Evelyn Prouty is no spring chicken. But you wouldn’t dare call her a senior citizen even though she has finally retired and given up such pastimes as horseback riding, grave digging and holding tightly to the reins of the Manteca Historical Society.
Christmas memories as far back as when she was a 6-year-old are embedded in her mind. That’s when she gave up dolls and asked for a saddle blanket for her quarter horse.
Fond Christmas memories of her childhood included her mother’s clam chowder soup that was to be eaten when “anyone” was hungry.
Prouty said everything was celebrated at her Grandma’s the night before the big day. She noted that first names made gift giving difficult because her dad’s name was Richard and he had a son named Richard. Her Uncle Bill Salmon had a son named Bill. It was no surprise to her dad when he opened a gift he thought was meant for him and found a Tonka truck.
Then on Christmas Day they were back at her family home with leftovers of ham and turkey that they still ate on china at the dining room table.
“Dad and Mom were both teaching eighth grade at French Camp School. I had Dad as my teacher that year. Grandma was substitute teaching so we had a house full of teachers,” she recalled.
She said she remembers getting a black Boston rocking chair.
“I remember it because my grandfather had to lift it up from behind our Philco radio – it had a big red bow on it. I got a saddle blanket – that was all I wanted for Christmas, she chimed. “I slept with it over me until springtime, when I used it for a saddle blanket. Then there was the Christmas when we all got a set of spurs – why that was the year of the spurs, I don’t know,” she quipped.
That horse blanket was blue with a yellow stripe that would fit on a twin bed when opened up to its full size.
She said she also remembers as a young girl when they all went to Grandma’s and her brother and their cousins got the same gift – different colors, of course. Grandma Mae Miller was a practical woman, she added, because everyone got the same thing.
“I always gave my dad a book for Christmas, but I always read it first,” she said. “I remember one year I gave him a California history book and he asked me if it was good reading since he knew I probably had read it first.”
Evelyn said she still lives in the same house on French Camp Road where she grew up, continuing to come across old history books of her Dad’s since he died that she had given to him as a child.
“My father’s mother used to make us select something we wanted to give to the Navajo Indians in Arizona, because they didn’t have anything. If she didn’t like the one I picked, she would pick a gift I had gotten – her choice. Her father had been an Indian scout at Ft. Apache,” she recalled.
Grandma shipped things to the Navajos for 40 years, Evelyn said. Her grandchildren had to make those children happy who didn’t have what her family had for Christmas.
“If you had only gotten a couple of things for Christmas, it was shocking to see one go away,” she added.
Evelyn’s mother made doll clothes for years that were a favorite gift on Christmas Eve.
“We had matching outfits – my doll and I – for years. She always had enough extra material for the doll and spent the entire year sewing for Christmas. When I didn’t have dolls any longer, she made doll clothes for a friend who gave them to her daughter. I gave up dolls when I was 6 and went directly to horses, which she didn’t approve of,” Prouty remembered.
In her 20s she would wrap gifts for Christmas starting in October, put baskets together and get them ready for delivery. Prouty remembers delivering to a family at a ranch built in 1860 that had rickety steps up to the front door. While carrying a heavy box of groceries the steps gave way and she tumbled down into the mud.
“A little boy came out of the house saying,” ‘We don’t use those anymore, it’s broken.”
Also one Christmas when she was a young adult, Prouty started a can drive at Sequoia School to serve people in need. She said she had taken a flyer to the office for distribution to the parents and a week later she received a call from the school asking that she come down to the school and pick up the canned goods that they had no room to store.
“Every garage on Nevada Street had canned goods,” she said. “They brought in enough to feed all of Manteca.”
She said her family did not own a TV until she turned 13. The radio was to be turned on only in the evening.
“Dad would put a book in my hands and say, ‘read it.’”
She said her Dad had a quick answer when she or her brother said they were bored. He would put a hoe in their hands.
“He gave me a hoe one day in response to saying I was bored, and I worked all around the barn. There were no weeds around the barn as I had learned my lesson,” she said.
— GLENN KAHL
209 staff reporter