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Longtime Ceres residents share favorite childhood Christmas memories
Kathy, Leslie and Sheryl Hersey having a 1960s Christmas. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Anthony Cannella
Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year, and the older I get, the more I appreciate what the real meaning of Christmas represents to me - the birth of Jesus Christ.

But to be completely honest, like most kids, when I was growing up, Christmas mostly meant ripping open wrapping paper with excitement, anxious to find out whether or not Santa had come through. I fondly remember how hard it was for me to close my eyes and go to sleep - morning couldn't come fast enough. And more times than not, he did not disappoint.

When I think back and reflect about that time in my life, however, I remember the "feeling" of Christmas. You see, my mom and dad were both hard-working people, and while they always placed me, my brother and sister first, they had a family to support, bills to pay and mouths to feed. Our family was always on the move; whether that be work, school, sports and other extra-curricular activities, we were a household in constant motion. This was really the only time of year where both my parents slowed down a bit and were able to relax; picking out and decorating the family Christmas tree, spending time with our extended family, and my favorite, my dad, mom, me, brother and sister talking together - and laughing - and well, just appreciating each other.

And while I may not have understood what that "feeling" actually was as a child, looking back, I understand now it represented a lot more than just Santa and presents - it represented gratitude, appreciation and love. And now that I have my wife and four children, while it's wonderful seeing that same excitement in my children's eyes that I had as a child, decorating the tree, leaving cookies for Santa and waiting in anticipation for Christmas morning, what's most important to me is making sure they know, first, the real reason of the season, and second, how much I love and appreciate them - just as my parents did for me - not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.

Don Cool
When I was a small boy around the age of four, my family lived in a small two-bedroom house on a large lot on Roeding Road. We had a calf named Alfred along with two sheep. The blackface ewe was named "Peanuts," the other was a ram. I remember the ram because we were all afraid of him because he liked to chase people. I remember walking with my mother to the chicken house in the mornings, we would hold tight to my Mom's hand for fear of the ram coming after us. We had to cross the pasture that the ram occupied to get to the chicken house.

Christmas Eve was always a busy time at our home We would spend Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house opening presents from all the aunts and uncles. We were raised Catholic so midnight mass was a tradition on Christmas Eve.

Our tree never had gifts under it until Christmas morning. We would get home from mass about 1 a.m. That meant my parents had a busy night with very little sleep to pull off Christmas. I remember one Christmas Eve all four of us boys were in bed waiting for Christmas morning, and we were wide awake and could not sleep. We did what boys do - we were cutting up pretty good, already awake from attending midnight mass and Christmas morning just a couple of hours away. There was no way we were going to sleep. Then it happened. A figure dressed in dark clothing hit our bedroom window and in a deep voice muttered, "You boys better get to sleep or there will be no Christmas for you." You could have heard a pin drop. It scared me to death. We could hear Mom and Dad in the living room. Who was this person? We did not utter a single word the rest of the night.

Come morning we were pleased to see gifts under the tree. Many years went by and every Christmas I would wonder who that person was at our bedroom window. One Christmas, I was in my 30s, I asked Mom and Dad about that night. I had asked many times before, always getting the same answer, ‘Son we don't know." This time they laughed and told me the story. Grandmother Cool was staying with us that Christmas many years ago, visiting from Minnesota My folks knew they had to get us asleep so they could put the gifts under the tree without us seeing. Grandma Cool put on some of my Dad's dark clothing went out to the bedroom window and muttered those words that stuck with me for over 30 years!

With that being said I would like to wish you all a merry Christmas.

Shawna McKay Nunes
Christmas memories can be sweet and nostalgic, bringing sentimental thoughts; they can also bring a lot of laughter when you view them years later.

