Category Archives: Christmas

Juanita Cleage’s Christmas in Athens, Tennessee

Alberta, Ola and Beatrice Cleage. Juanita's older sisters. 1919 Athens, TN.
Alberta, Ola and Beatrice Cleage. Juanita’s older sisters. 1919 Athens, TN.

Christmas and Early  Childhood

by Juanita Cleage Martin
From the book “Memories to Memoirs”

Our Christmas trees were cedar instead of pine.  A bunch of kids would go together a few days before Christmas looking for Christmas trees.  We would sometimes find them along the roadsides, but our special place was at Keith’s, across from Community Hospital before Community Hospital.   We always found a good shapely tree in that section.  I guess we didn’t realize we should ask someone.  Nobody bothered, as we never seen anyone to ask.  Our decoration was ropes of tinsel, and we often strung popcorn and cotton.

My favorite toy was a big doll.  In our day, dolls were stuffed with sawdust, and their heads and arms were made of plastic, not like plastic of today.   I remember I left it outside and the rain ruined it and  made puffed splotches like blisters.   I cried, as I dearly loved this doll.  My sister Bea was the doctor.  She gathered wild purple poke berries and covered the places.  I continued to carry and play with it until it finally tore to pieces.


Juanita Cleage Martin was the daughter of my grandfather, Albert Cleage’s brother, Charles Edward Cleage.  They lived in Athens Tennessee.  Juanita was born February 11, 1922. I don’t know how old she was when she got the doll for Christmas but this Cuddles doll was made from 1926 through 1928 to 1940 and sold through the Sears Catalog.  Maybe this was the doll she got for Christmas. The body was cloth while the face and limbs were “composition” which was made by mixing sawdust and glue and compressing them in a mold. Composition does not react well to water.  I remember a doll sort of like this that was left over from my mother and her sister’s childhood. I wonder what happened to them.


1928-1940 Cuddles or Sally-kins, 14-27″ tall, composition head, arms, legs (some limbs are rubber), cloth kapok stuffed body, molded hair, tin flirty sleep eyes, with lashes, open mouth with upper & lower teeth, tongue, mama crier, wore an organdy dress, bonnet and rubber panties, (Little Sister has flannel diapers).  Made by Ideal.


For more about Juanita and her family – Mattie and children and  Childhood Memories.

Childhood Memories by Beatrice Cleage Johnson – Athens, TN – 1926

This is another from the Christmas series that I am reposting from the early days of my blog. Two of my father’s first cousins, Juanita and Beatrice participated in a workshop to turn their “Memories to Memoirs” in 1990 in Athens, Tennessee.  I was able to get a copy of them from my cousin Janice (Juanita’s daughter).  Today I am posting Beatrice’s memories of her childhood, which sets the scene and also has some Christmas memories.  Tomorrow I will post her sister Juanita’s Christmas memories.

"Uncle Eds wife and children"
Back: Ola, Helen, Alberta.       Front: Beatrice, Mattie, Juanita.

From “Memories To Memoirs”  – Chapter 2 – Early Years of Life

By Beatrice Cleage Johnson
Written in 1990

1926 – I remember the early years of my life living at 216 Ridge Street.  We used wood and coal stoves for heating and cooking.  I will never forget the range stove that my mother cooked on.  She made biscuits every morning for breakfast.  There was a warmer at the top of the stove for left overs.  I would always search the warmer for snacks.  We had an outside toilet.  Everyone that we knew had these,  so we thought this was it.  We never dreamed of ever having inside plumbing.

We had a water hydrant in the front yard and every night it was my job to fill the water buckets which had stainless steel dippers in them.  My sister also helped with the chores.  My other job was to clean the lamp chimneys.  We used oil lamps.  Momma always inspected them to see if they were clean.  I decided then, if I ever made any money I would have electricity put in our house.  And I did.  I would babysit during the summers and save my money.

