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Barry Schrader


I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.


If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Traditions a big part of holidays

By Barry Schrader..................................December 23, 2004

Traditions (and church-related activities) play as big a part in the holiday season as any gift or feast you might enjoy.
In my case my mother used to take me from downstate Illinois on the (El) train to Chicago so we could feast our eyes on the spectacles in the windows of Marshall Fields' big store downtown. I always looked forward to that annual treat and wonder if they still have those fantastic displays like they did in the 40s and 50s.
We also exchanged holiday visits with a rural farm family about 25 miles from us each Christmas Eve, then later on in my childhood it changed to New Years Eve. One December night stands out in my memory: It was their turn to host our family so we started out in a driving snowstorm about 4 p.m. By 5 p.m. we were still not near the turnoff to their gravel road and my father was fighting a losing battle keeping the snow off the windshield. We finally turned the corner and immediately were engulfed in a three-foot snowdrift. Being only a mile from their farm home, my father decided to walk there and bring back help. About a half hour later Mr. Dixon drove up on his John Deere tractor with my father aboard and urged my mother and me to grab the presents in the trunk and ride back on the tractor. We did so, losing several ribbons and bows along the way, but finally reached the warmth of that house. Of course the weather remained so bad we stayed overnight and missed church the next day, until the township snowplow reached their road and made a path to the main highway. But it was a wonderful night of carol singing, playing Monopoly and watching Jimmy Stewart in our favorite Christmas classic. Those are the kind of experiences you never forget!
But we have our own family traditions that have stuck with us as we moved back and forth between Illinois and California the past 40 years. My wife's mother was Swedish, so her family always had Kottbullar (Swedish meatballs), Bruna Bonar (Swedish brown beans), rice pudding, fruit soup, Swedish Limpa Bread and the worst tasting thing (I always complained about, but softly), Lutfisk (Swedish Baked Stockfish), which, I swear, smells like rotten eggs. Well, 40 years later my wife is still making the annual pilgrimage to Nordic House in Oakland to buy the ingredients for all this stuff, and I don't have the heart to tell her I still can't stand Lutfisk.
Even if you are away from your family, live alone, or lost a loved one, you can still preserve those memories by practicing the same traditions wherever you are now. It can be as simple as eating the same foods, going to the same production of the Nutcracker Suite, watching the same tear jerker on TV each Christmas Eve, or hanging that old beat-up childhood ornament on your tree that has lost its luster but not the memory of its past.
This month we are packing to move as soon as our house is sold (no, we are not going back home to Illinois yet, just across town to that "five star hotel" known as Heritage Estates where we will be sharing meals and yarns with people who actually appreciate my "history mysteries…"). As we emptied the attic, I opened boxes of the old HO gauge train set put up there some 20 years ago when our boys went off to college. So as a surprise for our youngest son, who is coming home from Washington, DC this week, I re-assembled the track in a circle under our tree and bought a new transformer to make sure the 1970-era train still runs. This is a new tradition, one that I hope he will cherish and pass on to his kids (if he ever gets married--hint, hint).
So come up with your own new customs if the old ones are lost or out of sync with the times. But select a few you can pass on, share with others, or just enjoy each year by yourself. If you want, share them with me.
While mentioning holiday events, I have to reminisce (that's also the name of my favorite magazine) about some past holiday parties that are legendary in the Pleasanton area. I was fortunate enough to be invited to them while editor, since mutual friends interceded and got Kay and me an invitation a couple of years. First were the fabulous parties at the equally-fabulous home of Edith and John Marshall at Castlewood. He had personally designed this house to resemble a palace in Europe, and the semi-precious stones in the bedstead and ceiling of their master bedroom would bedazzle any visitor who was fortunate enough to be there. They must have had 20 or more trees all decorated with expensive ornaments, and the hors d'oeuvres were out of this world. Many people in P-town enjoyed those parties and also the Castlewood home tours that the Marshalls arranged, for a good cause. Virginia Cook, a neighbor of theirs, shared those memories with me this past week.
Then there was the tradition started by Barbara and John McClure that lasted for 38 years until they moved away to Santa Fe in 1994. Each New Years they hosted a hike for the hardy up to Pleasanton Ridge, then concluded with a house party in their four-level, 4,000 square foot, rustic, lodge-like home built on the hillside at Castlewood. The fondue and bread were favorites of attendees (often 75 or more hikers) along with the wines and cider.
Even today there are many holiday parties that date back decades. For example the Wieskamps in Livermore host one for politicos and other community notables each December. Their signature T-Ayn-T punch is memorable, but doesn't have quite the "kick" that "Old Rad Lab" did for office parties inside the fence back in the early Fifties!
Duane Sewell, do you remember? Then you're much older than I….

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History mystery question for next week: Why and when was the Sunol Water Temple built? You may have to read that book I recommended two columns back to find out, unless you recall those features in the newspapers a few years ago when it as renovated and re-opened to the public. Take a drive down there and see it for yourself--one of the Seven Wonders of the Tri-Valley to behold! We'll talk about the other six in a future column.

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By the way, by popular demand I have loaded all my back columns (and more goodies) on the new website: www.historydetectives.info for people with computers to peruse (or go to your local library and ask them to show you the pages). Thanks to the yeoman work of webmaster Steven M. Bunn, who also designed the famous Livermore Lightbulb website, my page is up and running, and will get updated weekly.

The columnist can be reached via email at :


or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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