Christmas in Willow Springs

After my column last time about Christmas in the Ozarks, I heard from a few friends who shared their memories of Christmas in Willow Springs in the 1960s.
Annette Tetrick Johnson (WSHS, 1965) recalled, “I remember how exciting it was to go downtown as the streets were decorated and hearing the song “Silver Bells” for the first time. I don’t remember if it was in a store. I guess it must’ve been because I certainly don’t think they had music piped out on the street. Nothing was on sale prior to Christmas, but the day after Christmas, Fergusons was very generous and made things a third off—no returns.” [Annette and I then segued into a discussion of the charming and pleasant demeanor of proprietor Louise (Ferguson) Meyers.]
Susan Smith Shryock (WSHS, 1961) told me, “I remember the excitement on the last day of school before Christmas break. The teachers handed each student a brown paper bag filled with an apple, an orange, peppermint sticks, sugarcoated orange jelly slices, cheap chocolates, ribbon hard candies, and peanuts in the hull. I preferred to eat the apple and orange first, then eat my way through the candies and saved the peanuts for last. Somehow the peanut hulls invariably stuck to the hard candy.” 
Of those halcyon days of the Christmas season, Sarah (“Sadie”) Burns (WSHS, 1968) recalls. “We sang carols every Christmas, and at midnight mass there was always a gathering. Afterwards, it was off to our house for drinks and breakfast, with the rule: no alcoholic drinks unless 21 or older. 
“The kids who were not Catholic were always so great to come with us, because it was midnight after all, and going to church was fine with the parents. Mom and Dad would always be happy to fill the house with kids and leave us to have breakfast and sing at the piano in the living room, while they attempted sleep upstairs. Such great memories. Dan Booth, Dennis Warning, Dianna Simpson, Chuck Finley, you, Ginny Webb, Donna Bryan, John Marvin, Bill Flood, Norm Robinson, and many others would attend various years. Always fun.” Indeed, midnight mass was a “happening” event for Sadie’s Protestant friends.
Several times in this and my previous Christmas article, I’ve mentioned cedar trees, but Barbara Sherrill Pigg (WSHS, 1964) reminded me of a phenomenon from the late 1950s and 1960s—silver, aluminum trees illuminated by a floodlight shining through a rotating, multicolored, plastic disc. 
After Barbara’s dad brought an aluminum tree home from the Western Auto store, her mother decided to put real Christmas lights on the tree, and it was a shocking experience. Barbara says, “The electricity ran through the whole tree, and she was shocked when she tried to put decorations on the tree. I definitely remember her screaming for my dad to unplug the lights. Dad thought it was hilarious. Mom did not.” My mother also got an aluminum tree from Western Auto, but no one got shocked.
In the 1960s, major events at the school auditorium in Willow Springs—graduations, baccalaureate services, plays, musicals, and band concerts—generated community interest and drew crowds. And it was true in December 1962, when music teacher Carl Walker directed the high school mixed chorus in an evening event billed as “Music for Christmas.”
For the first half of the program, the singers wore choir robes and sang traditional Christmas music. For the second part of the program, the singers donned their gay apparel of colorful sweaters and sports clothes. In front of a fireplace and a Christmas tree (stage props, courtesy of the art department), the chorus sang novelty and popular songs, including “Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas,” and “The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). 
“Music for Christmas” marked another successful production for Mr. Walker. It’s fair to say Mr. Walker was a class act, and his musical programs reflected his style. He had demonstrated this the previous year, with his musical direction of the Broadway play, Oklahoma. 
As accomplished and sophisticated as Mr. Walker seemed—always confident, well dressed, and articulate—he was not arrogant or aloof. He seemed to have as much fun singing “hootenanny” songs, as the teenagers he chaperoned on a hayride. He took personal interest and encouraged his students. My sophomore year, after seeing my report card, he stopped me outside the music room, and told me I should go to college. And he had a sense of humor. At mixed chorus practice, he laughed when I suggested we might be lucky at the district music competition and get a tone-deaf judge. 
When I’m writing an article that involves a teacher, I often realize I don’t really know much about the teacher as a person. I’d see them every day at school but had little knowledge about their personal lives. With Carl Walker, I didn’t even recall where he went after he left Willow Springs. With my curiosity stirred, I thought it might be interesting to find out more. 
Carl started life as a smalltown Ozark boy, born in 1933 in Chamois, Missouri (Osage County) in the same house and room where his mother was born. He graduated from Chamois High School in 1951, and served in the Navy from 1952 to 1956, before attending the University of Missouri. At the University, he earned a B.S. in Education (1959) and a Master of Music Education (1960), and distinguished himself as a member of Marching Mizzou, Concert Band, University Orchestra, and the University Singers. As a graduate student, he was an assistant director of Marching Mizzou. “
Carl's first teaching job after college was at Willow Springs, where he taught from 1960 through 1963, when he and his wife Mary moved to Sullivan, Missouri. He taught music in the Sullivan School District and established the first marching band at the high school. Their two sons were born there.
In 1969, as part of the founding faculty of East Central College in Union, Carl established the music department and served as chairman of the Fine Arts and Humanities Division. He taught music education classes and directed bands and choruses. And not surprisingly, he directed twenty-six Broadway musicals at the college.
With the final episode of “The Way We Were” for 2022, I want to wish everyone Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and thank readers for the kind words you’ve shared about this column. Speaking of the way we were, Sadie Burns describes it well. “We were a tight knit group who loved each other and found joy in singing and laughing over silly escapades. Innocent times that wove a fabric of friendships that have lasted over 70 years.” 
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