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Memories recall yuletide family spirits
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Yuletide memories of years past include heart and soul reflections of family life under living room Christmas trees, church time together and the special gifts of long ago.

Kathy Sikma at the Ripon Fire Department initially had a difficult time remembering back to when she was about 7 years old, growing up in Ripon, but in the end her memory of Christmas Eve was among the most unique.

Kathy and her three sisters Lona, Sam, and Kim were all in their younger years living with their parents Bob and Dorothy Bergin in Ripon.  Kathy chuckled when she recalled mom would take them in the car on Christmas Eve searching for Santa in the night sky.

Once mom had the girls in the car she would always remember she had left something, like her purse, in the house.  She had to go back inside leaving the girls alone in the driveway for a few minutes.  While there she gathered all of the Christmas presents from under the beds and the closets and put them under the tree.

Back on the road the children peered skyward spotting the red lights of airliners thinking maybe they were actually lights on old St. Nick’s sleigh.  When they got back home and walked in their front door, they were surprised that Santa had been to their house with all the presents magically appearing under the tree.

Kathy has made a family history out of Christmas ornaments over the years. She enjoys explaining the significance of each  to visitors at her home.  This is a tradition that has gone on in her family for many years.  Kathy and husband Larry have two adult sons Robert and Scott.

Sister Sam Carhart remembers how special her 10-speed bicycle was to her as a Christmas gift years ago.  It was so special, in fact that she slept with it next to her bed.   She said they always had a flocked tree growing up with the rotating color wheel behind the branches.  Their mom, Dorothy, always turned Christmas goodies out of her oven at home that would compliment any neighborhood bakery.  On Thursday this week she was in her kitchen making her “yummy” cookie treats, the two daughters said.

“Everybody still loves her brownies today,” Sam noted.

Janet Dyk, of Magpie Antiques, recalled her most poignant Christmas memory was when her brother Joey fell off a stack of hay on Christmas Eve.  He was hospitalized in a coma and didn’t come to for 10 days.

“We didn’t celebrate Christmas until he came home from the hospital on Jan. 6.  Our Christmas tree was dead by then and leaning over.  That was 1972 and he was in high school,” she added.  Janet got her only doll at 6 years old.  It was a bride doll with a wooden head with rubber arms and legs and a cloth body.  It came from her grandmother Marian Gormsen.  As for it actually being the only doll she had in her childhood, she quipped, “I had four brothers.”

Vicky Norman Eddy a recent chamber of commerce staffer in Ripon said her mom Barbara Evans made outstanding memories for her and her sister Kristina.  For the whole month of December she would put on a specific children’s Christmas record every morning with the memorable line of “Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up let’s go, we’re riding in a wonder land of snow.”

She would also plug in our Christmas tree lights before the kids woke up and she had an Advent Candle we they would light during the four weeks before Christmas.  The candle was within a wreath that revolved from the candle flame’s rising heat that signaled with a “ching-ching-ching” as it went around and around.

“It would memorize me as I sat there eating my breakfast.  What mom would do that for her kids every morning!  How sweet was that?  She is still following her great traditions for her great grandsons Monte, 6, and Skyler, 4.”

Mike Arends of the Corner Café sandwich shop in downtown Ripon has fond memories of the parachute men he received for Christmas one year and a telescope he received on another that came from Arden’s catalog store in Modesto.

Arends remembers how his dad transported their tree home on top of their Chevy Nova tying it to the roof and leaving his driver’s door ajar.  He said the rope went through the back windows of the four door sedan keeping him and his brother from getting out until the rope was untied.

“Our dad gave me and my brother Tim our first set of tools in a tool box in 1977,” he said.  “I still have that tape measure from that set.  “I’m going to give my son Christopher that same tool box for Christmas this year,” he said.

Longtime Ripon barber George Rocha remembers his mother always having the biggest Christmas tree she could find.  “Mom was a practical joker, too.  I remember her calling her best friend on the phone and saying she was from the phone company (adlibbing) they were having trouble with her phone line.  She asked her to step away from the mouth piece.  Once she did they realized it was a joke,” he said.

His mom always had fun, especially during the Christmas season.

George said he got his first bicycle at seven – a two wheeler probably with training wheels, he laughed.

Owner of the Tank House Gift Shop in Ripon, Helen Caetano, celebrates her birthday on Christmas Day.  Coincidentally her parents were Mary and Joseph Coutrakis with four sons and two daughters. They lived in a two bedroom house in the 200 block of Nortg Locust Avenue near the downtown.  Her parents had emigrated from the Crete village of Rethymnon.

“We always had a small tree that we bought from the FFA Christmas Tree Lot at the high school.  At the end of the sales week, we would bring one home.  The ornaments came from Valley Variety Store on Main Street with a dozen in a pack with brightly colored lights,” she remembered.  On Christmas they would all attend services at the Greek Orthodox Church in Modesto and her mother would bake Greek Christmas Bread known as “Christopsomo” or Christ’s Bread.

Shirley Maliepaard Jorgensen at NuCal Foods located in the Ripon industrial area noted that her family never had a Christmas tree.  They were low key, always spending time with family and going to church and observing the true meaning of Christmas first and foremost.

 “We had our first Christmas tree shortly after I graduated from high school,” she said.

Remembering back to when she was about 7 years old,  she said she and her sister got one gift each from her parents and one gift from their grandparents.  The dolls from her Maliepaard grandparents were 18-inches-tall with hair glued to their heads.  An angry neighbor friend cut off the hair that had been matched in the color of their real hair by their grandfather, she said.

The family trekked to the First Christian Reformed Church on Christmas Day for the 9:30 service.  When they walked out of the church on their way home they – and all the children – were given bags with an orange and hard candy as gifts inside.

“We didn’t know the difference.  That’s what Christmas was all about.  We were raised and taught (the commercial aspect) wasn’t the true meaning of Christmas,” she said.

Also from NuCal, Janie Marcaurel said she would go horseback riding in Milpitas on her Welsch poly with her little miniature Collie “Putch” riding behind her.  She would ride bareback and her dog would lean up against her back on the horse,” she quipped.