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1955 - Actor James Dean, 24, drives through Castaic Junction en route to his final resting place [watch]
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Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Monday, Dec 22, 2014

darrylmanzer_blacktieThis week we celebrate Christmas. I’ve decided not to write about trains and trash, gravel mines, has-been politicians, the City Council or the County Supervisors. All of that is off-limits this week.

Today is Christmas in Pico Cottage and Mentryville.

One of the best parts of Christmas in Pico Cottage was the very tall tree we could get. The ceilings in the old place are 12 feet high, so very tall trees were the norm. We had plenty of room for the tree. It went in the living room. If you walk in the front door of Pico Cottage, it is the room on the left.

My dad was an old romantic and loved to hang mistletoe in the doorways and various places around the house. (I think my mother liked that a lot.) Mom would usually have large ribbons or garland on the bannister for the stairs.

We didn’t have lights outside. Nobody could have seen them, and for the first few years we lived there, we self-generated our electrical power. It sort of took away the ambiance when the noise of the generator drowned out the music our record player could produce. Later, after Southern California Edison was brought into the canyon, we could enjoy the lights on the tree and carols at the same time.

Standard Oil Co. employees enjoyed a Christmas party every year, and it was usually held in Santa Paula. For many years my father was Santa. Must have been pretty good at the job, because even my one niece didn’t recognize him. Each and every company kid got a present, and those were not cheap.

The company didn’t pay for the gifts and the party. Most of the money for the yearly family picnic and Christmas party was from the “stag” parties held at the picnic grounds (aka Johnson Park) back in Pico Canyon. The picnics were fun, but the Christmas party was the best. It really was like getting two Christmas Days every year.

During the Christmas season, lots of friends and family came to visit. It was a time when we would have the kitchen table filled every morning with piles of fresh eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, fried potato slices, fresh milk and the required California navel oranges. It was rounded out with toast from bread just baked, slathered with butter just churned from cream that hours before had been in the cow.

We had a large vegetable garden, and my mother canned a lot of what we grew. A quick trip over the hill through the Sun Oil lease and we could cut fresh asparagus from the fields Newhall Land had just south of the river.

We also had a lot of homemade jams and jellies, and my mother also made apple butter. As the orchards in and around the SCV had ripe fruit, we would buy cases full of many different kinds. Peaches, pears, apricots and apples are what I remember best. We usually went to the “you-pick” places because that was cheaper.

There were also walnut trees that produced those flavorful nuts that were right along the 126. I wonder how many folks out there still have nutcrackers and those little picks the get the meat out of all kinds of nuts?

There isn’t any holiday as far as livestock are concerned. They still need to be fed and watered, milked, cleaned and cared for every day. There were eggs to collect (I hated that job), cows to milk and calves to feed, along with feed for all of the other critters. The barn cats got some extra milk during the season, which could have given the mice and rats a holiday from being chased.

Some evenings we would sit around the piano, and my oldest sister would play piano, my dad guitar, and the rest of us would sing along. We did that often, all year long, but something about carols and songs of Christmas was so very special.

As long as my grandmother lived in Sylmar, Christmas Eve was when we all went to her house for dinner and to open presents. That included my cousins who lived in La Puente, too. The tree at my grandmother’s had apples, bananas and oranges hanging on the limbs. We would love to reach into the tree and find that fruit. I don’t know where or when grandma learned that tradition, but I know other relatives in Nebraska have the same custom. Do any of you have this tradition in your family?

Christmas Eve dinner at grandmother’s always included oyster stew. Don’t know why she did that, either. She was born and raised in Nebraska, and her parents were from Germany. Folks in the little town of Pierce, Neb., still talk about the family that had oranges shipped in and bought cans of oysters. It may have been part of my family’s traditions that those folks remember. I don’t know.

We opened all but a couple of our presents on Christmas Eve. About the time I was ready to sleep, it was back over the hill to Pico Canyon and Mentryville. All of our stuff would be taken into the house and the opened gifts placed around the tree.

Christmas morning would be like any other day. Up before dawn, then at first light down to milk the cows and do the rest of the chores. With the chores completed, we would have a large breakfast and then open the last of our gifts.

Friends might come visit, or we might go visit them. I like to think folks liked to visit us, since we had that huge house and all kinds of good food for the holiday. Kids who visited might get to ride a horse and maybe take a climb up Mustard Hill (the hill behind the Felton Schoolhouse).

It is memories of the Christmas celebrations in Pico Cottage that have formed many of the traditions my family has had and in some way I still have. I do prefer to open gifts on Christmas morning and not Christmas Eve. My little tree would be pulled over with just one piece of fruit attached. I do have the music playing a lot (even as I write this).

My kids are in Kentucky and Virginia, and so are the grandkids. I’ve got lots of friends and family here. I won’t go without a Christmas dinner. I’ve been told it is going to be lasagna. Can’t wait. My hosts said to be ready for lots of food, kids, and a little football. Sounds good to me.

Tomorrow: My story about Christmas on a submarine on deterrent patrol.

 

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. His older commentaries are archived at DManzer.com; his newer commentaries can be accessed [here]. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

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1 Comment

  1. Trea Tremayne says:

    Thank you for posting your remembrances of Christmas. They’re similar to mine from about the same era. As for the old-fashioned nutcrackers, ours broke a few Christmases back. It did give good service from around the 50s. Grandpa had a few walnut trees that supplemented his retirement. We do have the pick, lonely that it is. I can’t bring myself to throw it away.

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