Aiden Tracy, 4, visits his great-grandmother walking into an office trailer yelling “Choo, choo,” as a whole village lights up before his eyes, music fills his ears and a remote control train begins to run around a track.
To him and his family, this isn’t any ordinary place, it’s “Grandma’s Village.”
“First, it was my grandkids: They would say, ‘Grammy, are you going to have your village up by Thanksgiving?’” said resident Lynda Herrick. Now her great-grandkids ask the same question as part of the family’s holiday tradition.
On the border of Agua Dulce and Santa Clarita, resident Lynda Herrick, 72, and her “soulmate” Danny Jones, 71, built a village of memories with the help of friends and family.
A 10-foot-by-30-foot trailer sits near their home at Davenport Storage in Agua Dulce, and inside it stands a holiday porcelain village that was started more than 23 years ago with a special gift.
“It was a birthday present from my deceased husband (Tom Herrick),” Herrick said.
On Nov. 30, 1995, a big box just showed up, she said. “It was parts of my village, and that year, I put it in my fireplace that didn’t work.”
A simple gift of a porcelain village grew into a holiday tradition.
“It went from one box to — I don’t know — I couldn’t even tell you, a trailer full of boxes,” said Debbie Sanchez, Lynda’s oldest daughter. “We talk about it the whole year.”
In September, Herrick and Jones began to build this year’s village.
“We do it together and have been working on it since September,” Herrick said. “We finished in first week of December.”
The first time Jones met Herrick, she had three Christmas trees in her living room and her village taking up an entire room in her house, he said. “She loves Christmas and I enjoyed it just as much as she did.”
The couple did take a break from decorating to travel the country together.
From 2006-15, they traveled in their motorhome, working as camp hosts at different campsites.
“We didn’t do any decorations for seven years — I didn’t put it up,” Herrick said. “I kept buying things for it, or (my daughters) would get me something.”
When they came to Agua Dulce in December 2015, they put it back up in the house.
“I couldn’t use it all because I had too much,” she said. “And this year, I asked the boss to borrow the trailer.”
Inside the office trailer, movement, music and lights make it feel as if you were in Santa’s Workshop.
Each piece from a family member or friend, every piece with a story and memory.
“There are all these memories,” Herrick said. “I sit here, I look and I think, ‘In those house, did they have as much fun as we do?’”
All different themes are in the village, many with special meaning. Farms with all different animals and barns remind Herrick of her grandparents. A camper section to remember Jones and Herricks’ trips together.
“My oldest daughter made the big trailer,” she said.
“My sister (Stephanie), our kids and I made stuff for her, like fences out of popsicles sticks,” Sanchez said.
A cathedral reminds her of Germany, where her first husband, Tom, was once stationed in the Air Force.
“We’d go there as a family, so I just had to have it,” she said.
“We remember what happened when those pieces were bought and given to her,” Sanchez said.
“(Tom) is the beginner of the whole thing,” Herrick said.
Right before he passed away, he had given her sign for her village, reading “Lynda’s Village.”
The tradition continues, with new pieces added each year.
This year, adding carnival-themed pieces, such as a merry-go-round and two different ferris wheels that light up and move.
“Danny bought me a house with Santa Claus for a train area,” Herrick said. “He just goes to the store and looks for what I don’t have.”
During the other seasons, the village sits wrapped in a bunch of boxes in a storage unit.
“It took probably three weeks to take all the boxes down,” Herrick said. “I have my ideas of how I need it set up. (Danny) helps me bring it down and unwrap it, climbs on the ladder and the guys who work here have helped this year, too.”
“It’s called the ‘honey-do’ list,” Jones said laughing. “Honey do this, honey do that.”
This Christmas, Lynda’s family will see this year’s set up for the first time.
“Their smiles and laughter are just so genuine when they look at it. I can’t even describe it,” Sanchez said about her family. “You can look at it, and go back in an hour and find something new.”
Something new, even for Herrick. She has a new favorite part everytime she looks at it.
“I think, I like the Victorian part best, and then I come out here and I like this part best — it’s different everyday,” she said.
Each family member will find their favorite part this year, and 4-year-old Aiden’s eyes will light up again as he watches the trains go around the track.
“I don’t think (Lynda) realizes how amazing it makes her friends and family feel,” Sanchez said. The special gift will continue to grow, creating more memories for years to come.