Merry Christmas! The magical countdown to December 25th is here, and I am beyond excited to be included in Volume Three of this year’s A Cup of Christmas Cheer. Allowing my memory to roam freely the paths of my childhood beneath the live oaks on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and to be given the opportunity to set many of those memories into a Christmas story was more wonderful than I could have imagined.
The story is set about twenty miles inland from Pascagoula and Moss Point, Mississippi, two Mississippi Gulf Coast towns adjacent to each other and sandwiched between Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana.
In 1957, two nine-year-old girls reach for the same Baby Ruth bar in the town grocery store and discover they have many major things in common, except one: Maureen is black and Ellen is white. Finding that they live less than a mile apart, they make a way to become fast friends, and in their secret “island” hideout, they dream together of a future which they hope includes an enchanting Christmas bracelet Ellen has discovered in a jewelry store in town. They dream . . . until the dreaded polio sets in.
Which of the two beautiful and vibrant girls will be stricken by the disease? And, more importantly, how will it affect their relationship and their Christmases?
My father, the fictional “Pawpaw,” was notorious for driving self-rigged clunkers in edgy ways. But riding into town with him was always so exciting that my siblings and I waived the possibility of danger in favor of the thrill. At some point on one of the trips, I recall seeing a little girl (My memory says it was on a large billboard.) with a lovely face and polio braces on her limbs. The image has remained with me all these years and has finally ended up in a story set during my favorite time of the year, Christmas.
I’ve always believed that the openness of children reflects what the Christ child brought to the world and still desires for the human race: unconditional love. It is my hope that Ellen’s and Maureen’s victory, though against strong odds, demonstrates that precious godly mandate to “love one another as I have loved you.”
In addition to the mouthwatering standard fare of turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings, I like to prepare Gulf Coast favorites on the days just prior to Christmas Eve, such as seafood gumbo, deep-fried shrimp and oysters, and battered-and-fried veggies.
A pot of my Mississippi Gulf Coast Christmas gumbo to warm the heart
During the days coming up to Christmas, what special dishes do you prepare that family and friends look forward to? Or what dishes do friends and loved ones prepare that you treasure the most?
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Jacqueline Freeman Wheelock is a multi-published author whose works range from “Christmas Lights” in Christmas Stories From Mississippi to her memoirs in Children of the Changing South: Accounts of Growing Up During and After Integration. Her first novel, A Most Precious Gift, debuted in September, 2014. She and her husband Donald reside in central Mississippi. They are the parents of two adult children and one granddaughter.