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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Great Memories of Christmas Past in Mentryville | 12-23-2012
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| Sunday, Dec 23, 2012
Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
Darryl Manzer

Darryl Manzer

Christmas is almost upon us and I’m loving the music, decorations and good spirits all around. Yes, this is a Merry Christmas. Memories abound.

The first few years we lived in Pico Cottage in Mentryville, the lights on the Christmas tree were a big issue. You see, we had to have the generator on to have the lights, and that meant noise. Not a joyful noise. So we often just had a decorated tree bathed in the gaslights glow.

There was some garland on the stair railing and some special decorations on the mantle in the dining room. Candles and such. We would sing carols around the piano with my dad on guitar. (If he played his banjo, my mother would walk out of the house until he stopped.)

Our family tradition was to open gifts on Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s home in Sylmar.  So after chores were completed and the stock was fed, we would load up and drive down Highway 99 to her house.

The writer's parents, Pat and Alton Manzer.

The writer’s parents, Pat and Alton Manzer.

Before we had oyster stew that my grandmother insisted we eat, we would drive to see the lights in various neighborhoods. I was always amazed by those lights. In Pico Canyon we didn’t have enough generating power to light all of the lights on one house. I’ve always wondered what Pico Cottage would look like all decorated like those homes we saw.

In downtown Newhall there were decorations across San Fernando Road and the light poles. All of the stores had the windows painted in holiday scenes. There were also a few places where an adult beverage was offered to folks coming into the store.

Shopping? We didn’t always have to drive to that valley just south of the SCV.  Just to list a few from 1967: Dean’s Hobbland, Newhall Shoe Store, Country Girl Fashions, Newhall Jewelers, Baxter’s Knitting Nook, Newhall Auto Parts, Newhall Hardware, Cassell’s Television and Appliances, Losier’s Men’s Store and Mode O’Day.  Yep, you could buy just about anything right here in the SCV, in downtown Newhall.

There was no mall. It was still a carrot field. Or maybe onions, or hay or who knows. I do know we had roast duck one holiday season. Hunted them on a pond located just about where Santa Clarita City Hall sits today.

At William S. Hart Junior and Senior High School, the choir got to sing all of the Christmas songs – even those that had religious themes. Now we have to think Christmas came from some guy named Santa Claus, or some store in some mall in some city.  “Silent Night” is a beautiful song. We have to ban it from schools since it may fall on non-Christian ears.

Christmas decorations over San Fernando Road (Main Street) in Old Newhall, early 1960s. Click to enlarge & see more.

Christmas decorations over San Fernando Road (Main Street) in Old Newhall, early 1960s. Click to enlarge & see more.

At the high school – in 1967-68 there was only one – football was over by Christmas vacation and basketball was starting after the break. We usually had two weeks of vacation. We needed it.

Classes started at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m. If you were in sports or stage band, your school day started an hour earlier. And then there was practice after school. Yes, we needed Christmas vacation. So did the teachers.

We had some Christmas parties at Pico Cottage, and I have a few pictures. Short sleeve shirts on Dec. 20. Must have been a warm day.

What did we do at those parties? Danced to some records. Sang some carols. Walked hand-in-hand with a “steady” up as far as the schoolhouse and back. Dimmed the gaslights in the living room and dining room and necked a little.

Sounds pretty boring to you, doesn’t it?  Not to us. We always had a blast. Even the Christmas Eve we put dish soap in a fountain. Soap bubbled across four lanes of traffic. It was great. What that had to do with Christmas, I’ve never figured out. But it just seemed like the natural thing to do at the time.

That was really clean fun. Nothing harmed. I think we went to the A&W after that, and then cruised San Fernando Road all the way to the Hi-Chic and back.

Wish I had the ’66 El Camino now. (It would make a great present to me, if you’d like.)

I hope all of you have memories as wonderful in your past. May you all be blessed this Christmas and through the whole new year. Make some memories this season. It’s easy to do when you’re in the best valley and the best part of the best state.

Merry Christmas!

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

 

 

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