Gathering mistletoe in December

Oklahoma floral image mistletoe

In the 1940s and 1950s, I grew up in central Texas, playing and working about the counties of Brown, Mills, San Saba and Lampasas.

Although born in Brown County, my family spend a great deal of time visiting relatives during the holidays in San Saba and Lampasas Counties.  The Colorado River and San Saba River formed the backdrop of my childhood and early teen years.  During December, I often stayed a week or two with my grandmother who lived first in Bend, Texas, and then Lometa, a few miles away from Bend where she worked as a telephone switchboard operator for the communities.  The switchboard was in her living room.  Her name was Effie Morris Parks and she taught me much about living off the land, or at least using nature’s products from the original source, not a supermarket.

Grandmother Effie, as I called her, steered me in the month of December to harvest and collect two things:  mistletoe and cedar.  Cedar is still harvested, but the gathering of mistletoe with its poisonous berries to frock the door portal seems to have vanished from holiday culture.

She had a green Chevrolet pickup.  We would drive the pickup down dirt county roads and pull up next to a tree, usually mesquite, that would have clumps of deep green mistletoe with white berries.  We would knock down the mistletoe with long bamboo poles that we also used to gather pecans in the Fall.  Either that or I would climb up the tree and break off the fungus.  Then we would gather the mistletoe and place it in the bed of the pickup until the pile topped the rails.  We had to be careful to preserve the white berries because that improved the price we would receive.  We drove to San Saba or Lometa and would sell the mistletoe at the mohair and wool congregating store.  We would make upwards of twenty dollars and during the rest of the season, I often thought I saw what we had collected in small, cellophane packages sold in grocery stores in Brownwood.  I doubt that was the case, but I felt rather pleased that I had helped make holidays brighter for someone.

I chopped cedar only once or twice as a boy and it was grueling work, but during December the weather was cold and going into the cedar breaks to cut wood did not seem as brutal as it was chopping cedar in the summer.  Grandmother’s friends would take my cuttings — not very much, I’m afraid — and I would have a few dollars to spend during the holidays.  The cedar choppers I worked around were all muscled and strong and I envied their chopping expertise.  I learned how to cut staves versus good thick fence poles.

My grandmother Effie also gathered water cress, pecans, killed and plucked her own chickens, and during the late summer we would take the green Chevrolet and collect wild Mustang grapes that she would turn into jelly to consume on our breakfast table and give to friends.  The tartness of the Mustang grape is like no other.

But it is the memory of harvesting and gathering of mistletoe and cedar with Grandmother that stays with me today during the holiday stretch.  I scraped my arms and got stuck by mesquite thorns.  Despite it all, I grew up knowing nature intimately during the cold of December with my grandmother as teacher.


Filed under Bend Texas, Cedar, Christmas, Juniper, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas

17 responses to “Gathering mistletoe in December

  1. Kittie Howard

    I took a Thanksgiving break and am getting caught up. And what a great post this was to introduce the Christmas season. So many memories! My grandfather had a green Ford (that deep forest green, probably like your Grandmother Effie’s truck). We’d go deep into the back pastures, near that stand of forest I blogged about for those Mustang grapes. Oy, but they could make the mouth pucker (but delicious after one got the taste down). Ma made jelly we kids devoured. The farm had mistletoe but Pa burned it after scraping it down (with the same stick you guys had!) We kids weren’t allowed near that stuff…didn’t know why until years later. (When parents said Just Because that was that.)

    Your Grandmother Effie was a powerful woman, very sure of herself, very creative, very caring. And, as a compliment to you, Jack, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!

    I bet that mistletoe in those little packages was yours, Jack. What a heartwarming story.

    • Hi Kittie: Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and to include your memories that resonate. I thought you had taken a break around Thanksgiving. A blog can be demanding in a way. I remember your blog about the Mustang grapes and I knew what you were talking about. Yes, when parents said stay away, we did, didn’t we? I like to think that a lot of my kindness and teasing qualities come from Effie. Certainly the adaptation to the outdoors came from her and others in my family. I have much more to write about her. I hope your holidays are going well. Take care and I’ll see about The Block soon. Thank you, Kittie.

  2. Thank you for this luminous depiction of one of the many vanishing old ways. Bless their stoic old souls…maybe self-preservation takes many forms, the mind seeking a safety net to protect it from a hard life. Grandmother Effie did what needed to get done, and I’ll venture she did it without a whimper.

