[Recollections on Christmas in the Pauling household, as compiled from an oral history interview with Linus Pauling, Jr., June 2012.]
[As an undergraduate] at Pomona…I was serving dinners to some of my classmates, these big trays loaded with plates. They were prepared in the kitchen and carried out and distributed around. So I was pretty good at that.
Anyway, in the dining hall – which was the famous Frary Dining Hall at Pomona which has a huge Roscoe painting of Prometheus which is famous in art circles – the dining room brought in a beautiful Christmas tree about twenty feet high with delicate pine cones on the branches.
A few days before Christmas, the college emptied out of course, everybody went home. Since I was a member of the dining room staff, I said ‘what’s going to happen to the tree?’ ‘We’re gonna throw it out into the dumpster.’ So I said, ‘Can I have it?’ ‘Sure.’
So my ’32 Ford Roadster had a windshield that would fold down flat against the hood. I drove up to the dining room, got the tree, laid it out across the car – and you know it was longer than the car was – and beside me in the passenger side with the windshield down, drove back to Pasadena with this tree on my car and set it up in the living room in the Fairpoint Street house.
The living room there had ceilings that were about twelve feet high which was pretty good, but not quite good enough for this tree. I had to chop off some of the top and some of the bottom to get it to fit, but it was probably the most magnificent tree they ever had in there.
The traditional Christmas was that, when I was a kid, the household would go on absolutely normally through Christmas Eve with no sign of any particular holiday spirit. Then somehow, on Christmas morning, I’d wake up and here was the tree fully decorated with the lights and presents and so on. I wondered how this happened. Finally, when I was six or seven, I got old enough to realize that somebody had done all this and then I became party to the adventure.
It turned out that on Christmas Eve, my father would go out late in the evening. By then, all of the itinerant Christmas tree salesmen had left, leaving their leftover trees in the lot to be thrown out. So we’d roam around Pasadena looking at all of these trees in these now-deserted lots and find one we liked, take it, put it on the car, and drive home.
Then there’d be frantic activity through the night to put on the lights and the decorations, the ornaments, and bring out the presents for the younger siblings to wake up and be amazed at. So the same thing, I presume, happened to them to the right level.
All that came to a halt finally, probably with Crellin being old enough. That was really exciting and one of the fun parts of Christmas. I never followed that with my own children. Christmas got going early and they were exposed to it for a longer time.
The tree stayed up until after New Years. It was too nice, too beautiful, to think about taking down right away.
This is our last post for 2014 – see you in January!