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.
Traditions a big part of holidays
By Barry Schrader..................................December
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,
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
* * *
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.
* * *
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:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551