    I deeply regret not researching the histories of my grandparents and parents while they were alive. Now there is no one left to ask the questions that haunt me. I hope your extended family realizes how invaluable your chronicles are, as the true recording of history by a real witness could not be more precious.

    • Hello, Debra: Thank you for your kind words. Yes, they were stoic and self-preserving some old ways of cobbling together pennies. I’m sorry you weren’t able to ask all the questions. Do you have letters? And, speaking of chronicling, you are doing the same with Find An Outlet plus some really insightful arrows at targets that need a bull’s eye. I appreciate your e-mails and hope all is well with you so far these holidays. I am curious how your free lance work is coming.

  3. cottonwoodcenterforthearts

    Nice, Jack. Thanks for sharing the memories. You’ll see me as cottonwoodcenterforthearts now and then if I’m logged in there. They’ve hired me a few hours a week to work the web for them. Karen Rivera

    • Hi Karen: I’ll be looking for you via cottonwoodcenterforthearts. Your creativity knows no bounds: photo, writing, cooking, web management. I so much enjoy your recipes. Do send a bit of cold weather and moisture our way, would you? We’re drying up down here in central Texas.

  4. Jack, I didn’t have the kind of grandmother that wandered with me, but we did enough on our own, I suppose. Still, that kind of relationship is to be treasured, as you do, and the stories you’re sharing of this very fine woman are a testament to your own life.

    I think I need to get a pickup truck in the spring.

    Hope you’re having a good week,

  5. Elaine F Lee

    Seasons Greetings, Jack.

    I loved the snowflakes drifting down the page. I wish we could see a few, preceded by a nice big rain… Oh well.

    We always had mistletoe at Christmastime, but never gathered it to the extent you did. I guess since we didn’t have a wool and mohair gathering area, no one that I know ever sold it to make money. Had my Mom thought that was a possibility, we certainly would have done it, however! She always managed to find some cotton in the fall that we could pick to earn Christmas money. At the rate we picked and were paid, the Christmas gifts my sisters and I could afford were very small and 99% of them were lovingly purchased at Thompson’s Variety Store on Market Street in Baird. My grandmother would take us with her when she went to town on Saturdays and sold eggs. Poor grandma, and poor Mr. and Mrs. Thompson for putting up with three little girls with fistfuls of money and grandiose ideas for Christmas gifts.

    The mesquites in front of my house have little bits of mistletoe in them, and it is low to the ground, as I am. Guess what I am going to do this weekend? Let the decorating begin!

    • Hi, Elaine!

      Picking cotton for money. I’ve not heard of that in a long time. Gathering things as you did for money made us see the connections of labor, harvest and spending. And, we seem to do a lot of that at Christmas. Three little girls. Have I met your sisters? Where are they?

      Wish I could see you. Not going to Cisco campus that much anymore. Maybe I’ll drop by for a courtesy call. Thank you so much for adding stories to my blog. By the way, I have a picture to show you of a wedding we attended…in Cleburne, just after the election. Maybe you heard about who attended the wedding from Washington?

  6. Saw your twitter and hope you are feeling better this evening and all went well with your M.D. visit.
    Best thoughts, T

    • Teresa: Thanks for comment. Am in bed, resting. Thought I would at least get out a brief reply and tweet. I think a good rain or snow would wash a lot of these problems away. Just feel bad, but will be back soon. Seasons of joy to you, Jack.

  7. Such wonderful memories Jack! I had no idea mistletoe was native to your part of the world, in fact, I never really thought about it at all. My grandmother taught me a lot about gathering as well. We picked wild onions in the summer for her homemade relish. We harvested wild berries for preserves, and dandelion greens for salads (in the spring). But most of all I remember her appreciation for all things wild and reverence that she showed when utilizing nature’s bounties. Stays with me to this day.

    • Hi Bill. I’ve been under the weather so I haven’t replied to comments. Yes, we’ve got more mistletoe than we really need. I’ll send you some. We have had remarkable grandmothers, haven’t we?

  8. Wendy

    I remember you telling this story as a little girl. Reading it is so much better!
    Love you Dad!

    • Hi Wendy! I am so happy you take some time off your busy schedule to look at this post. I have also driven you down these very same roads that I wrote about. The next time we drive, let’s take Anna Belle and Olivia. Love, Dad

  9. Pingback: River lights contentment | Sage to Meadow

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