To celebrate a century of life, about 50 friends and relatives of former Portola Valley resident Esther Litton gathered at Parkside Grille on Nov. 1 for a birthday party.
Litton, who was born on Nov. 18, 1919, lived in Portola Valley from 1958 to 2016, but relocated to Southern California in recent years. She hitched a ride north with her son to the recent celebration in Portola Valley.
Litton and her late husband, Martin Litton, moved to Menlo Park in 1954 when Martin took a job as an editor at Sunset Magazine, she said in a recent interview with The Almanac. They then built a house on a 4-acre plot of land on Bear Gulch Drive in Portola Valley. The home's architecture resembled Sunset Magazine's adobe-style Menlo Park office. The Littons lived there with their four children -- John, Kathleen, Donald and Helen.
"It was pure magic," Litton said. "It was full of live oaks, bay trees and madrones. The children had trails down there. We worried they didn't have a big lawn, but it didn't really matter; they enjoyed the hills and wildflowers."
Litton worked for the Portola Valley School District for 30 years as an instructional materials center clerk. In her role, she cataloged materials from the county, mounted pictures, laminated materials, delivered mail in a "little bus," and did other odd jobs, she said.
"I made some wonderful friends with teachers and administrators," she said. "Friendships that have lasted for all of these years."
During her birthday lunch she reminisced with friends -- many of whom are also former school district employees and part of a book club she belonged to that met for 25 years, she said.
Litton's decadeslong friend and former colleague Linda Vlasic told The Almanac that Litton is "absolutely, without a doubt, the most gracious, kind and delightful person" she knows.
"In her off the cuff comments at her party, she shared how grateful she was to bring up her children and live in such a wonderful, caring, community," Vlasic said in an email. "Portola Valley is filled with amazing creative people who enriched our lives immensely."
Litton is an only child who was born in Los Angeles. Her mother, who worked in the embroidery department at MGM, raised her alone with the help of Litton's grandparents, who lived with them, Litton said.
She majored in art and minored in French at the University of California at Los Angeles, where she met her husband in a French class in 1927. The two married in 1942, she said.
The Litton family visited Yellowstone National Park, the Sierra Nevada and British Columbia, among other destinations, during summer vacations, she said. The vacations were part of Martin's work assignments during his 15 years at Sunset Magazine. Their children would be featured in photos that were part of his travel stories, she said, adding that to show the scale of mountain ranges and other natural features, the children would wear red shirts and be in the middle distance of the photo.
There were fewer restrictions, such as hiking or camping permit requirements, on the John Muir Trail and other areas during these trips than there are today, so it felt as if they "owned the mountain by ourselves," she said.
After her husband died in 2014, she sold their Portola Valley home and moved south to be closer to family.
Litton said she doesn't have any tips for living a long life, but said she has always been a curious person and tried to learn a lot.
"I have no advice," she said. "I had no particular vitamins or exercises. I don't ever think I did things to get to be 100. I did try to be interested and enthusiastic about life and be aware of what was going on."