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Christmas pre- & post-World War II

Marsdens recall past holidays

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Christmas pre- & post-World War II

Alan and Jeanie Marsden happily snuggle next to their floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree in the living room heavily laden with traditional ornaments. Christmas for the couple is “a big thing.”

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The 209/


POSTED December 20, 2013 6:45 p.m.

It’s impossible to miss the Marsden home in the neighborhood off Crom Avenue just north of the Manteca Golf Course. It literally outshines all the houses at Greenview Place. The entire length of the house facing the street is dripping with all kinds of Christmas bling – blinking lights, chasing lights, dancing diode lights, a lighted choo-choo train, a red snowman, and Frosty the Snowman sporting a top hat. Proudly occupying a central location among all the outdoor decoration is a lighted American flag handmade by Alan Marsden.

And, like a smiling face looking out of the large front window, a floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree heavily laden with an assortment of ornaments loudly proclaims in a visual way how much the homeowners truly love celebrating the yuletide season.

“Alan loves Christmas just as much as I do,” Jeanie said, pointing out the obvious, her twinkling eyes perfectly matching the glistening décor in their well-appointed home.

All that decorative hoopla is not just for the Marsdens’ own enjoyment. It’s their way of greeting their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with a visual hug before they even get to step on the extra-wide concrete driveway.

With the Marsdens’ extended family now spanning four generations, distance and personal commitments now demand the necessity of working out a schedule that is convenient for all parties to get together. One grandson of Alan from Vacaville and his family of four children paid their Christmas visit last Sunday.

“We had fun with them,” said a smiling Jeanie. Unfortunately, Alan’s other grandson who has two children could not make it because “they were all sick,” she said.

This Sunday, members of her side of the family will be coming over to celebrate the holidays with them.

“And, we’ll have Christmas day all to ourselves,” she smiled.

Alan and Jeanie, who met while they both worked at Lockheed in Sunnyvale – he as an engineer, she in purchasing – will celebrate their 19 years of wedded bliss in January. Together, they have a big clan. Alan has four children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren from his first marriage. Jeanie has four children, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Marsdens’ Christmas
today in contrast to those
of yester-years

 Alan and his engineer father who was also in the military, and his stay-at-home mom who was a career woman prior to her marriage, lived in Michigan. Because he was an only child, plus the fact his parents were almost 40 when he was born, “he was indulged like you wouldn’t believe,” said Jeanie with a touch of admiration and awe in her voice.

Growing up, “he had all kinds of Christmas gifts,” she said. In fact, he has written many stories about his childhood in Michigan mainly for his grandchildren’s reading and listening pleasure, she added.

“They’re one-page stories,” Jeanie said of Alan’s collection of growing-up tales.

She also has happy Christmas memories with her children which “were as good as I could make it for them.” Her ex-husband’s Italian family always “made a huge party out of Christmas and New Year’s and all the holidays,” she recalled.

“My children enjoyed every minute of Christmas and all holidays and all birthdays, and it became so fantastic that the change from my childhood to their childhood was wonderful. They got to enjoy all kinds of decorations: a tree in every room – a tree in the living room, a tree in the bedroom, at least a garland in the bathroom.”

That was in sharp contrast to her own Christmas experiences growing up in Colorado Springs, Colo., during the World War II years in the 1940s and Korean War years in the early 1950s. Making things even tougher for her family was the death of her father when she was just nine years old, leaving her mother to raise her five children by herself.

“All my older brothers went to work, and my mother went to work. I stayed at home and ran the house. I was eight or nine years old. We were the ones who got the baskets (from groups) that took baskets to families with the food and toys,” Jeanie recalled.

Her mother and brothers all had to go to work because “there were a lot of mouths to feed,” she said.

Three of her brothers were older, one was seven years her junior.

“Everybody had to pull their weight,” she said, explaining the necessity of her older siblings getting a job at a young age.

When one of her brothers was just one month shy of his 16th birthday, he joined the military and was sent to fight in the Korean War. He was admitted in the military by lying about his age, as did many young men during World War II and the Korean War.

While fighting the war in Korea, her brother sent his mother money from his “military allotment to help her with the rent. There was no welfare, no widow’s pension, no Social Security, no help like that for widows. So my brothers had jobs of some kind to help keep us together,” Jeanie said.

“Our big thing was to go see a movie, usually two or three of us. Mostly it was at Christmas time or some special occasion. I don’t remember a (Christmas) tree (at home), and we moved 16 times in 16 years because my mother was always looking for someplace cheaper,” she recalled.

All that memory today is foggy though, lost in oblivion partly because she was very young at the time. She does not even remember how they managed the moves “because we didn’t have a car and my mother never learned to drive her entire life. She took a bus, and we walked; we lived mostly near downtown in apartments. Two times, we got to live in a house, and those were short periods of time. She always had a renter in the house to help pay the rent.

“We had no friends. There were no children to play with because when you live in apartments, you stay by yourself in those days. I was in charge of getting dinner ready and in charge of the laundry and sweeping the floor – keeping the home fire going. I was always busy doing something, putting in my two cents’ worth. My brothers were out doing their thing; I was too young to go to work.”

She has no memories of the entire family sitting down together for a Christmas dinner. But she remembered many kind people bringing them gifts. She also remembered one brother working at a grocery store.

“I remember him buying my mother – I think it was a waffle iron at Christmas one year. He saved and saved and got to buy that at the grocery store. It was special for him to buy something for her more than anything,” Jeanie remembered.

Despite all those hardships, “we grew up not even knowing” that they were lacking in some materials things, Jeanie said.

They also realized that they had to swim or sink together, which is why they all did what they had to do to remain together as a family. “Either that or we’d have had to go to an orphanage,” Jeanie said.

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