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County seniors remember Christmases past

NORTH COUNTY — Foreclosures, record job losses and a stock market crash have left many on shaky ground this holiday season. With the constant bombardment of dismal economic news, it can be easy for the younger generation to forget that this isn’t the first time the country has suffered an economic spasm. As the county settled down for an uneasy Christmas, local seniors at the Vista and San Marcos senior centers shared their memories of Christmases in hard times past.
“My shoes were soled two or three times till they were so tight they didn’t fit,” 91-year-old Vista Senior Center volunteer Betty Bowden recalled. “Lots of times our meal was macaroni and cheese.”
For Vista resident Ed Milczewski, now 78, mealtime meant a monotonous diet of potatoes, barley soup, vegetables and oatmeal.
“Now that I can afford to eat a lot of food, I can’t eat much,” he joked.
Christmas during the Depression was a simpler affair than it is today. Sam Kosanavich, a 90-year-old Vista resident, recounted how his family got a tree for free and decorated it with streamers made of paper rings and real candles. There was no money for presents, so they handmade them.
The difference between the current crisis and the Great Depression is one of expectations, the seniors said. Because everyone was poor in the 1930s, few realized there was any other way to be.
“I grew up with no TV, no telephone, no nothing,” Kosanavich said. “So I didn’t miss anything because I didn’t have anything.”
“You didn’t have anything back then and you thought you were rich,” San Marcos resident Marj Roney, 83, said. “You’d get one thing for Christmas, maybe.”
Seventy-four-year-old Joe Luciano of San Marcos grew up with eight siblings and said his family rarely could afford presents for them all. These days, he is happy for the experience.
“I notice that the children today take everything for granted because they get too much,” he said. “It’s important to save, have some security, and just enjoy life as much as you can.”
Security may soon be a hard thing to come by, however. For some, today’s headlines ring eerily true to the ones that heralded the Depression of their childhood.
“I don’t think we’ve come to the lowest point yet,” Bowden said. “When we get there, they may be as bad as they were then.”
Helen Corhel of Vista, 77, agreed. “I think it’s a lot like (the Depression),” she said. “People are being laid off right and left.”
Juanita Ruffolo of Vista is in her 90s. For her, the prospect of another Depression is too harsh to face.
“I wouldn’t want to have to go through that again,” she said. “I’d kill myself if I had to go through that again.”
Only time will tell if handmade presents and barley soup will be making a comeback. In the meantime, at least one senior is going to keep Christmas a merry occasion.
“My family, the first thing they said was, ‘No gifts.’ … That’s stupid!” Kosanavich said indignantly. “We always gave gifts. So I said I’m going to give gifts without telling anybody,” he said with a smile.