Some of the best social events of our family were the times we got together with our mother’s side of the family, the Dawsons. I never got to know my Grandmother Dawson because she died of cancer 25 years before I was born. However, my grandfather Dawson was hale and hearty. He lived to be 93 years old. He was a kind, loving man. He had eleven children, and he named his eight girls after flowers. We got together with the Dawson family on special days of the year, usually the 4th of July and Christmas. Sometimes our annual two week vacation coincided with the July 4th holiday, and when that happened, we would rent a cottage at the beach at Anaheim Landing, a beautiful bay near Seal Beach, California.
We spent July 4th with many cousins, aunts, and uncles, swimming, boating, and eating. We would jump into the water as it was entering the mouth of the bay and float along with the current, sometimes with an inner tube or other flotation device. The water went under the railroad tracks and highway on its way into the bay. We could only do this when the tide was coming in and the current was fairly strong. Under the bridge, there was a heavy rope that hung down to the water, and when we got to that, we grabbed on to it, stayed there a short while and then went on our way, floating on down the bay to a point where Uncle Frank and Aunt Mae lived on the right side. Sometimes we got out there and visited. (My cousins, the Baltzs, had a house on the left side of the bay, but it was not on our floating route.)
Our cottage was a little further down. When we got there, we got out of the water, and climbed up the steps to our front yard. At that point, wooden pilings lined the bay, holding the sand and dirt that had been piled behind it, where the cottages were built. The sand between the cottage and the pilings was about ten to twenty feet wide, and it made a great place to lie out on a canvas seat and read a book and get a good tan at the same time.
The night of July 4th, we would all get together to watch fireworks and then light firecrackers, fizzlers, cherry bombs, etc. (That was before firecrackers were outlawed in the State of California.) The other big get-together for the Dawson family was at Christmas. Before Christmas day, we Fink kids would walk to the Kress Store and Newberry’s down on Vermont and Slauson about a half mile from our house, to get Christmas gifts for other members of our family and special people. Since we only made 28 cents each Saturday from doing work around the house during the week, we had to save a long time to get the money to buy these gifts. When the day finally came to go shopping, we emptied our banks and were thrilled with the excitement of it all.
Every Christmas I bought the same thing for my parents: a round bar of shaving cream for Dad, since he shaved with a straight-edged razor and mug, and a box of chocolate covered cherries for Mother, her favorite. After purchasing everything I had on my list for the rest of the family, I bought what, to me, were very beautiful pieces of jewelry for June, Fern, and Hazel, older cousins I thought were quite special. I went to the counter where all of the beautiful rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces were sold and looked for a long time until I finally decided which ones to get. They only cost a dime or so, because more than that would have run my savings down to nothing, but I always managed to choose the nicest ones there for these cousins. Then I took them home, looked at them off and on for a few days, and finally the night came to wrap them.
We got out all our gifts to be wrapped, making sure that no one could see the one we had gotten for that particular person. Mother got out Christmas wrappings, and we carefully wrapped each one. Everything we planned to give to our family, we put in our own secret places. Those we expected to take to Uncle Ernest’s to give to others, we put in a bag and put in another place.
Usually we had our own family gift-openings on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas morning, we always went to Uncle Ernest’s. Uncle Ernest and Aunt Sadie had a lovely Spanish style home. When we went into the front door, there was a set of chimes. It was made of three or four pieces of metal with a small soft-covered mallet, so that when you hit the chimes, beautiful music would come forth. Also on the right side, just inside the front door, there was a large door that opened up into a dining room. The kitchen was off of that to the right, and at the other end of the dining room was another, smaller room. We entered a very large living room that had a huge fireplace on the right side toward the back. At the rear of the room, there were huge windows looking out on a lovely backyard.
On the left side of the room, closer to the back bedroom door than the front, there was a Christmas tree that reached from the floor to the ceiling—a huge full wide tree chopped from their own yard, beautifully decorated, and it was full of gifts underneath the tree, and had many others tucked here and there in the branches. We had at least 50 cousins and aunts and uncles there and all had a gift from Grandpa Dawson. Every year my Grandfather got me a beautiful doll for Christmas. One year, my gift was a beautiful doll with curly blond hair, the sweetest smile on her face, and a beautiful green organdy dress. She was sitting on the mantle over a huge fireplace with my name written on the attached gift card. Of course, many other dolls were placed there, too, exactly the ones all the little girls had ordered. But I only had eyes for the one that had my name on it.
