Times Past

A Christmas memory: the riches of family during the Depression years

The Jones family: Sarah, mother Ayda, Rudy, Barbara, Lorraine and Patricia, circa 1940.
The Jones family: Sarah, mother Ayda, Rudy, Barbara, Lorraine and Patricia, circa 1940.

“We were very poor when I was a child growing up in Paso Robles, but it never seemed like it around Christmas.”

Patricia Jones Nulton grew up on Olive Street in Paso Robles during the late 1930s and 40s. Like most families during the Depression, life was never easy, but the Jones family was determined to make the best of it.

“Sarah, Rudolph, Barbara, Lorraine and I would climb into our parents’ car and go out to Canyon Ranch owned by Silas and Jim Sinton about five miles south of Shandon,” Patricia recalls.

“There were a lot of pine trees on the property and we were free to choose one to take home. We would walk up and down hills looking for the perfect tree. ‘There it is,’ we would say, as we saw one with a perfect straight peak to set the angel on. My dad or brother would cut it down. When it fell to the ground, we would all cheer.

“As hard as we might try not to, we got sap all over our clothes. I don’t think mom was able to wash it all out. She would enthusiastically agree that her labors were worth the fun we had getting the tree that was just right for the family.

“We would all take turns, two by two, dragging the tree down one hill, up another and down again to be tied to the top of the car. We smelled of pine as we climbed back in the car to go to my grandparents’ home next door to Silas Sinton on San Juan Road. We would be greeted with hot chocolate with marshmallows melting on top. Grandma would set out platters of sandwiches, fixed just the way we like them, yummy and plenty!

“Back home, we’d decorate with ornaments that my mom had packed away. Then there were those that we kids would make and hang proudly on the tree.

“On Christmas Eve, we’d go for a ride with our dad, looking at the houses that were decorated with many different colored lights. Mom would stay home to ‘make sure that Santa could get in the house,’ since we did not have a fireplace for him to come down. Sure enough, when we got home, there were presents under the tree, one for each one of us. We joyfully opened our gifts and celebrated with the cookies that we baked the day before. Mom had a job keeping us from eating them up when they came out of the oven!

“We lived in a very small house but we managed to gather together around a cheerful table just fine. Dad and my brother would bring a plywood board to place on our table so we would have more room for everyone to sit. They also brought in the backyard picnic benches that we used in the summertime. With a white table cloth and red napkins and our Sunday dishes and all of the fine food, who could not ask for a better Christmas? It was all about food, gifts and a loving family.

“First thing in the morning my mom would be busy working getting the turkey stuffed and put into the oven. Pies were set out to cool. It did not take long for the house to be filled with the wonderful aromas of Christmas food. From turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy and sweet potatoes, to fresh made pumpkin and lemon meringue pies!

“I was so excited for my grandparents and aunt to arrive, bringing boxes and more boxes of presents and food. Mom would have us go out and help them bring things in. I made sure to carry in one of the boxes with gifts. As I helped place them under the tree, I would look for those that had my name on them. While the tree helpers were arranging the gifts, my grandmother was emptying boxes of popcorn balls, homemade taffy, fudge, blanched almonds, and candy walnuts, cookies, on and on. Mmmm!”

To be continued….