Keeping the Faith: Christmas in Guerneville, 1908 | Opinion – Sonoma West

C.  Raymond “Buster” Clar was born in Guerneville in 1904. He attended local schools, went on to Cal and became State Forester in Sacramento. In retirement, while living in Menlo Park with his daughter, Clar set down his childhood memories in his book “Out of the River Mist” and in hand-written letters to me and many others. Clar loved his home town and marveled at how different his childhood was from the world we live in now.

Bob Jones

Clar writes that on Christmas Eve, 1908, when he was 4 years old, he and his older brother visited a laughing Santa Claus in Guerneville’s brick dance hall and were given a bag of rock candy. After that, he writes “Farm families crossed the street to untie horses at the hitchrack and bundle children into carriage blankets for the trip home.” Walking through town, he saw people lighting kerosene lanterns and shouting “Merry Christmas.”

“Fortunately, the rain had ceased earlier in the evening,” he goes on. “Now the mud puddles along Main Street reflected a million pinpoint stars and dancing yellow lantern beams … In the center of this little village, the lights within and outside three saloons furnished adequate illumination to distinguish the different levels of the wooden sidewalks. Loud voices came from several buildings, and somewhere an accordion player was making a rather dubious attempt to add to the Christmas Eve cheer.

Before we reached the blacksmith shop, where the sidewalk ended, Oldest Brother struck a sulphur match to light the lantern he was carrying. Out from the small sphere of yellow light cast by its flame, the twisted black shadows of our moving legs dissolved into the starlit darkness which surrounded our little family. Then we climbed the steps of redwood logs to the kitchen door of our unlighted and unlocked home…

Older Brother said, ‘Stay outside a moment and listen carefully.’

‘Reindeer bells?’ I asked.

‘No, hear that low steady moaning sound?’

I listened carefully. Several faint dots of light were visible among the houses below, and a far off dog gave a few barks….

“‘Yes, I do hear that sound,’ I said.

‘It’s the ocean waves beating against the shore after the storm, about ten miles over there,’ he said, pointing west.

‘Someday I would like to see the ocean,’ I said….

Most winter evenings our family spent in the kitchen where the wood stove kept us warm. But tonight our father had built a fire in the living room fireplace and lighted a tall piano lamp. The Christmas tree had been decorated earlier with popcorn threaded on strings and bits of tinsel and paper angels. At the tip was a silver star, and around the outer limbs of the Douglas fir (we always called pine) were tiny colored candles in spring clamp holders like clothes pins….

I asked how Santa Claus could come down the fireplace chimney with the red wagon I had asked for if the fire was burning there.

‘Time for bed, son,’ said my father, carrying me up the stairs. ‘When morning comes we’ll all go down and see what Santa left.’

“Through my flannel nightgown the sheets felt very cold as he covered me with blankets. ‘Say your prayers, son,’ he said.

‘Our Father’ — the sheets were beginning to feel less cold now — ‘Who art in heaven’ — my father’s face and all the excitement of the fourth Christmas Eve of my life drifted into oblivion.”

Yes, many things in young Buster Clar’s life were different from our world today, but those warm Christmas feelings can still be the same. May it be so these 110 years later.

Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.