Every family has one of "those" kids - the one who digs around under the tree looking for those gifts with their name on the tags. That was me: I considered myself curious, a "Nancy Drew" trying to solve the mystery of what was in every box. (I think my parents just called me a pain!) I would pick up, shake, and "test" the presents, trying to guess what was in them. My parents would always tell me, "Shawna, put those down. What if they have something breakable in them?"

I could never resist, though, and, would always sneak around the tree, trying to find those special gifts with my name on them. One year, when I was 10 or 11, there was a gift under the tree with my name on it. It was the biggest present that year, and although I don't remember how big it was now, to a 10-year-old - it was big, and it was mine. I was so excited. I remember dreaming of the wonderful toys that were inside, and of, course, rubbing it in to my brother Jeff, that I had the biggest present that year.

The first time I picked up the box it jingled! Then, when I tilted it, something really heavy slid slowly side to side. Just a little . . . but I was hooked. That Christmas I didn't even look at another box, I lifted that thing up every day, testing it. Was it different from the last time? What was that sound? What could it be if it was so heavy?

Finally, Christmas morning arrived. My parents made me wait to open "that" present last. Inside of that box was another wrapped box. And inside of that, another!! When I opened the final box, it was stuffed with newspaper, and taped to the side, was a holiday bell (the old grammar school kind, hand-made from a cone-shaped Dixie cup). In the bottom of the box, a brick. A plain old brick. I remember my parents and brother laughing so hard at the look on my face. Also sitting at the bottom of the box was a jewelry box, containing gold studs for my first pair of (pierced) earrings!

Brent Smith
What is most memorable for me is the very large family gatherings we had during Christmas. My mother and father had 15 siblings and my grandparents had a total of 39 grandchildren. This made for very large family gatherings during Christmas!

I was about 10 when we had opened all of our gifts and thought we were finished. Then my dad came out and handed me a box. It was a Daisy BB gun. It was what I had wanted for some time. I remember taking it hunting with my dad.

My grandparents have passed away and we no longer see much of each other.

Steve Vilas
A standout memory for me formed nearly 58 years ago.

My Dad, Homer, encouraged me to "come along" to help his Ceres Lions Club give special baskets to needy families. All baskets were put together by the Ceres Lions Club, with the help of Mae Hensley, longtime educator in Ceres. She kept a list of families who could use some extra help during the Holiday Season.

The Ceres Lions Club partnered with Mae and the Ceres School District to be sure all Ceres families had a meaningful Christmas. The Lions Club would then personally distribute baskets to homes. At that time (58 years ago), it was feasible to access the total population of Ceres, which was approximately 3,500 people.

We wish the Ceres Community a very Merry Christmas!

Bret Durossette

I am currently 47 years old and have many fond memories of Christmas. I would have to say though my first 23 Christmases would be hard to compete against because I got to spend those with my father, brother and my late mother, Cheryl Durossette. See, she passed away only being here for 8,801 days. Even though that seems like a lot it makes me reflect back on a few of those Christmas moments. I so wish she were still here to see my kids and watch them grow. I know she would love every second of them, the same way she loved every second of me and my brother.

One of my fondest memories is when my brother and I would be made all up and head over to Dunlap's in the McHenry Village where we would have to sit on some old guy's lap which we believed to be Santa. He would ask if we were naughty or nice. I seemed to always be into some kind of mischief and as rumor has it, I wasn't always nice. For that reason, each year, my brother had me believing that I wasn't getting anything except for coal in my stocking!

Christmas morning would come and my brother and I would wake up run into the living room to see all of the gifts wrapped for us. Some labeled from Mom and Dad and some by yes, Santa Claus. Then we would scream for my parents to come and watch us tear through the gifts one at a time not even breathing, grabbing one after the other until the pile was gone. It was about who could open them the fastest and we didn't seem to really care what was inside. It's funny because my wife Angela and I have been able to watch our kids do the same thing and it always makes me smile, bringing back some good memories.

