As I was unpacking the Christmas decorations a few days ago, I was greeted by an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in several years: Santa Bank.
I don’t remember when Santa Bank came to live with us. He’s been a part of the family for as long as I can remember.
I also don’t know where Santa Bank came from. I assume that he was a gift to me when I was a small child. His left foot says that he came from “Mexico.” I wish I knew how he got from Mexico to me.
He’s got a few cracks and chips, and part of his nose is missing. He’s obviously been well-loved.
Somebody raided Santa Bank a while back (probably me), as you can see from the injury to his backside. He’s still got some coins rattling around inside, but I just leave them there. You never know when a few extra coins might come in handy.
Santa Bank hasn’t come out to visit for quite a few years. He’s old and fragile (like me), and I was worried that he wouldn’t survive my daughter’s curiousity.
Hopefully Santa Bank will survive long enough for my daughter’s children to forget where he came from.
Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again.
~Menachem Mendel Schneerson
In tribute to the ancestors whose birthdays and anniversaries may have fallen through the cracks during all the holiday chaos.
Luvinia (Swanay) Martin
George W. Swanay
Joseph F. Brown
Mararet (Delaney) Harms
Almina (Hughes) Blanton
Sarah Jane (Swatzel) Dunn
Margaret (White) Kopp
Serena (Baxter) Brown
Mary Jane (Grogan) McGraw
Eliza Jane (Thompson) Swatzel
Mary “Polly” (Hays) Swanay
Polly (Brown) Hartman
Susannah (Kiser) Swanay
Malinda Taylor and Patrick Erwin
Melissa Cunningham and Barnett Baxter
Susannah Kiser and Albert Swanay
Mary Brown and William Walker
Ann Long and Nicholas Haile
Julia A. Blanton and Samuel M. Dunn
Martha Thompson and Barnett Babb
Hannah “Bridget” Grogan and Peter Bradley
A special happy birthday “aloha” to my cousin and her husband and daughter, all of whom celebrate December birthdays. Also, birthday greetings go to a certain first cousin, once-removed, and her husband; and anniversary greetings to a special couple who shall remain unnamed. Hopefully you all know who you are.
On some level, I think even fruitcake knows how awful fruitcake is.
Dislike of fruitcake supposedly dates back to the American Revolutionary War.
Legend has it that Commander-in-chief George Washington approached Benjamin Franklin one day to ask for barricade ideas to stop advancing British forces. Franklin suggested using his mother-in-law’s fruitcake… apparently his uncle had broken a tooth on one the previous year.
It is doubtful that Washington took Franklin’s dubious advice.
Another legend proposes that George Washington, upon hearing from one of his men that they were out of ammunition, suggested that they fire fruitcakes at the British. Apparently many British soldiers were killed or maimed that day.
Finally, there was the story published in the New York Times in 1983, which tells of Russell Baker, the lucky man who inherited a family fruitcake that had been baked in 1794 as a Christmas gift for George Washington. Washington apparently sent it back with a note of thanks, explaining that “he thought it unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter.”
Mr. Baker coined the phrase, “Fruitcake is forever.”
* * *
I can only guess that my Colonial ancestors also had an aversion to fruitcake, since I have such a supreme distaste for it, myself.
If fruitcake is forever, then dislike of it must be in the genes.
My father is the type of person who just decides to do something… and then does it.
Now, I’m not talking about simple things. I’m talking about big, complicated projects, things about which he has little or no knowledge of how to do prior to doing them. Like, “Gee, I think I’ll make ships in bottles now.” Or, “Hey, I’m going to make a stained-glass, Tiffany reproduction lamp now.”
That sort of stuff.
One year – probably around 1978 – my father decided that he was going to build a banjo. To my knowledge, he’d never built a banjo – or any type of musical instrument – before. He’d done other kinds of woodworking: wooden candy dishes, gavels, ship-in-bottle stands, and such. But never a musical instrument.
For months I watched as a banjo began to take shape. I remember the wooden skeleton hanging from the garage rafters waiting for its”guts.” Dad meticulously carved out the ebony fingerboard and peghead, where abalone and mother-of-pearl would carefully be inlaid. A detailed design was carved into the wood on the back of the neck. A small, mother-of-pearl swan (representative of our last name, Swanay) was carved and inlaid in the heel.
I had seen my father work on lots of projects before, so to me, this was just another of Dad’s many hobbies. I assumed that he was building himself a new instrument; after all, he was the banjo-player in the house, so it made sense.
However, on Christmas morning, I was stunned when Dad handed me a large, black instrument case. Inside was the banjo, and inlaid in mother-of-pearl on the peghead were my initials, “EMS.”
All along, he’d been making this instrument for me.
* * *
At the time, I had no idea why my father gave the banjo to me. After all, I didn’t know how to play it (although I did try to learn afterwards), and I really didn’t like listening to banjo music. I suppose that not many non-banjo-playing teenagers would know what to do with such a gift.
Dad told me later that he’d wanted to give me something special that he made himself. Something I could give to my children one day.
Thirty years ago, I didn’t get it. But I do now.
And if I forgot to say it then… thank you, Dad. I love it.
To this day, it remains the most special Christmas gift I ever received.
My mother wasn’t much of a baker. In fact, I’m fairly certain that she didn’t like to cook at all. That being said, if she ever baked Christmas cookies, I don’t remember her doing it.
When I got older, I started doing some baking on my own. Each Christmas, I would make fudge, rum balls, and various quick breads (banana, date, pumpkin) to give as gifts or to help pack on the calories at home. I would also bake one of my favorite cookie recipes: Snickerdoodles. While not specifically for Christmas, they do taste wonderful, and with a few red and green sprinkles tossed on before baking, they look very festive on your holiday table. Plus, there are no peanuts (or nuts of any kind), to which my daughter is allergic.
This year, I’m hoping to start a cookie-baking tradition with my 4.5 year-old daughter. She’s fascinated by watching me work in the kitchen, so this seems like as good a time as any to get her involved. I’m thinking of making up some sugar cookies and letting her “help” decorate them, but if you have any suggestions for fun cookies (or other baking projects) that a little one can help make, please let me know!
* * *
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp cream of tartar 1 cup butter or margarine 2 cups sugar 2 eggs 1/4 cup milk 1 tsp vanilla 3 tbsps sugar 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375⁰. Grease a cookie sheet. Stir together flour, soda, cream of tartar, and 1/2 tsp salt. Beat butter for 30 seconds; add the 2 cups sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla; beat well. Add dry ingredients to beaten mixture, beating until well combined. Form dough into 1-inch balls; roll in a misture of the 3 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon (and sprinkles, if desired). Place balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet; flatten slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass. Bake in a 375⁰ oven about 8 minutes or until light golden. Makes about 66.
(From the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, Ninth Edition, 1981, p. 162.)
Hello, I'm Elizabeth! I'm a genealogist, writer, and educator, and I've been looking for my descendant's ancestors for 3x's longer than she's been alive. I tell some of their stories here, but I also share tech and blogging tips, news, and other stuff I like. I am the host of the Genealogy Blog Party, which I hope you will join! Find out more right here.