LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — When I was growing up there in the head of Blair Branch, what little Christmas shopping to be done in our family had already been completed in mid November courtesy of the Spiegel’s mail order catalog. In fact, said catalog, had already served its end utility in our outhouse by this time of year. If you hadn’t mailed your order to Chicago before Thanksgiving, chances were good that the package contents would be used for birthday presents in the coming year.
In other words, by the first of December it was way too late to be aggravating Mom about what you wanted Santa Claus to bring. Which meant it was high time to start pestering my Uncles, Willie Adams and Stevie Craft, about what they ought to be making me for Christmas. Uncle Stevie could whittle all manner of stick figurines, toy guns and knives, as well as make water pistols and pop-guns out of sections of elderberry bushes that he hollowed out and fitted with pieces of harder wood. He also made whistles from sections of paw-paw limbs and once made me a paw-paw “Indian flute.”
Somehow or other he would manage to get the bark to loosen on a foot-long section of paw-paw that was about an inch in diameter so that he could slip the solid wood core out. He whittled one side somewhat flat and tapered the wood in such a precise way that he could slip it back into the hollow bark, lay it on the mantel and let it dry for several days until it hardened and the bark re-adhered. Then, using his pocket knife, he cut little note holes in the bark that covered the section he had whittled on. When you blew though the tapered end you could make musical notes by covering the appropriate holes with your fingers.