Old Timers Picnic
Victor Cozzalio’s favorite childhood memories are of Truckee, where he spent nearly every weekend with his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins rough-housing on the old cattle ranches and catching fish with his bare hands in Martis Creek.
“I loved the fact that everyone in town knew each other on a first-name basis,” said the Sacramento resident. The Cozzalio family’s Truckee roots extend back into the early 1900s.
“I also loved the fact that you could walk to the edge of town and suddenly be in the wild woods or sit by the river to watch the deer take a drink. That was back when we had Donner Lake all to ourselves, though. Now, there are so many people here. It’s just not the same.”
Cozzalio was one of 150 or so people who came out for the 22nd Truckee “Old Timers Picnic” at the Truckee River Regional Park on Saturday.
The annual event, hosted by the Truckee Donner Historical Society, offers the perfect reunion for old friends, an arena for story swapping and a chance to pay tribute to those locals who have come and gone.
“This is really special for some of us, especially for those who’ve lived here since the 1950s and before, like myself,” said Laura Horman, who has attended all 22 picnics with her husband Dan.
“So many people have moved away and this is often the only time each year when everyone gets together,” she says, while an old friend surprises her from behind with a hug and a kiss.
While some munched on sandwiches, pasta salad and cookies, others wandered from picnic table to picnic table looking at old photos and saying hello to friends.
The social aspect is what keeps Phil Kearny, 82, and his daughter Mary coming back each year.
“I went to school with a lot of these people,” Kearny said. “And some know stories about my family that I’ve never heard.”
Kearny’s family of Irish chicken farmers first made the trek to Truckee from Vermont sometime in the late 1870s. The historic Finnegan house where his mother was raised on River Street still stands today.
Kearny remembers days on the chicken ranch, which was located where the Highway 267 bypass is being built.
“My dad was the one who delivered eggs to the red light district,” he said with a smile.
“Then, my grandfather, who was in the dairy business, had a run-in with the town priest, who thought he should get milk for free. When my grandfather refused, the priest bad-mouthed him during a sermon and from then on, my family had to take the train to Verdi every Sunday just to go to church.”
On a serious note, Kearny expressed concern with the plans for development in the area.
“I’m against it, but I know these things are hard to stop,” he said. “I’m just wondering where they’re going to get all of the water for these places.”
Sharon Pace Arnold, president of the Historical Society, hopes the tradition of the picnic will continue for the foreseeable future.
“It’s sad because when we started this thing we had nearly 200 people come,” she said. “Now, we get less and less each year because each year, a few more people pass away. It’s really up to the younger generations to continue coming and stay in touch, to keep all of these stories and memories alive. As you can see, there’s quite a few younger people here already, which is great.”
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