Just spend five minutes with sisters Lynn Carver, Nancy Eason and Patricia Rushing and you’ll find that these women have a special bond as sisters and as friends.
Carver was widowed twice by the age of 47, and she has been married to her current husband, Danny, for five years. The couple has recently built a home in Register, which means all three sisters live close to each other. Carver has two children: Laura and Seth. She and Rushing take care of two elderly ladies, and she works at her sister-in-law’s gift show in Register part-time as well.
Rushing has been married to her husband, Jim, a retired farmer, for 50 years. The couple has two children, Amy and Jamie, and four grandchildren. She retired from selling insurance, and says she loves crafting and baking. In their family, she’s known for her pound cake. Rushing also likes to sew, and is the head of the kitchen staff at her church, Trinity Baptist in Nevils. All three sisters attend the church.
Eason and her husband, Joe, have been married for almost 52 years, and he has pastored Trinity Baptist for 47 years. The couple has two children, Liz and Joseph, and lost another daughter, Mollye. They have two grandchildren; one is attending Georgia Southern and another recently graduated. She works part-time at the church, and feeds her grandchildren and some other family members every Sunday after church, something she enjoys and looks forward to each week.
The trio leads their extended family each year during the holidays, with Eason hosting the entire tribe at her home. The family, all three admit, loves to gather and will seek any excuse to do so. They get together at Easter at Rushing’s home, and at Thanksgiving at Carver’s.
But Christmas is when the love of their family truly shines. The family has been gathering on Christmas Day for more than 40 years. The tradition, they say, is important to their family. It’s been a tradition for so long, it’s just woven into the fabric of their family tapestry.
The sisters, along with their two brothers Alfred and James, grew up in Register, and they say they didn’t grow up with a lot. This has made them so grateful for what they have, and happy for each other.
“We’re not jealous of anything,” Carver said. “The kids and cousins all get along and there’s no jealousy. I don’t know, we just love each other.”
“Our family is just amazing,” Rushing said. “There’s never been a fight; never. We have never fought over anything. I love my sisters very much, and we’re very close. Nothing like it to have a family like we have. We depend on each other.”
The siblings grew up gathering with family at their Grandma Jones’ house, and this has set the standard for their current family gatherings.
For the Christmas meal, Eason takes charge, directing what everyone brings. But there are some items that are “musts” — in addition to Rushing’s pound cake, Eason just has to make sweet potato soufflé and creamed corn, and Carver has to make macaroni and cheese. Joe also has to make his mustard greens, and Eason makes the turkey and dressing. There are also green beans, broccoli salad, ham and so much more.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, there are cakes and pies, divinity, fudge and cookies.
But the food isn’t the only thing that makes the holiday bright for this family. Eason decorates her home with several trees, and displays her nutcracker collection. She also plans games for the family to participate in, something they all look forward to. There’s a Christmas scavenger hunt, they make gingerbread houses, play corn hole, and other games. They also have a tradition of a Christmas sock exchange.
There are about 30 to 40 family members that come each year, and additional friends drop by as well.
The sisters say they hope that their own children will carry on the tradition of gathering during the holidays.
“We’ve talked about who would take it up after we’re gone,” Rushing said. “I don’t know if they’ll continue trying to get everybody together.” The ladies feel that although their children might want to carry on the tradition, the fact that they don’t live close to one another will certainly impact that.
“I hope my children and their children will be close so that when they get married and have children, they’ll carry on the tradition, or something like it,” Rushing added.
“Like how we’ve done it, hopefully they’ll do it with their families,” Carver said.
Faith is an important part of the sisters’ lives, and they all serve in their community and in their church. This is part of what motivates them make gathering their family such a priority.
“We’re all givers. We want people to cherish their families, and not to fuss and get along; not to be jealous. That’s what we’ve tried to pass on to our children. Give and then receive. We want people to know that it’s wonderful to get along with your family,” Carver said.
The Next Generation
Amy Swindell, Rushing’s daughter, says that the bond her mother and aunts have is unique and “not very often seen in our society today.”
“I do believe that my life has been influenced greatly by these ladies, which goes beyond just the Christmas traditions,” she said.
Like her mother and her aunts, Swindell feels that gathering together at Christmas is important. It’s a chance to get together and catch up, but it is so much more.
“It is really difficult to put into words, because it is really more of a feeling,” she said. “A feeling of complete acceptance and unconditional love, just as Jesus loves each of us. It is also important to me that my children experience this love as well. Time and time again, my boys have seen the importance of family and a family that shares the love of Christ.”
Swindell says that Christmas Day at Eason’s home is filled with great food, delicious smells and beautiful decorations. But the house is also filled with “big hugs and catching up with all of our relatives,” she said.
One of the highlights of the day for her is the games, and her favorite is the scavenger hunt. But just sitting back and watching the family is special as well.
