When you work on a project, you never know where it will take you and what will happen afterward.
“A Christmas miracle is what we call this,” Cora Lou Robinson, along with Schelley Francis, said.
The project of writing a Christmas memories book had been on Francis’ mind for years, especially since she began her job as director of the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in 2007.
“One of my favorite Christmas traditions that I have been doing for several years now is to read the book Christmas Gift by author Ferrol Sams,” Francis said. “This book takes me back in time and always makes me cry for the past. It has become my special gift, for those like-minded people that love the way things once were.”
Robinson is a folk artist who grew up in Minden. Her artwork graces the cover of the new book. A few years ago, her idea to write down her memories for her children and grandchildren gave birth to the idea to do a collection of stories from people in Webster Parish.
“This project began in February 2014, but the memories began the day I was old enough to remember what Christmas was all about,” Francis said. “That feeling is shared by many. We grew up in a time of feeling safe, of being sheltered from the harshness of the world outside our small town; we knew our neighbors and we cared about them.”
As the stories began to come in, Robinson and Francis realized that some were not typical feel good stories. In fact many were about the harsh realities of life and how in a moment the smallest things can transform life forever.
“This is just an excerpt of Cora Lou Robinson’s story that she told that night at the October museum event to more than 100 people and quotes from her about what has happened since the night she told this story in October 2014,” Francis said.
The following is an excerpt from Robinson’s story that is in the Memories of Christmas Past book available at the Dorcheat Museum:
And then there was Bobby. Bobby sat behind me in the second grade. I don’t remember his last name, but I will never forget him. I think of him throughout the year but I especially think of him at Christmas. I remember stabbing him in the hand with a pencil one day but he never told on me. He just kept holding on to his hand and I’m sure it was very painful. He talked a lot and would tell me stories of what he and his cousins would do.
At Christmas time in grammar school (that’s what elementary school was called back in those days) we all drew names and would bring a gift to our school party for the person whose name we drew. Now each person was supposed to receive one gift, but there were a few girls in our class who got piles of gifts given by lots of children in class. Our teacher stood at the front of the room and went on and on about how many gifts those girls received. You can imagine how the rest of us felt. I don’t remember what I got, but Bobby got a little wooden truck that he kept rolling back and forth across his desk. I guess he must have sensed that I was somewhat upset over only getting one gift because he said, “You don’t need a lot of presents to be happy. This little truck is all I need. Don’t you see what a good time I’m having with one simple little truck?” Those were his exact words and I won’t ever forget them.
One morning that spring I came to school and I was told that Bobby had wandered into a pond close to where he lived and drowned. He and some of his cousins slipped off and were going swimming, but Bobby did not know how to swim.
Now Bobby at seven or eight years old knew more than many, many adults about the important things in life and what you need to be happy. What you need are the simple things. As I’ve often said – God and Country – Family and Friends.
That of course brings us to the real meaning of Christmas. We must never forget the fact that we celebrate Christmas because of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The decorations, gifts, all the get togethers and fabulous food are wonderful and they all make for great memories, but the greatest memory of all is a baby born in a simple manger. He grew up and led a very simple life.
To borrow a paragraph from a paper read by Schuyler Marvin at a fifth grade graduation several years ago…. “Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure for most of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon earth as powerfully as this One Solitary Life.”
So you see Bobby was right…. The simple things are what’s important. The greatest gifts you can give come from within you. Love….Hope….and Kindness.
With a few key dates in hand Francis began searching the Internet death records for Webster Parish.
The day after Robinson’s talk she found the only Bobby that fit the dates and age requirements matching up with the story.
“I called Cora Lou with the news that I found out who Bobby was and where he was buried,” Francis said. “By the next day museum board member Ann Harlan was able to contact a friend that she felt sure was related to this little boy and sure enough this woman was Bobby’s younger aunt. So all the years of not remembering Bobby’s last name and where he was buried were finally put to rest.”
A few days later Francis asked Robinson if she would like to take a wreath out to Bobby’s grave for Christmas. She searched for the perfect wood truck to attach to the wreath.
“We wanted something similar to what Bobby may have received on his last school Christmas gift exchange in 1943,” Francis said. “We wanted it to be special for a special little boy that made such a huge impact with such simple words so long ago.”
The original plan for the visit to the cemetery was to be just a simple wreath placement for Robinson and Francis a few weeks before Christmas. Others soon heard about the plan and Ann Harlan contacted (Bobby’s aunt) Janell Boyce Dickinson and she wanted to be included in the plan to meet at the cemetery. The plans were expanded to include some of Bobby’s Aunt Janell’s life-long friends. So on a sunny but cold and windy December afternoon, a group of friends stood in front a little boy’s grave. For 71 years the unselfish, wise words of a 9 year old little boy had made a huge impact in one of their lives.
“The fact that Bobby’s words never left Cora Lou’s mind is amazing,” Francis said. “The fact that Cora Lou went on to be the person she is today, I believe is a part of Bobby’s legacy to Minden and the world. Cora Lou Robinson has blessed so many people with her simple acts of kindness, sweet spirit, art, and her teaching of children. I feel that was her way of saying, ‘Bobby, I heard what you said to me that day.’”