Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some fond memories of winter holidays on the River

I can’t believe we’ve been living here long enough to reminisce about holidays on the River. It’s easy to do since we have so many wonderful community traditions, including the ones below (I’ve been so crazy-busy, I didn’t have time to write things up in advance this year -- though my neighbors and I did list them on the Rio Nido Web site at Information is also available from the Russian River Chamber of Commerce at ).

  • Annual Pasta Dinner/Fundraiser: The flurry of festivities kicks off on the first Wednesday of December with the Gonnella family’s annual pasta dinner/fundraiser for Bob Burke’s Kids at the Union Hotel in Occidental. This year, my daughter’s choir group, the Russian River Choir, and other groups performed holiday music while the adults enjoyed a hearty dinner of pasta, assorted sauces, salad, garlic bread, and dessert. It’s free to attend, but this event gathers enough in donations to help fund Burke’s numerous gatherings and recreational activities for children with cancer and their families. Although the eponymous and much-loved Bob Burke passed away this year, his family keeps the traditions and foundation alive. This year’s event was well-attended, as hundreds of people gathered together to celebrate and show their support. We saw folks we haven’t seen in ages!
  • Annual Tree-Trimming Downtown Guerneville: Not even the winter rains and recession Grinch can keep the holiday spirit away. Every year, on the first Thursday of December, our merchants decorate their storefronts and the street with lavish holiday lights and the Russian River Chamber of Commerce gathers folks together in our little town square to light the festively decorated Christmas tree. Okay, well, this year, the tree was a tad smaller than usual … but as I always say to my petite daughter who sometimes complains about being one of the littlest kids in her class … “good things come in small packages.” About 14 girls showed up from our wonderful Russian River Children’s Choir with Sonia and Ashley to sing Christmas carols and Chanukah songs. Since things were running a bit late, Sonia and Ashley took the girls around to go caroling throughout downtown, and in the Fire Station, and were rewarded with way too many cookies!
  • Holiday Parade of Lights in Downtown Guerneville: On the first Saturday in December, Guerneville closes off Main Street and everyone on the River converges for our celebratory Annual Holiday Parade of Lights, in which local businesses and other organizations display their creative talents and strut their stuff with a magical assortment of elaborately-decorated floats. Alas, the Triple R’s float was sorely missed, but the 5&10, Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and a host of others kept everyone happy and entertained. This year’s theme was “World Dance Celebration” and folks definitely seemed ready to celebrate!
  • More to come: Check out Pegasus Theater’s new production of “It’s a Wonderful Life at the Rio Nido Lodge, local New Years Celebrations at the Rio Nido Roadhouse, Village Inn (in Monte Rio), and other venues, and more.

I also wanted to share the following personal holiday memories from a few years back. It always amazes me how quirky, eccentric, and kind people can be out here on the River … especially to children.

From the trunks of babes ...

Seven holiday seasons ago, we were still living in Berkeley, my husband got a bonus at work & we decided to take a mini-vacation from our total wreck/fixer of a house & booked a little cabin at River Lane here in Guerneville for a couple of days. On top of other stresses, our daughter was in massive exploratory toddler & potty-training mode, & the remodel for our rotting, mildew-ridden, antiquated bathroom was NOT going well (probably because we had no money & had to re-do the entire thing ourselves ASAP before the floor caved in).

River Lane was a tad shabby (it has since been refurbished), but affordable & possessed of a cozy, rustic charm … plus it had a lovely deck with a view of the river. We noticed a tall, striking-looking woman in high-heeled patent leather red pumps and a sparkly, red feather boa with her daughter (approximately aged 8) struggling in the parking area with a battered old car which refused to start, & my husband chivalrously offered to give her a jump-start. Meanwhile, my daughter played with the older girl & they got along famously.

The woman & her daughter seemed nice, intelligent, & stylishly dressed. I was also struck by the warmth and affection with which they treated each other and our daughter. But it soon became apparent that they were homeless & had been taking a brief respite from car camping, courtesy of the low, off-season hotel rates. This horrified & saddened us, because my husband & I have gone through rough times & still often struggle financially despite our making a good income. There but for the grace of G*d go I … We teeter precariously on the crumbling precipice of middle-class respectability & it seems frighteningly easy to lose footing & tumble over the edge & into the yawning abyss.

We invited them to have dinner with us, but they said they needed to move on because they visiting with friends “up north” that evening & were supposed to be there already. My daughter’s erstwhile playmate then reached into an over-stuffed garbage bag in the trunk of her car, retrieved a small, plush Simba toy (the Lion King was all the rage back then) & handed it to my daughter, saying “I want you to have this.” My daughter’s eyes widened with delight as she grinned from ear-to-ear, danced a happy little caper, & launched herself into the older girl’s open arms, crying, “I don’t want you to go!”

We don’t know what became of them, but Simba remains one of daughter’s prized possessions & we will never forget this act of spontaneously generosity from this slender, pretty girl with the fluffy ponytails & large, sparkling eyes framed by enormous eye-glasses. We still wonder what became of them and wish them well.

First Christmas home on the River ...

We bought our house & moved in during the following holiday season. Flush with cash from the sale of our previous adventure in sweat equity & an overly-frothy housing market (sigh, how we miss those days now that our current home is WAY underwater), we set about doing our little part to support local businesses and decided to do all of our holiday shopping in downtown Guerneville.

After purchasing some unique and attractive gifts from Etcetera, Wayne Skala’s funky jewelry shop, and Jennifer Neeley’s wonderfully eclectic Memories that Linger (we still miss the latter two stores), we wandered into Hemp and Chocolate. I indulged myself with a couple of new, fabulous outfits (the owner designed them herself – she’s quite talented), and my daughter and I picked out a couple of soft, plushy, gauzy fairy-dolls for her friends. Since she was only two at the time, she threw a fit when she realized that she couldn’t keep them. Of course I had discretely set aside one for her, but how could she know that?

Suddenly, the door opened, and my daughter stopped in mid-tantrum and exclaimed, “Santa Claus!” Then she joyfully ran up to hug the handsome, portly, older gentleman who had just walked in. Sure enough, he sported a red flannel shirt, silver spectacles, rosy cheeks, and full silvery white beard! I apologized profusely, but he cheerfully waved me off and asked what my daughter wanted for Christmas.

While paying for our purchases, this lovely man smiled, handed my daughter the fairy doll, and said, “Merry Christmas!”

… And our first flood

There’s nothing like moving in during a flood year to initiate you into the ways of the River awfully danged fast! It rained and rained over the following weeks through Christmas and New Years. My daughter and I enjoyed all the fabulous recreational puddle-stomping available, until one morning, we woke up to the amazing sight of neighbors kayaking down our street! Apparently, this was one of the legendary floods we had heard so much about. The floodwaters had stopped just short of our property by our town’s little Post Office. We were perched high and dry above the flood line, but we couldn’t get out for several days. Luckily, we had plenty of food, a full propane tank, and had somehow avoided losing our electricity.

Since my parents had sent us two boxes of luscious pears from Harry & David, and my aunt and uncle had sent us a crepe pan with crepe mix, we invited our neighbors (who were all gathered at the Post Office) over for brunch. This proved a lovely way to get acquainted.

I was impressed with how everyone helped each other. Neighbors with electricity stored food in their refrigerators for those who had lost their electricity. Volunteers checked up on elderly, sick, and disabled neighbors to make sure they were okay and to see if they needed to be evacuated (in some sort of huge, amphibious vehicle parked in front of our Fire Station). And afterwards, everyone pitched in for all the big Spring Clean Ups in Rio Nido, Guerneville, and Monte Rio.

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