After investigating everything on the inside of the house, we went to the backyard and up the stairs to the roof. Being a Spanish style house, the roof was flat, and there was a parapet around the edges so no one would fall off. A fairly large tangerine tree overhung the house on the back side, about where the stairway came out onto the roof. That was the first place we headed, because it seemed that it always had an abundance of tangerines on it every Christmas. After eating our fill of tangerines, we investigated the chimney that came up from the fireplace below because we rarely got to see the top of a chimney.
Dinner was served at noon. There were tables in the living room for the adults and a big long table in the dining room for the children. I’m not exactly sure where all the food came from, but I think each of my aunts must have brought their specialties because everything was absolutely delicious, and there was a great abundance of it all, too. It was especially nice to have the kids all in one room, as we could eat with the cousins that were our own ages, whom we hadn’t seen probably since the 4th of July or the last time we were at Anaheim Landing on vacation.
I don’t remember ever having to do dishes afterwards, nor do I remember even the clean-up period, but after dinner we kids got to go to a movie, usually at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It seemed like most years we went there, there was a new Shirley Temple movie to be seen. One I particularly remember was “The Littlest Rebel,” and another was “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.” If we didn’t go to a movie, we went roller skating at a huge rink in Hollywood. We always asked Uncle Frank when he was going to take us for an airplane ride, because he had promised us that for a long time. To my remembrance, however, we never got to do that. You must realize that this afternoon when we went to the movie was a very special day for us Fink kids because our folks never allowed us to go to the movies any other day of the year. However, Mother always let us go to this one movie, and we were really grateful for the excitement it was. Then we all went back to Uncle Ernest’s house.
About 6 PM, we had a buffet. After that, we had a Christmas program. This was planned ahead of time by some of the aunts, and they called each other to decide on who would do what. We had to plan ahead of time what we were going to do, and I usually recited a poem or verse. But I personally was in dread until my part was over as I was never good at memorizing things.
However, once my part on the program was over, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it. Of course, we always sang Christmas carols and had some kind of a skit. Some children said pieces they probably had learned for a church program or some other program at school or someplace else. Aunt Ivy usually sang “O Holy Night,” and her daughter, Ellen, would play a violin number. George Shochat played his mandolin and sang “I Wonder as I Wander,” and I think it was Aunt Lily and her daughter, Mildred, who sometimes sang duets. In later years, Jeannie Manthey, my cousin Vivian’s daughter, quoted the Christmas scripture, Luke 2:1-20. Every family had to participate in one way or another, and it was neat how it all worked out.
Finally we got around to Santa Claus. He came in with a hearty laugh and had many willing helpers to pass out each gift under the tree and on the mantle. At long last, I finally got to have my doll all to myself.
The only thing I remember after that was going into the dining room where the table was now loaded with books of every description that came from Dawson’s Book Store. These were free for the taking by any and all of us, so I was always there to get my share. Those books were real favorites at our house. My brother, Bob, always went out with a huge armload just for him, and I always had several, too. Our bookcase at home had some very delightful books that probably at one time came from that table, and I was always quite proud of the selection I had in my own bookcase, too. At home later during the year, we read each other’s books and enjoyed knowing that next Christmas, we’d be able to select others. Of course, we were avid readers at our house. We kids walked regularly to the library even though it was a mile away from our house to get books about every two weeks.
There’s a story told about my Grandpa Dawson: I have told you that he was a circuit-riding preacher and he lived in the west. One day, Jesse James, the famous outlaw, and his men were going through the town where he was. They were yelling and having a good time shooting their guns this way and that. One of Jesse James’ bullets went right through my grandpa’s cowboy hat, and after that, he got teased a lot about it.
There are also stories about my aunts and uncles: My Aunt Sadie and Uncle Ernest we called our “rich” aunt and uncle because they lived in a nice area and also because they went to Russia and other faraway places to get old books. They had a bookstore in downtown Los Angeles where my mother used to work, and they specialized in rare old books. My Uncle Ernest was also once the president of the Sierra Club, and the Dawsons were all good at climbing mountains. My own mother climbed to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado and Half Dome in Yosemite.
Uncle Frank and Aunt May had a speed boat at Anaheim Landing, and they took us out to the sea in it one time. How exhilarating! They had a canoe, too, that we used to borrow. We would use it to go to the lagoon so we could dig for clams with which my mother made delicious clam chowder. Of course, we used to go out to the beach very early in the morning at low tides to gather ‘bean’ clams, and those made extremely delicious clam chowder.