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Times change but threads of Christmas tradition seem to survive

By Linda Emley

A well-known postcard photo of Ray County Courthouse during the Christmas season.

In 1920, the Richmond Missourian newspaper started a new Christmas tradition. Every December they’d run a special edition of the paper that was called the “Homecoming Edition.” Anyone could send a letter to the editor and share their Christmas greetings. Many people that had moved away would send an update letter and let everyone know how things were going where they were.
On Dec. 11, 1924, The Missourian read, “To Ray County Homecomers Everywhere. The Missourian extends its happy Christmas Greeting. This Edition, the 4th annual Homecoming Edition, is dedicated to you wherever you may be.”
Mr. and Mrs. P.M. Pinckard wrote from Clarksville, Ark. “While it has been over 20 years since we left there, it is still home, and the people hold a warm place in our hearts.” They went on to tell how they enjoy every edition of the paper and told about how life was in Arkansas.
Mrs. Mattie Keel from Boulder, Colo. wrote, “How nice we Missouri people everywhere, can hear from so many through the homecoming letters.” Many of the letters were rather lengthy and were full of all the details about their past year.
When I think about Christmas, I always start humming Bing Crosby’s 1943 song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. There is nothing that gets me in the Christmas spirit more than hearing this song. It’s one of those songs that you keep hearing in your head for the rest of the day.
I can’t sing, but when I try to sing this song with Bing, it sounds a lot better. My grandmother Schooler loved Bing Crosby but her favorite Bing song was “White Christmas”. It’s amazing that one man can gave us so much Christmas cheer with these two songs.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written about a WW II solider that was dreaming of Christmas back home. It’s the most requested Christmas song in USO shows. Mr. USO, Bob Hope, performed his first wartime performance on the RMS Queen Mary in Sept. 1939 and his first official USO show was on May 6, 1941 in California.
Bob Hope did around 60 USO tours in his 50 years of service. Bing joined his ol’ buddy Bob Hope for a few USO shows over the years.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was heard round the world, but it was also heard out of this world. The Gemini 7 astronaut crew of Frank Borman and James Lovell asked NASA to play this song for them when they were floating through space in December of 1965. They landed back on Earth on Dec the 18, so they really did make it home for Christmas.
On Dec. 24, 1942, The Richmond Missourian shared a small glimpse of local soldiers wishing they were home for Christmas. “Christmas Visitors Few Because of the War. Because of the war-time restrictions of travel, and gasoline rationing, the number of Christmas visitors, coming and going, is noticeably fewer at this Christmas season in Richmond-Ray. The Missourian joins in wishing one and all, at home and abroad, Merrie Christmas and God Bless You, on this Christmas Eve of 1942.”
Other articles in 1942 read, “Cpl. Charles Van Meter, who has been serving with an Army unit in India, sends the Missourian a Christmas card from India with a picture of a snake charmer and a large cobra. Cpl. Van Meter is a brother of Pete Van Meter, chief of the Richmond fire department.”
And then this: “Paris Smith, Route 2, Richmond, told the Missourian this morning that he and Mrs. Smith have just heard from their son, Herman, for the first time since October. Herman joined the Navy in September, 1941 and is now a seaman first class. He was home on October a year ago. He is serving on a submarine, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.”
Second Lieutenant Newton Clark Hamacher was stationed at Fort Hood Texas and his family had just received word that he had been appointed to the post of being an aide to the camp Commandant, so it does not look like he made it home for Christmas in 1942.
The family of Don Garner got holiday greetings from London in a rather special way for the 1942 holiday season. “In the greetings transmitted by the Chicago Tribune correspondent from London on Christmas Eve, and published in The Kansas City Star and the Chicago Tribune in the edition of December 25th, appeared the following: Pvt. Don M. Garner, Richmond Mo., greets F.D. Garner and family.
“The cable radio and telegraph transmissions got the name Garner as Gardner on Christmas morning, knowing doubly sure that their son is safe and sound in England. Don Garner is in the counter-intelligence service of the United States Army.”
There were a few lucky soldiers that made it home for Christmas in 1942. “Capt. H.M. Griffith of the army medical corps arrived in Richmond Christmas morning to visit his family, after several weeks of special duty at the Edgewood, Maryland arsenal. He is planning to leave Tuesday for duty at the station hospital at Ft Leonard Wood, Mo.”
There was more: “Ralph Blair, who is serving with the air force at Lincoln, Neb., air base arrived in Richmond and is spending a five day furlough. Mrs. Blair arrived in Richmond last night from Chicago to visit her husband.”
I was happy to see that my Uncle Paul Emley made it home for Christmas also. “Cadet Paul Emley of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point arrived in Richmond last night to visit his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Emley, Grandview Street.” Paul Emley graduated from West Point and went on to serve his country as a career Army officer. His class at West Point graduated in only 3 years because they were needed for the war effort.
The Folgers Coffee company made a Christmas commercial in the 1980s that still brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. Their “Peter Comes Home for Christmas” commercial shows a soldier boy that arrives home on Christmas morning. Pete and his little sister fix a pot of coffee, which filters the fresh smell of coffee all through the house. Mom and dad wake up to the smell of coffee and find Peter home for the holidays. Thirty years later, this commercial still portrays everyone’s Christmas wish.
I was a Navy wife in Norfolk, Va. for five years and we did not always make it home for Christmas. In 1975, the “Martin” clan brought Christmas to us. My parents, my sister Jane, my brother Mike and my grandmother Schooler packed up the motor home and headed for Norfolk. They tied a Missouri Christmas tree on top of the motor home, put a frozen turkey in the sink and filled every empty spot with food and presents. It was a wonderful Christmas that none of us will every forget.
My grandmother Schooler is no longer with us, but I would like to think she and Bing are singing their favorite Christmas songs in the same choir now. So now we know it doesn’t really matter how far away from home we are at Christmas because “we’ll all be home for Christmas, if only in our dreams.”

You can write Linda at raycohistory@aol.com or see her at the Ray County Historical Museum.

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