I have always loved poetry.  I learned many poems and stories from my mother and sisters, such as “Little Boy Blue” and “Little Red Riding Hood”.  I think my favorite food was any kind of fruit.  I was always happy to see Summer, when the apples and peaches were plentiful.  I always looked forward to Christmas.  We never saw any oranges until then.  I remember my first doll.  It had a china head and straw body.  I loved it so much.  Momma always made a special white coconut cake for Christmas, which I looked forward to.  She made other pies and cakes, but the coconut was my favorite.  We didn’t get too many toys for Christmas, but my sisters and I enjoyed everything we got for Christmas.

"Edward Cleage"
Charles Edward Cleage.
My grandfather Albert’s brother.

My father became ill and my mother was to be the sole support of the five girls.  I was six years of age when my father passed away in 1926.  My youngest sister, Juanita, was three years of age and she didn’t remember him, but I did.  After he died my uncles took the two older sisters, Helen and Alberta, to Detroit to live with them.  Alberta stayed and finished high school there, but Helen came back home and helped Momma care for the three of us.  Ola, Juanita and myself went to high school here.

We always celebrated the holidays.  Thanksgiving was very special as my birthday would sometimes come on Thanksgiving Day.  We always had special food on these days.  Pies, cakes, chicken, rabbit.  On Halloween we always dressed in our older sister’s and mother’s clothes.  One of the main pranks the boys would do was to push the outside toilets over.  We used to beg them not to push ours over.  In those days, there was no trick or treat.  It was all tricks.  Easter was also special.  Momma would make us a new dress for Easter, and Helen always bought me black patent leather slipper.

Mary V. Graham Elkins Remembers Christmas

From 1990 until 1996 we put out a family newsletter called the Ruff Draft.  In December of 1990 we solicited Christmas Memories from our readers, who were mostly relatives.  This one was sent in by my mother’s older sister, Mary Virginia.  In the photo are my mother Doris (1923-1982) and her sister Mary V. (1921-2009).  It was taken in their backyard on Detroit’s east side.

Doris and Mary V in their backyard. Detroit Eastside 1929.
Doris and Mary V in their backyard. Detroit Eastside 1929.

I can remember Poppy waiting till Xmas Eve to go and get our tree.  We (Doris and I) usually went with him…and bringing it home to decorate.  He had a stand that he made himself.  We went up to the attic to haul down boxes of decorations that had been carefully put away.  Some very old.  I can remember one little fat Santa that Mom always put in the window, he had a pipe in his mouth.  Doris and I shared a bedroom which had the door to the attic in it.  When we were at the “believe in Santa Claus stage” we thought that once we went to sleep he would tip down the attic stairs and put our toys, etc, under said tree.  I think I laid awake waiting for the old boy to show up.  Of course I never saw him ’cause I went to sleep, but the stuff was always under the tree.  Mom was always busy in the kitchen getting stuff together for Xmas dinner and the house would be full of wonderful odors.  If Xmas fell on a Sunday, we would go to church. And we used to have lots of snow.  Although we came up during the depression, we always had something to eat and something under the ole tree even if it wasn’t what we asked for.  It was a tradition that Xmas dinner was at our house and Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma Turner’s.  Daddy cooked the ole turkey and made the most delicious stuffing.  He could cook.  Mom learned from him.  She couldn’t boil water when they got married.  Dad taught her cause he had worked in restaurants as a young man.

Jilo’s First Christmas 1970

christmas_1970 1

Nightgown & Undershirts –  Pee Wee and Winslow.
Sleeper – Grandmother Cleage.
Pop beads, music box, rings, boat, rattle – Ma and Henry.
Poppy $10
Louis $10
Barbara – back carrier.
Silver spoon – Gladys.
2 sleepers & clutch ball – Martha.
Jim out of town (St. Louis) .
Xmas eve at Miriams.  Living at Bro. Johns.
Xmas, went by Grandmother’s. first time she saw Jilo.
Dinner and spent the night at Ma’s.
Jim back on 30th.  Party at BCL (ugh).
Man across the street from Miriam’s hollering for help (“I’m not kidding Help!”)
Pearl and Micheal didn’t come home for Xmas.