Leslie Tate

As I thought about my memories of "Christmas past" I tried to remember a toy or gift that made such a lasting memory that I would write about it, there was not one. Oh, I remember getting plenty of gifts, and of course there was always the same number of gifts under the tree for each of us girls. The memories that are most vivid to me were about what happened at our house during Christmas. One of my favorite memories is the unofficial start to the Christmas season, having "the picture" taken with my sisters for the annual Hersey Christmas card. Back in the days before digital, the pictures were taken, the film was sent off and you waited a week hoping that at least one of the pictures was what mom wanted.

This Christmas I encourage everyone to take a moment and think about your own memories of Christmas, I hope they are pleasant, and I hope you have someone you can share them with.

Amy Beaver Peterman

I have many fond memories growing up in Ceres with my dad Steve, mom Kay, and sister Libby. Three of my best friends - Nicole Rose, Susan Simms, and Elise Goudeau - lived on Christmas Tree Lane so I remember spending lots of evenings over at their houses, enjoying the lights and the crowds.

One memory that is vivid, however, is the year that my Dad lost our Christmas tree on his way home from the tree lot. We went to get our tree and loaded it onto the top of Dad's car. On our way home, we looked through the back window and saw that the tree was missing off the back of the car. We immediately retraced our route, scouring the streets and gutters for our lost Christmas tree. When making a U-turn to continue our search, one of us saw our tree in the side mirror. My dad was dragging it behind the car, where it was still attached to the rope he had used to "tie it down." We laughed for days afterward, thinking about how silly we looked driving around with that tree dragging behind us!

Mike Kline

I will always remember how when I was young Christmas was all about getting together with my mom's side of the family: aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. To me, it seemed like a big Christmas, around 20 -25 family members and was an all-day thing.

My grandmother had one of those fake white Christmas trees, with the light wheel on the floor shining on the tree and when the light rotated it would change the tree from red to blue to yellow to green. The uncles would give us rides on the old Cushman scooter into the peach orchard and do donuts around the trees. We thought it was a blast and back then no one thought of wearing a helmet.

Then there was the year I asked for football flags so I could play flag football with my brother in the back yard. I had asked for red ones, and if you can remember flags only came in red and yellow. That year my mom did get me flags for Christmas but I got yellow ones and boy was I disappointed. Then my little brother opened his gift and it was red flags. I remember looking at my mom and her laughing saying "Oops, I must have put the wrong name on the packages. You two switch." My brother and I switched and we played flag football in the back yard for the next year.

Chad Condit

Growing up in Ceres has always represented family and friends. I spent my Christmases on Gail Court at my Mama and Papa's house with my cousins and their families. Buck, Jammy, Leonard and my little sister Cadee. Playing football out in the backyard, eating my Mama's home cookin' and listening to Papa talk about the birth of Jesus. As far as I was concerned, all of it together made the perfect Christmas.

Lisa Mantarro Moore

Christmas has always been a very special time in my family. We could always count on my mother's parents and our aunt to be at all our family holidays. Granny and Grandad were very special to both my brother and I as they were our caregivers when we were young and then we became theirs. Christmas Eve always held wonderment and joy. Santa would come when we were at midnight mass and then we would come home to the most amazing gifts. Although not Catholic, Granny and Grandad were there waiting for us and for the fun we would have in opening our presents. This picture is from 1977 right before we moved to Ceres. Granny, Grandad and our Aunt Linda were staples in our lives. In 1978, when we moved to Ceres, my parents moved Granny and Grandad onto our property where we helped them until their passing years later.

I fondly look at this picture and the depth of the lives they lived. From working the cotton fields in Texas to moving to California and then to Ceres with us. There is no doubt how much they influenced both my brother, Michael and myself.

We continue our Christmas Eve tradition, which includes my cousins and their children and has for the last 20 years. This year is particularly special as my brother will travel home for the holiday with his family which includes a new baby. We will fondly remember the lives of our grandparents as we see the wonderment and joy on the faces of our own children.