Published: December 03. 2012 2:57PM
Written by Ann Hicks
He was only 19 when he, and his Band of Brothers of Easy Company, fought at the Siege of Bastogne. Boots on the ground, Kermit Edney learned what war was like. This is when he solidified his peacetime passion: to celebrate Christmas to excess; to raise the roof with music, film, ringing bells, music boxes, all-night card games and lots of great food
On a sun-dappled Sunday morning, still warm enough to swim in the backyard pool and months before most of us started thinking about the holiday season, we walked into Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” at the home of Katina “Tina” Hampton, director of administration for the Junior League of Greenville and daughter of that long-ago soldier.
As for the Christmas on steroids, it all got started in the foxhole on Christmas Eve, where Edney fashioned a Christmas tree from a broken branch and decorated it with K-ration lids. Not too long after that, his company came under horrific bombardment during which Edney made a bargain with God. If he was allowed to return home safely, he’d celebrate Christmas — every Christmas — like there was no tomorrow.
The promise kept
The vivacious Hampton, whose North Carolina family history dates to the origins of this nation, can hold you spellbound as she recounts the life lessons learned from her late father. He was a member of the Greatest Generation and a child of the Great Depression.
“He knew starvation as the youngest of seven children,” she says.
He liked to reminisce about his childhood Christmases as those special times when, instead of a chicken neck, he would get a real piece of meat. There would be enough wood to burn all day, and in addition to a half piece of chewing gum, he and his siblings would find a whole orange or a whole apple in their Christmas stockings. The gift of an orange in a stocking toe has become a family tradition, Hampton says.
True to his promise and his form, her father, she says, “made Christmas over-the-top to the point of obsession that made my mother crazy.”
He’d crank up the many music boxes he had all over the house to join the bells in Christmas polyphony even as strategically placed small bubble machines shaped like little Christmas elephants blew bubbles into the room through their trunks from the Christmas tree where they hung. There were also lots of frogs throughout the home in the Christmas mix; most of them held microphones to signify that Edney, Hendersonville, N.C.’s beloved radio guy, shared his first name with the famed Muppet.
“The other radio announcer named Kermit,” his daughter says with a wink.
Edney became highly successful in the broadcasting business when AM radio was king. With his booming, three-pack cigarette voice, he ruled the morning spot from 1947 – 1991 at WHKP in Hendersonville, which he eventually owned.
In Edney land, Christmas lasted two full days that began at the crack of dawn on Christmas Eve day as the family joined him for a Christmas broadcast. Hampton recalls how, as a 4-year old, she sat at her father’s feet to ring a bell relentlessly while all in unison wished the listeners a merry Christmas. To this day, taped for posterity and ruled by tradition, Edney’s cheerful Christmas greetings are still heard on WHKP through the Henderson County listening area’s holiday season.
Other traditions such as the all-night hearts and blackjack games continue to rage among the extended family gathering where it’s important to get your name on the board as that year’s champion.
Christmas 1977 went up in flames as the family was fully engaged in a furious game of hearts. The home burned to the ground and luckily no one was hurt. Edney, true to form, made Christmas 1978 even bigger and more unbelievable with all new gadgetry.
Edney, who passed away in 2010, lived to see himself named “Mr. Christmas” in a local news article which his daughter says delighted the man who named his beloved Hendersonville “The City of Four Seasons” and began decades earlier its successful Apple Festival.
On his deathbed, Edney asked his daughter not to ever forget the promise he made to God.
True to his wishes, she has taken up her father’s obsession full throttle: The first blast of decorating arrives with Labor Day.
And to make sure that all’s well in his Christmas-dom, the copy of Edney’s bronze commemorative bust — he was inducted to the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame — looks over the activities at Hampton’s “presidential” dining room. It is where angels of all sizes stand front and rear guard as Hampton recalls which Junior League president gave her which angel to grow her Christmas collection.
While initially the task seemed daunting, soon Hampton began to love it. Now she laughs and says, “It’s my life, as it was my father’s.”
Then she fondly glances at the leg-lamp that will soon light up the front window of her house — and the faces of all those who visit during the holiday season.