Holding my oldest daughter, Jilo

Jilo and great grandfather Mershell C. Graham.

Christmas Bookmark from Uncle Clarence

gammie book1_0003

My great uncle Clarence Elwood Reed was 2 years older than my Grandmother Pearl Doris Reed. While doing some scanning of old photographs and newspaper articles recently my cousin Jan came across a book mark in my grandmother’s journal. Unfortunately the only thing written in this journal was my grandmother’s name, address and the date – December 25, 1903.  Perhaps it was a Christmas present.

Clarence is something of a mystery to me. I wrote about him several years ago – Madness Monday.  I still haven’t found him in the 1920 and 1930 census but I did find him in the 1940 census with yet another name for his wife, Mamie Reed. This census entry is the most confused I’ve seen. The head of the house is listed as Clarence Reed, a female and all of the other data is really for Mamie. Mamie is listed as a male and all the data is really for Clarence. Pretty confusing. It’s just a whim that I decided to check out this Clarence Reed who was born in Tennessee instead of Kentucky.

gammie book1

gammie book1_0001

Picture 3 A photo of 4845 S. Michigan in Chicago, Illinois taken from Google maps. This was Uncle Clarence Reeds address when he sent the bookmark.

“A Christ To Carol” – Christmas Sermon 1966

Rev. A. B. Cleage Jr. Preaching and Teaching

While looking through the binder holding my father’s sermon notes I found these for Sunday, December 25, 1966.  Some were written on a small donation envelope. There is also a bulletin and two pages of sermon notes that are for the same Sunday.  Although page 2 and a possible page 4 are missing, I think that there is enough here to give the gist of the sermon.


A Christ To Carol
Go tell it on the Mountain Jesus Christ is Born

II. Christmas Spirituals
= Carols written by slaves
= “Good News”?=
Glory Manger
Po’ Little Jesus Boy
Jesus first came first to down trodden and oppressed.
“Tell John…”

I.  Child waiting for Christmas thinks only of Santa Claus
= Child for whom Christmas means most – not one who receives most in terms of material gifts –

III.  “Gospel” was the Good News of the possibilities in human life –
Slaves may have been closer to realizing possibilities than many of us today.


We tend to judge everything today in terms of materialistic value –
EVEN CHRISTMAS – Commercialized
(How much we can give)


Henry Cleage – Christmas on Scotten

Henry Cleage Christmas
This photo was taken the same year and from the same place as my Grandfather Cleage’s photograph.

My uncle Henry. If it was during WW2 he had come in from the farm while Hugh stayed out there to take care of the chickens and cows.  They alternated holidays. One of the last stories I remember Henry telling was how he was coming back from Christmas in Detroit. There had been a heavy snow storm and the roads were un-plowed.  He was walking out to the farm when he passed a man walking into town and realized it was Hugh.

Warren’s Christmas Birthday Party, 1958

Front row: Jan and Dale Evans  Middle: Pearl Cleage, Warren Evans, Ernest Martin  Back: Me (Kristin Cleage) If only Ernie had stepped a bit to the right you would be able to see both of our faces.  Why is Dale making that face? Must be because he’s 8.

My cousin Warren always had a party on his December 30th birthday. All of the Cleage cousins gathered at his house where his mother, my aunt Gladys, made a punch of Vernor’s ginger ale with orange sherbert floating on top. There was ice cream, chips, party favors and of course, cake. His cake, shown below, looks like a product of Detroit Awrey’s Bakery.  My cousin Jan corrected me and said it was probably a Sanders cake. Sanders also made cakes and the best chocolate miniatures ever. But I digress.


Because I count 11 candles on the cake, I’m going to say it was his 10th birthday which would make it 1958.  The 11th candle would be 1 to grow on.  There is no sign of his youngest brother who wasn’t born until July of 1959.

Unlike the Sepia Saturday prompt, there is no bus and no Santa in my photo but the people are sitting facing each other and it was taken during the 1950s.

To see more Christmas Sepia Saturday offerings, CLICK!