'Ma Jones' looks back at 97 years of Christmas
by DENISE SINCLAIR
ALPINE — She sits in her reclining chair patiently listening to make sure she hears the question about Christmas when she was a child compared to today when she is 97 years old.

She doesn’t hear as well as she once did.

As she remembers to the best of her ability those early years as a child and young adult, she acknowledges there is no way to compare the holiday then and now.

Things have changed tremendously through the years as Christmas has come and gone for Arella Olivia Jones. To those in the community and her family, she is known as “Ma Jones.”

She is a firm believer in her Bible, God, family and friends. She never meets a stranger and unless she is sick, she never misses church.

Jones was born in her family’s home on the Coosa River along with her twin sister, the late Ophelia Willie Fields. They were among the eight children of Virginia Arella Vick and William Jasper Fields.

The two were 4 years old when their mother was standing by the fireplace, was struck by lightning and killed.

The family, which consisted of the twins and six other siblings were separated, living with other family members since their father was unable to work and take care of them.

“Ma Jones” remembers how much simpler life and Christmas was in those days.

Families didn’t have the money to spend on toys and technological gadgets children receive today.

“Christmas was nothing like it is today. We were just lucky to get an apple or orange. It was a simple Christmas. No big things like there are today. We raised our own food, from sweet potatoes for pies to corn, cows and chickens. We always had sweet potato pie at Christmas,” Jones said.

When it came to attending church at Christmas back then, Jones said the churches were miles away and most times families were unable to go.

Instead, the nearest families usually gathered on Sundays or holidays to spend the day and experience just being with each other.

“The churches were miles and miles apart. We would go once and a while,” she said.

Not so in the years since then. If “Ma Jones” isn’t at her church on Sunday, the congregation wonders why.

Jones and her late husband, Emery Jones, were the first members of Papertown Baptist Church. The church was built between 1949 and 1950. She has been attending for more than 60 years. The first pastor was Wilburn Frost. Today’s pastor is Jones’ grandson, the Rev. Michael Frost.

When asked about the two things she enjoys most, Jones will tell you church and family.

She was the mother of eight children but has only one child left to celebrate Christmas with, James Jones of Clay County. Her son recently turned 83. She would have been married 83 years in November if her husband was still with her.

Jones said she truly enjoys spending Christmas celebrating God’s life in church.

Jones believes people don’t appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. “You should appreciate Christmas for what it is, the birth of Christ,” she said.

“Appreciate the present,” she said.

Jones’ favorite Bible verse is Psalms 100.

The one gift she seems to have the most of are angels. She has many throughout the home she shares with her granddaughter, Cathy Patterson.

Looking around her home, one could almost hear the angel say, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.”

With Christmas here, Jones gives thanks for her family, which includes 14 grandchildren, dozens of great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Contact Denise Sinclair at dsinclair@dailyhome.com.

© 2012