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By Sheila Zanghi
contributing writer 

Dark night before Christmas

 

December 9, 2023

Sheila Zanghi.

It was a dark and gloomy night before Christmas in 1975. This was going to be the first Christmas as a married couple and his family was having a family reunion. We were short of funds, and I had decided to put my craft and sewing skills to use to make all the presents. The most important skill I should have employed was time management because the day before Christmas I still had the finishing touches and wrapping to do. I had planned on leaving work early but due to issues I ended up staying until 7 p.m.

It was already very dark when I started driving home from Sunland to Canoga Park on Tuxford/Roscoe Boulevard. I reached the area where Tuxford becomes Roscoe when my car started to act up. My gauge showed the car heating up. I pulled into a parking lot and parked facing the street. As I turned the engine off steam came pouring up from the hood. Now this area was a little sketchy and I really didn't want to draw attention to my plight, but the steam was a giveaway. This was long before cell phones. There were no stores around me and the only building in the lot was a two-story medical office building that was closed. I could see activity inside and took a chance and knocked on the door. After what seemed to be an eternity, a man in a custodian uniform answered the door. He didn't speak English, but my limited Spanish conveyed the need to use a phone. After hesitating a bit, he allowed me in.

I made a few calls trying to get a hold of someone. My husband wasn't answering our number and his store had already closed. I had started to panic when I finally got an answer from my in-laws. I told them of my plight and gave them the location. Waiting was hard and I was so happy to see my father-in-law, Sam; my brother-in-law, Bill, and Don's cousin Joey show up. After deciding I needed a new radiator hose Sam and Joey took off trying to find a store open at what was now past 9 p.m.

Bill and I sat in the car. Beyond the street we faced there was a field with a large two-story apartment building on it. We remarked that there was a lot of activity going on at the apartment with cars arriving and cars leaving constantly. As we watched, suddenly two helicopters, and four or five police cars, surrounded the apartment. We could see people jumping from the second floor trying to escape the law. It was like an action movie. We were stunned. The commotion continued and we tried to hide as well as possible. A large old Cadillac pulled up on the street right in front of us. We could see two men in the front sea and one in the back seat. We could see the man in the back seat had been severely beaten. The two men in front seemed to be arguing, hands gesturing. They didn't see us. What was going on? Just as suddenly they had appeared they took off.

Sam and Joey made their appearance then and started to replace the hose. While doing that the clamp was dropped. All four of us started to look for it. Imagine seeing four people in the middle of the night milling around, bent over and staring at the ground. Did we look like zombies, or did we look like we were on something? That thought hit me as a police car drove up. The two officers looked at us for a minute and decided we were harmless. One of the two officers asked if we had seen a large light-colored car? Bill and I both said yes. In fact, we told them, it was an old Cadillac with two men in the front and a beat-up guy in the back seat. They asked if we saw which way they had gone. Bill and I both said yes and at the very same moment each of us pointed in an opposite direction. So much for our eyewitness testimony.

We finally found the clamp, they refilled my radiator, and we made it home. Don, as prepared for the holiday as I was, had been out buying me a present that evening. I finished the projects but didn't have time to gift wrap, so I think I was the first to invent grocery bags as holiday wrapping. I quickly painted a Santa face on the bags, put the gifts in, stapled them shut, and attached ribbons to them. I was relying on the adage "It's the thought that counts."

This was one of my most memorable Christmas Eve's. I am forever grateful to those who helped me that evening from the man who let me in to use the phone to my family members who saved me that night. Some holiday memories help us believe in the kindness of others.

 
 

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