It wasn’t long before he came back to join the celebration with the Dora Bunch.
Mr. Gant knew all of the towns and stops on the route to Birmingham. With his very distinctive and exceptional voice, he began to talk about each place and town. He began with Bergen, then Burnwell, Quinton, Palos, Porter, Labuca, Powhatan, and other towns and stops all the way to Birmingham. It was a wonderful train ride.
Other passengers besides our group seemed to enjoy the ride and the Dora Bunch too, but not as much as the old gentleman conductor. We made his day.
When we arrived at the Birmingham train terminal, Mr. Gant said goodbye and caught the MissAla Stages back to Dora. The rest of the group planned to have a fun day in the big city. The first item on our agenda was to find a café and have breakfast.
It wasn’t long before we found a café and invaded it in much the same manner we invaded the train. I remember we were talking loudly across tables about what movie we were going to see. There were several movie theaters in Birmingham at that time, and we had quite a few choices but did not know what was showing. There was what appeared to be a gentleman a few tables from us, trying to read his newspaper. Tim Robinson asked the man in a very polite voice – “Sir, may we look at the entertainment section of your paper?” Evidently the man did not like the Dora Bunch. He replied in a very clear and firm voice. “NO, YOU MAY NOT.” Instead of being embarrassed, we all burst out in laughter. That made things much worse. To settle the matter, the man hurriedly got up and left, taking his paper with him. For the rest of the day when things got too quiet, someone would say, “NO YOU MAY NOT”, and laughter would erupt again.
Finally we found a paper and decided on a Dracula movie. I remember Tim and the man with the newspaper more than any part of the movie, as I’m sure most of the other folks along that day remember. After the movie, we visited many of the fine stores in downtown Birmingham.
In those days, it was indeed a treat to go shopping in Birmingham. At the end of the day, we caught the MissAla Stages and returned to the big city of Dora.
Attending school in the 50’s & 60’s was wonderful. What made it so wonderful were not only friends and buddies that enjoyed having a fun time, but educators like Mr. Gant who did everything possible to make school an important, lasting part of our lives.
I have forgotten a lot that happened when I attended Dora High School, but I will never forget that special day- -The Train Ride with Mr. Gant.