“The best part of my day is sitting back and watching my boys and my family truly enjoying being together as a family,” she said. “I often think about my grandparents watching from heaven and how pleased that they would be to see their family so close and happy.”
Swindell believes that when the time comes for the cousins to take over, they will.
“Family is important to each of us because we have been blessed with great examples. We have instilled in our children the importance of family and they not only heard the message, but saw it,” she said.
Laura Jenkins, Carver’s daughter, agrees that spending time together as a family has been the best part of her childhood.
“As a child, I couldn’t wait to see all my cousins so we could show each other our Christmas gifts from Santa. To me, the best part of Christmas is realizing that the Christmas magic was never something bought from a store, but the time spent together. I am glad now that my child will be able to experience the joy of getting together with all these people that love him,” she said.
Jenkins also talked about the great food, and how everyone has a favorite dish. She loves that the uncles and older men of the family often wind up in food comas after lunch, and become a “chorus of snoring.”
The best part of gathering together, Jenkins said, is the feeling of being surrounded by “everyone you love and seeing the joy on the faces of others.”
“When my mom and aunts get together and everyone is tired at the end of the busy day, something always gets them tickled and they can’t stop laughing. The first time my husband saw this he thought something was wrong with all of us. I love that moment when they get in these laughing episodes,” she said.
Jenkins says she also hopes that the family will be able to continue the tradition of gathering during the holidays as long as possible.
“My cousins and I are now all grown adults and many of them have their own responsibilities or families and they can’t always make it to the celebration. This will be my third Christmas as a parent and it’s been so eye opening to realize all the effort that goes into hosting a family event such as Christmas. They’ve left some big shoes for my generation to fill,” she said.
Seth Brant, Jenkins’ brother, says he believes their mom and aunts represent everything that Christmas represents and symbolizes.
“Aunt Nancy has always done an amazing job at bringing the family together. From creating entertaining games, telling funny stories, and whipping up some amazing cooking, everyone always looks forward to getting together at her house for Christmas and growing as a family. My Aunt Patricia is famous to all of us for her loving smile and amazing baking,” he said, pointing out her pound cake in particular. “There is truly something special in the way she cooks it.”
He added that his own mother has taught him the importance of loving others and how giving is always better than receiving.
“She has always put her family and others before herself, and has always enjoyed doing so. Because of this, I believe she is a perfect representation of what Christmas stands for,” he said.
Eason’s daughter, Liz Bauman, lived in Memphis for a decade, so she says that the Christmas gathering was extra special to her, as it was the one day that she and her family were back together with the whole clan.
“I got my laugh and love tank full on that day,” she said.
Since the gathering happens at her parents’ home, Bauman and her family arrive on Christmas Eve, and they get to enjoy breakfast together and open presents together as a family. By noon the rest of the family begins to arrive, and the feasting begins. As the day winds down, she says her dad roasts oysters, and they gather around a bonfire outside, shucking oysters to complete their perfect Christmas Day.
Bauman says she thinks the day is that much more special because of her mother’s decorating.
“She decorates her house for every season. She truly makes her house a home with all the details she puts into making it beautiful,” she said. “Every room sparkles with lights, red and green, Santas, manger scenes, angels…everything that gently speaks comfort and joy.”
Bauman adds that there is one decoration that is especially significant for her family: Mollye’s tree. The tree is covered with special ornaments that family and friends have gifted them to remember her sister who passed away.
“When you walk into my parents’ home, no matter who you are, no matter what day, you feel like you have come home,” she said.
Bauman says that she has learned to not take any of their gatherings for granted.
“I’m sure at some point I will be the matriarch to my immediate family. I will assume the role with my children and grandchildren that my Mama now holds. Knowing that makes me cherish these times even more,” she said.
Her brother Joseph says it just wouldn’t be Christmas without their family gathering.
“This year’s Christmas gathering will be held at my parents’ new home, which they have built on family land. I look forward to continuing the tradition and making new memories there,” he said.
Gratitude For The Greatest Gift Received
All five of the sisters’ children who spoke about the family gathering agreed that saying thank you just isn’t enough — but it’s a great place to start.
“Thank you for always sharing your love for family with us,” said Swindell to her mom and aunts. “It is your example that has strengthened our family.”
“Thank you for the priceless memories and for putting the magic in Christmas for all these years, and for years to come,” added Jenkins. “You all have been the best role models and I hope one day to pass down all that you have taught me.”
Bauman thanks them for making family a priority.
“I have been brought up to know that just after love for Jesus, is love for family. Our family is very unusual in the love and joy we share for and with each other. I am so proud to be a member of this amazing tribe,” she said.
Joseph Eason said he so appreciates the effort that his aunts and mother put into providing their family with the opportunity to gather together, and “I thank them for that.”
“My mother and her two sisters, by honoring our family tradition without fail, have made our family into what it is today,” Brant said. “They collectively represent the fundamental reasons why we celebrate Christmas.”