Area residents welcome return of Christmas Village

Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Photos by Dale James R.F. Knox, 86, gives Faylene Wilkerson of Lewisburg a hug during the Christmas Village held Saturday at the National Guard Armory.

The Christmas season got an unofficial kickoff Saturday at the National Guard Armory, and area residents got a chance to catch up on the latest gossip and get in a little early bargain hunting -- all while helping a good cause.

The Marshall County American Red Cross revived a Marshall County tradition of sorts when it sponsored the first Christmas Village in recent memory.

"This is the first time there's been a Christmas Village in, oh gosh, 10 or 15 years," said Anna Childress, who spearheaded the event and who serves as chairman of the board of the local Red Cross board of directors. "They used to hold them every year. Then came Desert Storm and people weren't allowed to use the armory anymore and it just sort of died out."

Judging from the crowd of vendors and bargain hunters on hand, the return of the Christmas Village tradition has been long overdue.

"I was told that 20 vendors would be a good show," Childress said. "We had 31 people to sign up. I'm very happy with the turnout. All the people I've talked to are just glad to have Christmas Village back."

Nodding toward the cavernous room crowded with vendors and prospective buyers and the just plain curious, she added, "Look at the community interaction going on out there there's so much good will in this room right now."

After such a long lapse since the last Christmas Village, a lot of people weren't sure what to expect this go around.

"I had vendors ask me, 'Do you only allow arts and crafts?' 'Does it have to be handmade?'" Childress said, chuckling. "I told 'em they could sell anything they wanted to -- as long as it's legal. I just wanted a shopping experience."

The offerings ranged from Mary Kay cosmetics to baby clothes to candles to flower baskets to handmade wooden toys. The toys, fashioned of unpainted pine, were made by R.F. Knox, 86. They consisted mostly of wooden racecars and trucks and trains that could be pulled by a string.

"At my age," Knox confided, jerking a thumb in the direction of his wife, Eunice, "it's either make toys or argue with her. I make toys."

Perhaps sensing a sale, Eunice glided over and delivered her best hard-sell.

"These toys," she said, holding up a wooden truck with big, sturdy wheels, "are not subject to any recall from China. They were made right here."

Jackie Schrimsher hails from down around Huntsville, Ala. Her booth was crowded with colorful afghans and bibs and potholders she crocheted herself. But in truth, Schrimsher was selling little pieces of her heart.

A neighbor got her started crocheting more than 40 years ago. At first it was just a pleasant diversion. But after her husband died some years back, what had been a hobby began to take on a whole new dimension. Crocheting became a way to keep her hands busy and to take her mind off the pain and the grief of losing the only man she had ever loved.

Schrimsher and her companion, Vera Holman of Fayetteville, made the trip to Lewisburg expressly to display her wares at Christmas Village.

"This has really helped me pass the time," Schrimsher said, indicating the modest offerings in her booth. Pointing apologetically to her age-dimmed eyes, she added, "I can't watch television anymore."

Childress said the money raised by events such as Christmas Village are vital to the financial well-being of local Red Cross chapters. Not only are local chapters responsible for funding such Red Cross standbys as swimming lessons and CPR classes, they also help to support the national Red Cross response in times of natural disasters.

"With the dry weather we've had more fires than usual," Childress pointed out. "In the past year we've helped something like two dozen families in this area who were affected by fire. That's two a month. That's a huge drain on our local resources."

When a family loses its home to fire, Childress said the Red Cross can arrange for such things as temporary lodging and providing a client assistance card that can be used to purchase personal items to replace those lost in the fire.

Of course, all of that takes money.

To ensure that it will continue to be there the next time disaster strikes, Childress said the Marshall County Red Cross is planning to host another fund-raiser in January.

She promised to release details as they become available.