, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

December 24, 2013

Local seniors share memories of Christmas past

Seated next to each other near a tall elegantly decorated Christmas tree at Magnolia Manor nursing facility in Groves sisters Euline Messina, 90, and Geraldine Allen, 92, reminisce of a simpler time in their lives.

Like many people of their generation who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, the Port Acres area siblings didn’t know they were poor. To them they were content with what they had materially and with the wealth of love they shared.

With the help of Allen’s daughter, Lynda Bihm, the sisters described how they spent Christmas.

On Christmas Eve the family, which included five children, would load up in a wagon and head to St. Therese the Little Flower of Jesus Catholic Church where they would sing in the choir. Later they would pile into a neighbors car and head to LaBelle where they would sing in the church choir there.

“Our mother would bring cookies for us to eat along the way,” Messina said.

The Christmas Day meal occurred at the home of their grandparents, Mitt and Pitt Boudreaux. The Boudeaux’s — who only spoke Cajun French — had a large garden so neither family ever went hungry.

Euline and Geraldine’s father passed away when Geraldine was 9-years-old and the youngest sibling was just 18-months old so their mother, Isabelle Roberts, went to work as a waitress, a job she kept until she was 75.

Neither sibling remembers having a Christmas tree in the home while growing up but they did have presents to open on Christmas.

Nancy Jones,  Eola Chambers, Dot Sloan and Melvin Sangwin, residents of Cypress Glen Nursing and Rehab in Port Arthur, remembered Christmas of yore.

“We had a pine tree and decorated it with paper rings and popcorn strings,” Sangwin, 92, of Port Arthur, said.

With two sisters and four brothers Melvin Sangwin’s family home was pretty busy. His father came to the area from Lincoln, Neb., hopping freights at the age of 17 in order to find work at what was then called the Texas Company refinery.

“We were a poor family,” he said. “Presents were hard to get.”

One present in particular stands out in his memory — a red wagon, he said.

“Momma would make a big Christmas meal and she used to make fruit cake,” he said.

His mother, a native of Johnson Bayou, La., was a work horse and did everything to make the meal a success.

Sangwin also remembers the family’s wood stove on which his mother would cook.

“I remember her getting the fire started,” he added.

Eola Chambers, a native of Alexandria, La. is one of eight children.

“I remember sitting down getting ready for our name to be called,” Chambers said.

The family then sat down to a big meal before going to church, she said.

Beaumont native Nancy Jones, 84, is one of five children.

“One Christmas morning we would get up and sneak up on the tree,” Jones said with a laugh. “We would look to see who got what.”

Her mother would have everything ready with a “big ol’ turkey and dressing on the table.”

“It was just beautiful,” she said.

After the big meal the family would head to church, she added.

Port Arthur native Dot Sloan, 91, remembers a special baby doll she received as a child.

“One time I got a baby doll with brown eyes,” Sloan said. “I was so surprised. Most baby dolls had blue eyes and I have brown eyes. It was a great time.”

Sloan, one of five children, said her family would open gifts on Christmas Eve.

“I was always so excited,” she said. “I was the youngest so they had me pass the presents out.”

There was also the big family meal to enjoy and on Christmas the adults would go visiting, she said.


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