Dr. Jimmy Murphy and Harper the Dog, hunting near Twist, Arkansas, with a limit of mallards.

Merry Christmas, Crittenden County!

Holiday traditions old and new return for this Season of Joy

ralphhardin@gmail.com This is my 44th Christmas. Granted, I don’t remember the first few, but my Mom has a big old vinyl photo album full of Kodak 110’s and Polaroids to prove that they happened. And I’ve spent at least part of all 44 of them right here in Crittenden County.

Christmas is sort of the same all over, I imagine, but Christmas in the Mid-South has its own unique flavor. First of all, I suppose is the game of “weather roulette” we play at Christmas time every year. The latest forecast calls for “sunny and 69 degrees” in West Memphis on Christmas Day, which is a pretty neat trick, considering a couple of days ago, it was 17 degrees when I headed to work in the morning.

And that’s the thing. It might actually be sixtysomething on Christmas.

Last year, you may recall, there were severe thunderstorms on Dec. 23, and it was about 65 degrees on Christmas. Year before, though, it was the closest we’ve gotten to the mythical “White Christmas” in a while, with a few flurries after a little ice and sleet the week before.

Speaking of white Christmases, we got two inches a dozen years ago, back in 2004, and about an inch in 1998. After that, you’ve got to go back to 1963 (I missed out on that one), when there was 10 inches of snow on the ground from a series of snows leading up to Christmas Day. So, it’s a pretty rare affair, is what I’m saying.

Oh, it’ll get cold — cold and dry. Then the temperature will go up — and then it will rain. I had to look it up, but I remembered a Christmas where it was so bitterly cold. And a little research showed me that in 1983 (when I was 10, so that had to be it), the high was 16. The low? Zero! As in, “I went outside to check the temperature and there wasn’t one.” A few years ago, though, maybe 2007 or 2008, we wore shorts outside and played volleyball on Christmas.

If you’ve lived around here a long time, you might be interested to be reminded that next year is the 30th anniversary of the Christmas Flood. Back in 1987, you may recall, we had a massive tornado on Dec. 14 that destroyed parts of West Memphis, followed by the flood on Dec. 25 that left a big chunk of the county under water, and then, just to complete the trifecta, a huge snowstorm covered the entire Mid-South on Jan. 7-8, making many of us wonder if the plague of locusts was next.

But the weather isn’t the only thing that has marked my Christmas memories.

Four decades of festivities have left me with some pretty cool recollections.

Does anyone else remember the tinsel-and-light Christmas decorations that used to adorn the utility poles around here? They were definitely a product of the ‘60s or ‘70s, and they were (in my child’s eye) on every pole in town. There were five or six different ones — candles, bells, angels, holly, maybe some others I’m forgetting. I can still remember how by the mid ‘80s there were fewer and fewer of them until they just stopped putting them up. Marion and West Memphis both put up banners now, and they’re nice, but I’d love for the gaudy (maybe even tacky by today’s standards) decorations to make a comeback. And oh, visiting with Santa. I clearly recall Santa taking up shop at the Holliday Plaza Mall. You know, back when that place was booming with stores of all kinds (the Radio Shack, I remember, seemed especially cool, because those were toys you didn’t see at Walmart… of course, back then, Walmart was way over on West Broadway, 100 miles from home in Marion). The mall, sadly, is on its last legs, slated to be torn down soon.

The Christmas Parade is still going, making its way down Broadway every year. I bet I’ve been to 35 of them in my lifetime. And now there’s one in Marion, too! My kids never quite got as into it as I was, but I drag them along anyway.

Again, not to pooh-pooh today’s holiday scene, but there was something a little more magical about those groovy ‘70s and ‘80s-style floats. These days, they seem a little too, I don’t know, nice? Give me paper streamers, taped-on tinsel, and those old-style Christmas lights that had about a 20 percent chance of catching fire for some real holiday spirit.

There are some new holiday traditions that have sprung up around here. The Worthington Park tree lighting and the Christmas on the Square at the courthouse are community favorites these days. There are plenty of Christmas concerts, cantatas, open houses and office parties all over the place. And our local civic groups have held canned food drives, coat collections, toy giveaways, and our local churches do a great job of reminding us of the real “Reason for the Season,” something that is easy to lose track of between all of the Black Friday shopping and the noise of round-theclock Christmas music on 104 The River.

Toys for Tots

Sixth-graders in the West Memphis School District recently collected and donated toys for the local Toys For Tots. The group also donated winter coats and gloves to several of their school mates in West Memphis. The effort was coordinated by Annette McClure of the WMSD Gifted and Talented program.

Photo by Billy Woods

Reason for the Season

This Nativity out in front of Marion First Baptist Church greets everyone who travels down Highway 77 with a reminder of what makes the Christmas season so important.

Photo by Ralph Hardin

Merry Christmas, WMFD!

The WMFD would like to say 'Thank You' to the Concerned Citizens of West Memphis for the treats they brought to station 1 for all of the firefighters! Thank you to: Rosetta Johnson, Ethel Ratcliff, Brenda Howell, Pop Bollinger, Elizabeth Kimmons, Sharon Irby, Alice Williams and their sponsors: Quota Club International West Memphis, AR and Bacon's Foreign Car Parts Inc. West Memphis, AR (Claire Bacon).

Submitted photo

A Special Christmas at Faulk

Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society at ASU Mid-South, led a Clothe-A-Kid drive for special needs students at Faulk Elementary. The group also bought toys for the students and Santa Claus made a special appearance. Fenter Physical Therapy also spearheaded the event.

Photos by Billy Woods

Southland Season of Giving

Southland Park Gaming & Racing’s annual “12 Tournaments of Christmas promotion” provided 192 toys and $6,800 for local children in need. Donations were raised by hosting spin to win, handicapping, skee ball and poker tournaments during the first twelve days of December. A $20 cash donation or toy with a $20 value allowed guests to participate in any of the tournaments. “I'm delighted to be a part of Southland Park as we continue the facilitation of this wonderful promotion which supports what the holidays are really all about — giving,” said president and general manager David Wolf. “There's no better feeling than the idea of putting a present under the tree for a child who might not otherwise receive one.” All monetary and toy donations were forwarded to Toys for Tots, a foundation created at the behest of the U.S. Marine Corps to provide toys to local chil- dren in need.

Photo courtesy of Southland Park Gaming & Racing The kids are growing up at my house. I’ve got two in college now and my 10year-old let us know that the secret’s out about Santa Claus. We looked at her like she was crazy, but she assured us she had figured it out. So, that’s a chapter in our parenting lives that is over. Oh, Santa Claus is still coming to town, though. My wife assures me that come Christmas morning there will be presents wrapped in “Santa Claus paper” for the kiddos to tear through.

If I can just get them to wait until the sun is all the way up now, that’d be cool.

By Ralph Hardin