Part two of a two-part column on Pat Nulton’s memories of her childhood Christmases in Paso Robles:
“My mom made the best lemon meringue pie! I never learned to make one but no one had to teach me how to eat one. I am sure we had some kind of green vegetable but I’ll be darned if I remember what it was.”
Pope Francis is asking us to renew within ourselves a child’s sense of wonder. In the Western tradition, many of us especially associate that with Christmas. Our dear friend, Pat Nulton grew up in Paso Robles in the late 1930s.
She was descended both from members of the 1776 De Anza Expedition and the Yokut/Chumash/Salinan Native American peoples who historically occupied the area. Her grandfather, Albert Chacon, was a Native American vaquero who was named “Cowboy of the Year” for the 1952 Paso Robles Pioneer Parade.
Pat continues her remembrance of childhood Christmases in Paso Robles:
“Grandma,” Clide Chacon, “also would bring her own glass bowls for each person that she would dish up her fruit salad in. It was the best! Grapes, pears, peaches, bananas, cream she whipped up, and on top a cherry with a light sprinkle of finely chopped almonds.
“Who could ask for a better Christmas? It was all about food, gifts and a loving family. “Presents weren't opened until later. Although the food kept me happy and content for a while, I could not wait for gifts and goodie time. My grandmother and Aunt Diantha were so very talented in wrapping gifts, that you almost did not want to open them — I said almost.
“There were red-wrapped gifts with green bows with a small Santa tied on or a candy cane, and white paper with big gold bows and a poinsettia neatly in its place.”
Times were not easy as America shifted from a Depression to a war economy. Pat’s father’s Charles Jones Trucking Company had expanded to two trucks but was short on revenue as the holidays approached.
“In December 1941, when I was four, we were nearly broke. My parents and I walked downtown to window shop. At 13th and Park streets in Paso, I looked into one of the J. C. Penny store windows and saw dolls — big ones, small ones, baby dolls and storybook dolls. I got really excited, seeing all the choices. My parents looked at each other, knowing they were not able to afford gifts for the family this year. I was the youngest in my family and did not realize that Santa wasn’t coming to our house. Here I was staring at all these wonderful dolls, not knowing I wouldn’t get a doll or anything.
“An elderly man heard me and saw my happy face, approached my parents and quietly asked them if he could buy a doll for me. He said he did not have a family and it would make his Christmas if he could buy me one. We went in the store and I got to pick out my doll. And to think there are people that don't believe in Santa!
“Years later, after my husband, Warren, died in 1993, I no longer bought a real tree. Every year I would get out the boxed tree that would be assembled for our Christmas. My husband’s birthday was Dec. 8. He loved Christmas and made it fun for his children, grandchild and me. So every year we put up the tree on his birthday.
“One year I said, ‘I’m going to get a real tree this year.’ My 4-year-old grandson Anthony, said, ‘No, grandma, don't do that, please, I will put up the tree for you, please!’ He figured out how to get it together. Anthony is now 20 and this year he put up that same tree, just as he has the last 16 years.”
Anthony Nulton-Spera used his mechanical talents to excel in San Luis High’s renowned auto shop classes under Jeff Lehmkuhl. He now works in the auto industry.
Dan Krieger's column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association