This true story appeared in the Mountaineer in Waynesville, NC earlier this week, penned by my aunt, Mary Ann Enloe. I’ve heard this story from my mom over the years, and my aunt’s writing captures the spirit of the memory - despite sad circumstances - beautifully. It’s easy to see that my mom’s spirit has always been kind and compassionate. I’m so thankful to have grown up in a home filled with kindness and love, with no judgement of others. Only respect, appreciation and celebration of differences. I love you mom. Merry Christmas.
When I was growing up in Hazelwood, Christmas meant piling into the car with Mother, Daddy, little sisters Emily and Betsy, and Aunt Debrayda, to head for the sleepy north Alabama town of Wedowee.
My grandmother Stella McKay Fisher, “Nonnie” to us, was a widow and she remarried the year I was born. Her new husband was a doctor 25 years her senior. Dr. O. C. Mastin practiced medicine in Wedowee in a wing of their Main Street house and he was the town’s only doctor. There was no pharmacist. If he prescribed it, he had to know how to mix it.
This was an Alabama of segregation; of separate water fountains; of sitting in the back of the bus; of eating in the kitchen at the cafe if your skin wasn’t white. My step-grandfather would have none of that. His waiting room and examination room did not have signs that said “White” and “Colored.” If white folks didn’t like it, they could go all the way to Anniston to the doctor. In Wedowee, Dr. Mastin was it.
The Mastins’ combination home-doctor’s office overflowed at Christmas. Pallets on the floor, sofas, roll-away beds in an unheated sunroom, all became places to sleep as Daddy, his three sisters, and their families converged from all directions for Christmas at Nonnie’s.
When Nonnie’s seven grandchildren swooped down on Wedowee, we had the run of the town. The newspaper’s society editor would call Nonnie on the candlestick telephone (“number, please?”) to get details about various arrival times. Suzie of Suzie’s Cafe across the street inquired too, so she could have the ice cream man leave a tub of chocolate. Apparently I was the only child in Wedowee who had to have chocolate.
Occasionally because of Daddy’s work schedule at Dayton Rubber, we’d have to travel on Christmas Eve day, not getting to Nonnie’s until after dark. Daddy kept Emily and Betsy occupied by telling them to look for Santa in the sky. I decided I saw him, too. It was fun to imagine. .
When we passed the Randolph County High School and headed down the hill,. Mother would say with excitement, “You girls wake up and brush your hair. We’re almost to Nonnie’s!”
The biggest Christmas tree we’d ever seen towered over the pump organ in the living room filled chock-a-block with Victorian Eastlake furniture and ‘Gone with the Wind’ lamps. When Daddy unloaded the car’s trunk and added all the wrapped gifts we had brought to the mountain of goodies already surrounding the big fat tree, there was hardly room to walk. Everybody gave everybody a present and opening them on Christmas morning was not orchestrated. We were allowed to light in, paper and ribbon flying.
My most memorable Wedowee Christmas Day took place in the late 1940’s and it was not about our frenetic consumerism. It was about a beautiful four-year-old black child from down on the river whose father hauled her to Dr. Mastin’s on the back of a flat bed wagon pulled by a mule.
The hulk of a man in overalls didn’t ring the bell to Dr. Mastin’s office that Christmas morning. He beat on the front door to the living room.
“My baby fell into the fireplace,” he said. Tears inched down his face and dripped off his chin.
Dr. Mastin, in his 80’s and sharp as scissors but stooped and frail, motioned for Daddy to help him carry the child into the examination room. Nonnie went on ahead to get the table ready. She had been Dr. Mastin’s nurse from early in their marriage and the only nurse’s training she had was what he taught her.
Daddy came into the living room and whispered to Mother, “It’s not good. Her nightgown is burned to her.”
Our Christmas stockings were three-feet-long works of art handmade by Aunt Debrayda and they marched across the edge of Nonnie’s ornate mantelpiece like a Christmas army stuffed and lumpy from a holiday feast. My middle sister Emily was still a toddler in ‘feet pajamas’ and she clamored for her stocking. When an aunt took it down and gave it to her, she scrambled over to the interior door to Dr. Mastin’s examination room. We weren’t permitted to enter that door.
“No, no, honey, we can’t go in there,” Mother said as Emily reached for the doorknob.
Emily clutched the stocking that was as big as she was, looked up and said, “I want to give this to the little girl.”
Without further words Mother took Emily by the hand and quietly they entered the forbidden room. On tiptoes, Emily gingerly placed the stocking beside the burned child on the examining table.
Later that Christmas day, Daddy and Dr. Mastin took the little girl to nearby Roanoke where she died in the small hospital.
But she had a Christmas stocking that year. A big one.
Every Christmas, part of my heart is in Wedowee, Alabama. And all of my heart thanks Dr. Mastin and Nonnie for showing us by example that judging folks by the color of their skin was wrong.