Growing up in American Baptist Churches as the son of a minister (yes, I AM a PK), these words were always front and center. Carved in the communion table in front of the pulpit, I would read them countless times over the years. However, it wasn’t until much later in life that these words took on a new and different meaning. With apologies to the author and translators of the New Testament, at this time when the Christian world celebrates Christmas, I would like to talk about donuts. Yes, donuts.
My favorite thing about celebrating Christmas are the traditions, rituals if you will. Every year we watch the same movies: Scrooged (laughing at the “toaster” line like hearing it for the first time); A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie”); Christmas Vacation (reciting all the lines); and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life (crying at the end for the 40th consecutive year). Each year we attend the Christmas Eve service (though Baptists cannot stay up until midnight, so ours is at 11 PM). And each season is highlighted by the gathering of family and friends, exchanging gifts and cards, and music across the generations.
However, of all these traditions, my favorite tradition is making donuts with my mom, it is never officially Christmas until the donuts are done. We call them “Grandpa’s Donuts”.
My fondest memories about my Grandpa Williams revolved around his two magnificent donut machines. Every time without fail, when he would come to visit, we would run out to meet him as he got out of the car. All four of us kids would jump up and down with excitement, all asking if he brought the donut machines. And, every time without fail, he would look at us, scratch his head and say, “Oh my, I think I forgot those in Milwaukee.” He would then begin digging around in the trunk of his car and, sure enough, tucked back in the back behind all the luggage would be THE MACHINES! (The machines were actually called “Brown Bobbies”) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Bobby).
My great-grandmother had given the machines to him in the late 1920’s. During the Great Depression, my Grandpa would make donuts to sell at the Post Office where he worked. He needed the extra nickel for two donuts to make ends meet to support his growing family.
On one of his trips to visit us in Evansville, he wrote the recipe in the front of mom’s cookbook. He must have known that trip would be his last. When he passed away in 1971, my mother inherited one of the Brown Bobby machines.
Over the next couple of decades it was used to make donuts for the occasional church bake sale but eventually fell into disuse. In the mid 90’s, I was a new manager and wanted to do something special for my team. My mom and I rummaged through her closet and there, tucked in the back, behind the boxes we discovered THE MACHINE! I donned my Grandpa’s old apron (handmade by my Grandma, with stitching that proclaimed the wearer to be “The Doughnut Man”) and we plugged in the Brown Bobby, fingers crossed it would still heat up. As we made the donuts and listened to Christmas Carols, something magical happened. My mom and I began to share stories about Grandpa. Gone for almost 25 years, he was remembered with stories, smiles, laughs, and tears. A new tradition was born.
For over 20 Christmases now, we drag out the machine, plug it in, and hope that it heats up one more time. I don the apron and wave my hand over the machine testing the warmth just as he did. We decipher the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listen to Christmas music and tell the same old stories about him that we have told for years.
When my wife Carmen and I were married in 2001, she joined in the tradition. She, my mom, and I would make the donuts. My dad had the difficult job of quality control (sampling the donuts as we made them!).
This year, my mom has been battling some health issues, so instead of gathering at her house, she and my dad brought the machine to our house. She sat at our kitchen island while Carmen, my dad and I made the donuts. We listened to the carols and told the stories about Grandpa. At some point, it occurred to me, I was truly making Grandpa’s donuts for the first time. Our first grandson, Braxton, was born in September, making me an “official” Grandpa!
Over the years, we have given donuts to countless friends, relatives and co-workers. We have shared the story of “Grandpa’s Donuts”. On this Christmas Eve, take pause. Take the time during your traditions to remember. Remember your family, your friends. Remember your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Honor your traditions in “remembrance of them”.
2016 – Life has changed since I first wrote this in 2012. Time marches on. Little did I know when I wrote this, it was my mom’s last Christmas with us. The donut machine never left our house that year. Perhaps like her father before her, she knew it would be her last. Mom passed away in mid-2013. Little Braxton is now four years old. Jordan, the newest member of our clan is two and half. My dad is in his mid 80’s and getting more frail with each passing year. Our annual donut making has taken on new meaning. Yes, Carmen and I still drag out the donut machine, I still wave my hand over it, checking the temperature…we still play Christmas music as we bake…I tell her stories of my Grandpa. But now, we both share stories of my mom, what she meant to each of us, and how she just loved Christmas.
Jordan and Braxton love their Grandpa’s Donuts. As the years pass, they will come to understand the meaning behind the chocolate frosting, the baked goodness and the heaping helpings of love that go into each and every donut.
Yes, traditions to change with time. It is their very connection to the past that make it so. As the future becomes the present, and the present becomes the past, the past changes. During this holiday season, take the time to pause. Remember those who came before us. Remember the ways they have touched our lives. Honor your traditions in “remembrance of them.”
– Jeff, Christmas 2016