Jeff Jardine

Truly a picture postcard Christmas of old

A copy photo of a Christmas card from Standard.
A copy photo of a Christmas card from Standard.

I got a great Christmas present last March.

Marge Pack of Hilmar came across it while going through some boxes of memorabilia, and thought it was something I'd like.

It was an old Christmas card, the cover of which bore a drawing of the snow-covered old Pickering Lumber Co. warehouse at Standard. The card was signed by Frank Momyer, longtime company president.

Marge once lived in Sonora. I attended high school with her children and lived in Standard back when Standard was a company-owned mill town complete with houses, a store, hospital, post office, church and everything. It was one of those places Norman Rockwell never got around to paint, but should have.

My dad worked in the company office, now a brewery and restaurant, into the mid-1960s. A decade later, the company was sold. The new owner decided the remaining houses, most of which were built before 1920, weren't worth the cost of repairs. So some were moved and others destroyed. The town was no longer a town. It was just a place with lots of memories. Absolutely wonderful memories.

Marge knew I'd appreciate the card because it depicted a time-honored tradition in Standard: going to pick out a Christmas tree at the warehouse, which was next to the railroad tracks. For more than 50 years, Pickering would send one of its Shay locomotives, and later diesel engines, into the forest at the first snow. It would return pulling a flatcar loaded with Christmas trees to give to the employees' families. By the mid-1960s, trucks had replaced the logging trains, but the tradition continued until Louisiana-Pacific acquired Pickering a decade later.

Artist Wes Wyllie depicted some children sorting through the batch of trees, looking for the perfect white fir or silvertip with those perfect flat branches, and needles that point downward.

Sears and Spiegel catalogs

The children on the cover probably were no one in particular. They could have been any of us, since there were plenty of kids in town.

Most of all, the card rekindled a mood of Christmastime I'd all but forgotten. It reminded me of a time when life was very simple and not so frenetic.

It always snowed a couple of times a year in Standard. We bundled up in layers of cotton clothing -- I doubt they'd even invented Gore-Tex yet -- and played outside until we were absolutely soaked and freezing. Then we'd go inside, warm up, change clothes and head back out to do it all over again.

We made our Christmas wish lists while wearing out the pages of the Sears and Spiegel catalogs -- not by bookmarking Web sites and shopping online. We'd drive five miles into Sonora -- when Sonora was still five miles away -- to visit Santa at the courthouse park. And we wondered how, on Christmas Eve, such a big man could bring such a big bag of toys down the chimney of a house that doesn't have a fireplace (hmmmmm ... ), but kept our suspicions to ourselves.

The first electronic gadgetry I can recall getting was a pair of walkie-talkies that had a range of about 15 feet.

Little things seemed big, because they were.

We didn't worry about getting lead poisoning from the toys, probably because we didn't eat them.

Nor did our parents bankrupt themselves by charging everything on credit cards.

I'm sure children feel today just as awed by the lights, the ornaments and the anticipation. The gifts are more extravagant now, and break just as easily.

Fresh-cut trees at $45 a pop

Some of the traditions have changed with time. Can you imagine, in 1963, forking out $3.75 for a cup of altered coffee?

And now, I take my family to a tree farm for a fresh-cut redwood every year, albeit at $45 a pop.

It's fun, searching for the perfect tree. I suppose that is what my daughter will remember when she gets older, just as the kids who grew up in Standard remember the Christmas tree giveaway at the old warehouse.

The card that arrived in March brought back some great memories.

Thanks, Marge, and Merry Christmas.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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