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JIM “PAPPY” MOORE: Christmas Family Traditions


When I was a kid growing up in East Texas in the 1950s, a Christmas tradition was born in the Moore Family.  We kids learned a Christmas poem, and recited it by memory, in unison.  Every year, our recitation of the poem was a command performance for Christmas, and occasionally for holiday visitors. 

The poem we learned was called “Jest ‘fore Christmas,” by Eugene Field, who lived in the second half of the 19th century, a time before automobiles – a time of horse buggies.

The poem is about a boy named William and his view of Christmas as it approaches.  He’s all boy, and proud of it, in the Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn tradition.  He enjoys all the shenanigans a growing boy can pull.  But as Christmas approaches, Bill and the other little boys know they had better clean up their act.  As they do, even their pets seem to notice the difference.

Christmas and all its goodies are reserved for well-behaved boys, avers the poem’s author, in a verse that is quaint, and unlikely true in today’s world.

My mother enjoyed hearing my sister and I perform the poem at our family Christmas celebration late into her life.  I’ll cut this one short to make room for the poem.

Jest ‘fore Christmas
By Eugene Field

Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain’t a girl, druther be a boy,
Without them sashes, curls, and things that’s worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chomp green apples and go swimmin’ in the lake.
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!
‘Most all the time, the whole year round, there ain’t no flies on me,
But jest ‘fore Christmas I’m as good as I kin be!

Got a yeller dog named Sport, sic him on the cat.
First thing she knows she don’t know where she’s at!
Got a clipper sled, and when us kids goes out to slide,
‘Long comes the grocery cart, an’ we all hook a ride!
But sometimes when the grocery man is worried an’ cross,
He reaches at us with his whip, an’ larrups up his hoss,
An’ then I laff an’ holler, “Oh, ye never teched me!”
But jest ‘fore Christmas I’m as good as I kin be!

Gran’ma says she hopes that when I git to be a man,
I’ll be a missionary like her oldest brother, Dan,
T’was et up by the cannibals that live on Ceylon’s Isle,
Where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile!
But gran’ma she has never been to see a Wild West show,
Nor read the life of Daniel Boone, or else I guess she’d know
That Buff’lo Bill an’ cowboys is good enough for me!
Excep’ jest ‘fore Christmas, when I’m as good as I kin be!

And then old Sport he hangs around, so solemn-like an’ still,
His eyes they seem a-sayin’: “What’s the matter, little Bill?”
The old cat sneaks down off her perch an’ wonders what’s become
Of them two enemies of hern that used to make things hum!
But I am so perlite an’ tend so earnestly to biz,
That mother says to father: “How improved our Willie is!”
But father, havin’ been a boy hisself, suspicions me
When, jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!

For Christmas, with its lots an’ lots of candies, cakes an’ toys,
Was made, they say, for proper kids an’ not for naughty boys;
So wash yer face an’ bresh yer hair, an’ mind yer p’s and q’s,
And don’t bust out yer pantaloons, and don’t wear out yer shoes;
Say “Yessum” to the ladies, and “Yessur” to the men,
An’ when they’s company, don’t pass yer plate for pie again;
But, thinkin’ of the things you’d like to see upon that tree,
Jest ‘fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!

Copyright 2021, Jim “Pappy” Moore. All rights reserved.

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