CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Christmas this year, we reached out to some West Virginians of local and international renown and asked them for their favorite Christmas memories from West Virginia. Here are their answers, in their own words:
Kathy Mattea (country star)
In my early Nashville years, I was hired as a waitress in one of the few trendy restaurants in town. It was good money and allowed me the flexibility to pursue music.
But when Christmas rolled around that year, I was the new kid on the schedule. I could get Christmas Day off, but was going to have work Christmas Eve.
There had been long-running gathering on Christmas Eve of my Mom's side of the family. Every year on the 24th, my entire family -- Grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins (first, second and third) -- would gather at our house and eat copious amounts of food and, of course, open presents! It was my favorite tradition of the year, the thread running back as far as I could remember, stitching together the years of my life.
My mom would bake a ham, and they'd turn the washer and dryer in the kitchen into a makeshift bar. Dad would put our cars in the backyard, and as folks arrived, start lining them up on the grass anywhere they could fit.
As a kid, this was absolutely the most exciting thing -- watching Dad drive everyone's car into the yard! It was like all the rules got broken for that one big celebration.
So, for the first time I wouldn't be attending. I was beyond sad. I called home and broke the news.
But then the day before Christmas Eve, a friend (bless you, Chris Burgess, wherever you are) said he would take my shift. I was ecstatic.
The next morning, I called my sister-in-law and told her I was coming. It was a seven-hour drive, and I drove a '62 Ford Galaxy. A long trip was always iffy.
I pulled up our street just as the party was getting into high gear. There was about an inch of snow on the ground, and the Christmas lights were on. The house was full of people. You could see their silhouettes through the living room window.
I walked in the back door and casually asked my mom for something to drink. She whirled around and nearly started crying. Mom just kept looking at me and saying over and over, "Well, Kathy! Well, Kathy!"
I got a huge hug from the folks in the kitchen that almost crushed me.
Dad was holding court in the basement, sitting on bench under a deer head. He'd recently broken his ankle and wasn't supposed to put any weight on it. When he saw my face, Uncle Pappy had to hold him down to keep him from running across the room.
It is, to this day, my best Christmas memory. My folks are gone now, and we sold the house a few years back, but the history of that place, that safe place where everyone I know and love anchored me to the world in such a beautiful way, lives with me always.