Valley Voices

Barbara Jean Patton Brim Nannini: Christmas memories from the heart of a West Fresno farm family

Barbara Jean as a child.
Barbara Jean as a child.

Over a half century has now passed away, but my favorite memory of Christmas was one in my childhood in the ’30s, because it so deeply touched my heart.

As Christmas season approached, I had no “expectations,” that I ever recall, of receiving store-bought gifts, but we know that the previous year our father, E.R. Brim, had bought us a beautiful, majestic tree.

It was 10 feet tall and almost touched our 11-foot ceiling.

Those were such cold, rainy, foggy winters, but Father and Mother Rose awoke at 4 a.m. on our farm, and he went out to milk the cows and feed our goats, pigs, and rabbits.

Father and Mother Rose then shared a breakfast of home-cured bacon, ranch eggs, oatmeal, home-baked bread, and wild blackberry jam that she pressed each year.

The fog was so thick as father drove out into the dark, and was shortly followed by his brother, J.W. Brim, who lived a street east on Brawley Avenue. They drove into the Rolinda, Kerman and Central areas, where they were joined by fellow farming men. These men were all employees of the Fresno County Irrigation District, and their job was to clean the large canals and ditches with their teams of horses.

The men enjoyed each other’s company and teamwork and had long, humorous tales to tell and pass on.

This job meant that for sure we could keep up the mortgage payments on the farm if the crops should fail, and for certain we could have a large turkey dinner for Christmas. All of our family members felt very blessed indeed.

Mother would then bring forth from some hideaway her precious collection of beautiful ornaments of various designs such as angels, bells, a Santa, stars, and those with cut-out designs. Once completed, the decorated tree was a grand sight to behold.

On that special Christmas Eve, my brother, Carl, and I wanted to stay awake to greet jolly old Santa in his red suit. I was real concerned, because I couldn’t picture how Santa could fit that plump belly full of jelly down that stove pipe without getting stuck!

Our parents said, “Go to sleep or Santa won’t stop here at all,” and sleep we did.

Carl awoke at the gray break of dawn and called out, “Has Santa arrived?”

“Come see for yourself!” was our parents’ cheerful reply.

Carl dashed across the rooms and, with a howl of “W-h-e-e!” – he leaped onto the seat of a shiny new red bike placed on its stand in front of the tree. Never in my life before had I seen my brother so filled with such excitement and pure joy, and I was never to see him thus again.

There was for me a soft, green, sturdy wicker doll buggy, and it held up through many years of whacking about teddy bears and two curly-haired Shirley Temple dolls.

There were sweaters from a grandmother, and then Mother said, “We have two more surprise gifts for each of you!” We couldn’t imagine the giver.

The first gift I opened contained two pairs of warm, thick, beige, over-the-knee socks. Our gifts were from our neighbor, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Sutherland. He lived at the southwest corner of Belmont and Cornelia avenues.

He said to my parents, “I see your daughter Barbara walking to McKinley School in the mornings, and her legs are blue from the cold. I hope she will wear and enjoy these.”

I certainly did! And then came the last gift to open.

There before me was a perfectly square, hand-crafted box with nails so small they hardly showed. The box had been stained a chestnut brown color. I turned the box around and around.

“Open the hook from its latch,” said Mother.

The lid sprung open, and out jumped a darling little cloth doll with her long skirt covering a spring. It was a Jack in the box, or a Jill! The doll’s face was white with black eyes and red bow lips, and her cotton dress had red and royal blue flowers on a white background. (I wish I could remember what Carl received!)

These gifts were from our neighbor friends, the Yokoyama family, whose farm bordered ours at our north end, on Blythe Avenue. Mr. and Mrs. Yokoyama had five children of their own, but had made time to craft us gifts!

My heart was so deeply touched from this unexpected kindness on their part. Our families remained dear friends for many years to come, but that Christmas taught me a lesson to last my lifetime; and it is this: A true gift is freely given from the heart, while having no expectations of receiving something in return.

Barbara Jean Patton Brim Nannini died Oct. 21, Her story, one of many she left behind, was provided to The Bee by her daughter, Ivy.