Reflections upon the mid-20th century local Christmas seasons unwrap the details of Napa County toy drives, special yuletide accounts fueling holiday shopping and countless social events.
They also hold the seasonal memories of Emily Cudaback recalling her family’s South Jefferson Street nursery with its special Christmas emporium.
Cudaback’s was started by her future father-in-law, Harold Cudaback, in the early 1930s when she was just a child living in Vacaville.
Following World War II, Harold’s son and Emily’s husband, Bob Cudaback, managed the family business to eventually own and operate it. Bob was the one who had the building most people remember as the nursery constructed on the property.
At about the same time, the Cudaback Nursery Christmas gift shop and open-house event were begun. Emily said, “That year, my husband asked me if I would help sign people in at our first open-house. I had a job from then on. We carried gift-ware and ornaments we had bought at gift shows. A lot of that merchandise was from Europe.”
She continues to decorate her own Christmas tree with some of those ornaments. “Charlie Rossi (a long-time Cudaback employee) was instrumental in helping me select that merchandise at the gift shows,” she said. “He also created many of the beautiful displays in our gift shop as well as made our Christmas open-house events memorable.”
The Cudaback Nursery Christmas special events, the open-houses and gift shop continued through the early 1970s until the business closed in 1974. Although decades have passed, “There still are people who remember all of it and still talk about our Christmas open-houses and gift shop with great fondness,” Emily said.
As the Cudabacks were launching those holiday features, the local banks offered special accounts to help locals buy Christmas gifts through responsible financial planning. According to a November 1955 Napa Register article, that program was a success. The brief report said, “$529,000 Yule Club Savings Checks Sent—Record Sum Spurs Holiday Buying Here.” It continued, “This year’s checks exceed last year’s by $44,737.55 and the 1953 total by $129,245.90.”
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While many Napa County residents were able to purchase at least a few gifts, there were local children and families in need during the 1950s. Two Register articles from 1950 illustrate how area groups, organizations and individuals helped to remedy that situation.
The first article was from an early 1950 issue of the newspaper and titled, “Vets Make Toys For Crippled Children.” The program was run by the Veterans Home occupational therapy department. It was implemented to provide disabled veterans with an occupation as well as physical, mental and social rehabilitation.
In addition to providing a sense of purpose and accomplishment, the toy-making program also generated a small income for the veterans who made dolls, fleecy stuffed animals, wooden pull toys as well as some specialty items which reflected the individual skills of the veterans.
Two of the men were expert leather smiths who created intricately designed belts, wallets, bookmarks, and more. According to the Register, the veterans found great satisfaction in putting smiles on the children’s faces.
The second 1950 Register article about toy drives was printed in a December issue. Actually, it was a front-page photograph that featured a group of mostly women with a few men standing at the sides of a garage packed full of toys, bicycles and almost everything and anything a child and even a teenager would have loved to receive as a gift.
The text of the caption stated the women were members of the Napa Women’s Club located, then and now, on Franklin Street in Old Town Napa. The group had conducted a successful toy drive to provide gifts for local children in need. It also reported, those gifts would be distributed by Santa Claus during a Christmas party at the Club house.
The yuletide scene of Santa and gifts as part of local organizations’ holiday events was repeated throughout Napa Valley and county during the mid-20th century. However, many more of the subjects of the newspaper’s reports about local Christmas gatherings were groups composed of friends and families from all around the area.
The social pages of the 1950s Register issues were packed full of notices about those local seasonal parties. Based on those social notices’ accompanying photographs showing lots of smiles, a good time was had by all!