Remember when: Chamber held Christmas party for 1,000 ‘little folks’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2016

     “With little tin horns and little toy drums, Rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums, Santa Claus is coming to town…”

     This Alabama Jaycee magazine was among my father’s keepsakes he had saved and tucked away. It was the “Official Publication of the Alabama Junior Chamber of Commerce.” The mailing address label reads, “Charlie Bass, Andalusia, Ala.” Back then in the 1940s, a minimum address such as this would get a letter, magazine, or package mailed to you in a small town like Andalusia. No street name, street number, or zip code was needed since everybody knew everybody!

The following article appeared in the June-July 1947 edition. It was written by K. C. Ptomey. The title of the article in the state magazine reads “Andalusia Plans for Christmas Program.”

“The Board of Directors of the Andalusia Chamber of Commerce met recently to formulate plans and policy for the club for the next three months. The meeting was called by President Neil Coplin. The directors were able to work out the problems presented and to make constructive plans.”

“We have planned a real Christmas party for the little folks of Andalusia. For a long time we have been tinkering with the idea and have now got it in shape to really do something about it. Each year, as is the custom in most of the towns in South Alabama, the square is decorated with strings of lights and a huge Christmas tree is placed in the center of the square with all the trimmings. We plan to have a gala party around this tree this year. The purpose of the party is to see that every child in our town has a real Christmas. While we fully expect to take care of the underprivileged, we are not going to stress this point so that no one will feel that it is charity. The children of the club members will take part and a gift for every child will be provided. There will also be the necessary apples, oranges, candied, and raisins (how could there be Christmas spirit without these for the little folks.)

“The town square is large and it is possible to have a thousand children on it at the same time. This plan includes a full scale advertisement program and we hope that no child under 12 years of age in our town will be unaware of the party and that all will have the opportunity of being present. The Board of Directors have all offered their unselfish cooperation and the committee is starting early. Five months should give us a good start.”

“We know that it is a tremendous undertaking considering that gifts must be obtained, wrapped in Christmas paper with seals and trimmings and other items provided but with the full cooperation of our 50 members, we will put over this party in a big way.”

“Another problem which is more important than the Christmas party, only because it is more long range, is a Youth Center for our town. For more than a year now, the various civic clubs and the mayor have been talking and planning for some form of Youth Center, but we regret to say nothing concrete has been accomplished. This matter has got to the point where it seems that it is up to the Jaycees to do something. The big problem for us is the housing facilities. There is just not a place available to us. To construct a proper building costs real money and cannot be done by our club alone. However, we believe if we get something concrete started and the entire population sees the results, no difficulty would be experienced to building whatever was necessary regardless of cost. The cost would be insignificant compared to the returns in character of our youth. We are working on this and something will be done at least to get a center started.”

So I headed to the newspaper archives at the Andalusia Public Library to read about this Christmas party to be held in December 1947 on the public square for the children of the town under 12 years old, all 1,000 of them. Here is what I found in a December edition of The Andalusia Star News, G. Byron Vickery, Editor.

“According to Mr. James Bonner, Chairman of the Civic Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, the absence of Christmas lights on the streets and on the City Square this year is due to the fact that present electric power facilities are loaded to the limit. It was felt that it would not be advisable to tax these facilities with the use of additional current required for Christmas decorations. Plans are now in the making for taking care of the increased power load caused by the continued growth of Andalusia.”

A large block ad read – “Attend WCTA’s Big Christmas Party, Wednesday, December 23, 10:00 a. m., East Three Notch School, Admission Free.” It appears that the proposed Christmas party for 1000 children on the square did not happen after all!

The Christmas season in Andalusia did look interesting with many advertisements, announcements, and events running in the local paper.

Western Auto Associate Store, Hundreds of Gifts to Choose From – Children’s Red Rocker, $1.98; Coaster Wagon, $9.50; Official Leather Football, $5.98; 5-car Electric Train, $14.95; F. W. Turner, Manager.”

Dr. P. Lewis, OptometristMerry ChristmasModern Living Taxes the Eyes.”

Christmas Specials – This Coupon is worth $1.00 on any permanent wave that is priced $6.50 or more during the remainder of December. We are open 6 full days each week. Call 36 for appointment. Fashion Beauty Shop. Faustine Hunter, Georgia Huey, Alleen Smith.”

Christmas Gifts at Shreve’s – Cap pistols and caps; Baseballs and gloves; Tricycles; Red wagons; Scooters; Picnic boxes; Fishing rods; Camp stoves; Flash lights; Hunting coats and vests.”

Holiday Scarves for Men and Boys, $2.45 and $2.95 – Thrifty Stores.”

1948 Hudson to be on display here Saturday – ‘The car they said was years away.’ Hudson Sales and Service, Church Street, Phone 298.”

Songs by Morton Downey – ‘Dreamy Melodies, Soothing Rhythms, Restful Thoughts;’ Tues., Thurs., Sat. 10:15 p. m. WCTA.”

DANCE – GANTT BEACH – Call Gantt 16 for Reservations; Christmas Eve night; John Cheatham and his Orchestra.

     “Go to Church Day – December 14. Every Legionnaire in Alabama is asked to go to church on December 14. There is no better way to recreate that spirit of neighborliness and good will to all people that the world so much needs than to attend church. Sponsored by J. G. Scherf, Mayor, City of Andalusia and the Alatex Corp. and the Andala Company.”

Kiwanis Club Organized by Business and Professional Group, The Greenville Club – Through the efforts of members of the Greenville Kiwanis Club, a similar Kiwanis Club has been organized in Andalusia. Officers for the coming year have been elected; President, Mr. J. S. Herlong; Vice President, Mr. Albert Rankin; Secretary, Mr. Claud Moore; Treasurer, Mr. Charlie Bass. The Board of Directors are to be as follows – Stewart Culpepper; F. L. Darby; W. F. Locke; O. M. Hilton; Guy Carmichael; Robert Ham; and Henry Studstill, Jr. Charter night will be held in the near future.”(December 18, 1947)

A large ad appeared in one of the weekly December editions of the Andalusia Star – “Attention World War II Veterans – This is a list compiled of those who served in the war from Covington County. If you served and your name does not appear on this roster, notify us immediately. An engraved plaque will be placed on the Municipal Building promptly.”

In conclusion, it is apparent that even after a long and devastating world war that affected hometown Andalusia and Covington County more than words can express, the human spirit rose above the sadness and losses two Christmases later to continue the healing process, to celebrate a Merry Christmas, and to make plans for the New Year in an admirable fashion.

This very week the Christmas season has begun in the town and the county with civic, church, family, business, club, and neighborhood events in full swing. As Bing Crosby’s lyrics in his 1947 recording of “The Christmas Song” sing, “Although it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you!” In 1947 a movie was released that is still one of the all-time Christmas movies – “It’s a Wonderful Life” and it really is, fellow citizens!

     May we always REMEMBER WHEN and be reminded of Christmas Past in order to help make our lives and those around us in Christmas Present more memorable.