I am writing this week’s column early in the morning on New Year’s Eve. It is quiet out on the vineyard. A few coyotes are howling off in the distance.
Our horses greeted me with a few faint neighs, hoping to get fed a little earlier than usual. It has been a quiet two weeks here as our employees have been off enjoying time with their families before we start back to work on Jan. 3. There is much-needed rain forecast for that day, hopefully the start of more rain events for the new year. I don’t remember how long its been since we have had such a dry December.
While it has been quiet and slow on the vineyard where we live near Los Alamos over the last two weeks, I have been busy coordinating the development of a new vineyard project in the Santa Ynez area. It’s been 36 years since my brother Dana and I farmed down in the Valley, and like everywhere, the landscape has changed.
I think we all get nostalgic around the holidays, and as I drove down Alamo Pintado Road one day before Christmas, I could not help but recall Christmases past, spent with my grandparents, Sam and Eileen, mom and dad along with my brother and sisters. Since mom and dad were only children, we did not have any aunts, uncles or cousins.
My mom always made the holidays a special event, polishing her silver and getting out her best dishes, even if it was just for us. Mom wanted us to experience some of the holiday traditions she grew up with while living down on Rancho de la Vega in Buellton.
I can barely remember going down to the ranch when my great aunts Micaela and Ynez de la Cuesta still lived in the adobe on the ranch. They would always host the holiday dinners for the family, which depending on the year, could be quite a few de la Cuestas.
My mom used to tell us that on Christmas Eve we would all go down to the ranch where the family would visit, help prepare enchiladas and other treats for the next day. We would go to Mass at the Mission and then head back to La Vega for the Christmas Day celebration.
Everyone would be dressed up. Coats and ties for the men. Dresses for the ladies. And we would have new outfits as well. I can remember a big table inside the adobe that was filled with plates, silverware and lots of glasses that would be used throughout the course of the day.
All from an earlier era, when everyone was probably just as busy as we are today. The difference is I think they made time for special occasions like Christmas and truly enjoyed getting together. We were always on our best behavior. There were no TVs or iPads, no football games to watch.
This year we enjoyed spending Christmas Day at my brother Dana and his wife Marsha’s beautiful home on their vineyard in Paso Robles. Our number are growing, with new Merrill cousins ranging in age from 1 to 17. Once again, I found myself looking at a big table set for 16 family members.
I think my great aunts Micaela and Ynez would have fit right in.
Happy New Year.