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Christmas past in Dayton

Ruby McFarland
Special to the Nevada Appeal

“Over the river and through the woods ” to Grandmother’s house we go.” Not many young people have ever heard this song we sang when I was a young person. That was another day and somehow seems a hundred years ago. A lot has been added to the Christmas season over the past 70 years that I can remember. Seems odd to be part of history.

When I was very young it was during the Great Depression when there was little money and no hope for a job for my parents. My grandparents lived nearby, as most did long ago. Our mobile nation now allows young people to leave home and live a long way from their family. In the “old” days, our families lived close enough that our aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, and sometimes good friends, became extended families from time to time. We depended on them to be there.

At holiday time most families spent the time together and shared whatever they had. Presents meant a great deal and not much was expected. My grandfather always managed to come up with one of those red mesh Christmas stockings with a huge delicious orange and a few pieces of hard candy. That was it for Christmas. It made me happy and was glad Santa thought of me.

It wasn’t too different in Dayton. There was no money and no jobs. People shared whatever they had and Emma Loftus and her son Chester Barton made sure no child went without a present. They spent Christmas Eve delivering gifts all over Dayton Valley.

Entertainment back then was the program put on at the high school on Pike street. Emma wrote about the program and party each year. Christmas was spent at Chester’s house each year. Friends and family gathered Christmas Eve and Emma always played Mrs. Santa Claus. The gifts were handmade and one or two from the Montgomery Wards catalog. Those from the catalog were usually a much needed coat or pair of shoes. Emma was always grateful for such a wonderful Christmas and being with her family.

In a lot of ways, rural areas in Nevada had it a little better than the urban areas. Chester and friends hunted for ducks and geese and sometime a deer so there was enough for anyone in need. Large gardens provided food all winter. Potatoes and all kinds of root vegetables were put down for the winter months. Families canned everything they could when crops were harvested. My grandmother always had homemade jam to put on that wonderful homemade bread I thought was heaven.

The museum has a wonderful display of antique Christmas ornaments as well as children’s toys and a delightful miniature furnished doll house. This would be a great time to visit.

There will be no regular meeting of the Historical Society of Dayton Valley in December.

The Dayton Museum is located on Shady Lane and Logan in Old Town Dayton. Hours: Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Historical lectures 11 a.m., Saturdays. The web site is daytonnvhistory.org. Group tours are available. Call 246-5543, 246-8382 or 246-0441.

– Ruby McFarland has lived in Dayton since October 1987, she serves as a board member of the Dayton Historical Society and docent at the museum.