**This piece was submitted as part of our Community Contributor series.
By Erinn Williams / OC Monitor Community Contributor
A shiny silver Christmas tree stood guard in Ms. Grace Bennett’s classroom at Poplar Creek Elementary School. My mother who grew up modest, found solace basking in the glow of its luminous branches.
The youngest of nine, and the daughter of a janitor and a school cook, the holidays were far from lavish. I’ve heard her say many times despite not having luxuries most take for granted, there was never a time she didn’t feel loved or most importantly, happy.
Nestled near the Whitley and Bell county line, Poplar Creek, Kentucky, is a dot on the map. A close-knit community, it harbors tiny mom and pop roadside stores. You can grab a fresh deli sandwich and have it “run through the garden” if you’d like. Old timers swap knives, trade coon dogs, and church bells still ring loudly on Sunday mornings. If time could indeed stand still, I’m convinced perhaps it has a time or two along Highway 92 East.
A tiny cinder block house adjacent from Poplar Creek School is where my mother grew up so to speak. One advantage of being next door to an elementary school was the benefit of swings and a “merry go round.” Growing up within the boundaries of that small country school, life was simple.
It was the love of two of my mother’s teachers, within that tiny school that made some of her holidays the most memorable. Small gestures, like that shiny silver tinsel tree, left a profound impact.
Ms. Bennett, my mother’s second grade teacher, was also known to award the occasion 25 cents for an ice cream, since my mother was “such a good student.” Her kindness, which extended past the classroom, oozed love and graciousness. That kindness was present in the months well past December, a testament to her warm heart.
The cotton snow that lay underneath the lighted Christmas village in Mrs. Ruth Siler’s classroom was equally as magical per my mother’s memory. Each morning she would leave the lights off, so her students could enjoy the lighted decorations. My mother is adamant this was the most beautiful sight of all.
Mrs. Siler didn’t wear an adorned red suit, but she herself would in part aid Santa one Christmas. When a classmate moved away just before the classroom holiday party, Mrs. Siler made sure my mother’s sister received her gift despite the fact. She received not 1 but 4 gifts that Christmas. Santa would visit the little cinder block house behind Poplar Creek School, but often just to bring apples, oranges, and candy. This gesture was a huge blessing and remembered yet today.
Perhaps amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays we could all make a little more time for one other. Maybe we could transcend the present and take a rest in the past.
What I would give to merely peek inside those old school windows, and see the glow of silver tinsel, as it shines off cotton snow.
Merry Christmas from Poplar Creek, may you find it in yourself to bring joy this holiday season as Grace Bennett and Ruth Siler did all those years ago.
Erinn Williams hails from Whitley County in the heart of Southeastern Kentucky, and now resides in Owensboro with her husband, Seth. She is an Elementary Education major, working this fall in the Daviess County Public Schools as a preschool educator. Erinn is actively involved as a volunteer for the Bill Monroe Foundation at the Bill Monroe Homeplace in Rosine and recently served as the Kids Zone Coordinator for ROMP in Owensboro. Bluegrass runs deep within her roots, as she comes from a long line of musicians, and is an aspiring mandolin player. She is active in her church and in the recovery community. Erinn loves the outdoors, traveling with her husband, cooking, and appreciates a fresh glass of lemonade. She has a passion for writing, spreading hope through her faith, and being with family and friends.