Do This In Remembrance Of Me

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 40ieth consecutive year). Each year we attend the Christmas Eve service (though Baptists cannot stay up until midnight, so ours is at 11). 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 Brown Bobby Doughnut Machinethe 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 has 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 extra money 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 Brown Bobby DoughnutsGrandpa. 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”.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

Comments

  1. says

    Love this story, Jeff. It reminds me of when I would help Grandma Sekely make her traditional baked treats – nut and poppy seed rolls (I got to grind the nuts) and cookies filled with apricot or prune butter. Yes; the food was wonderful, but the time and stories were so much better.

    It’s great that you’ve preserved your foodways!

  2. Anonymous says

    Jeff, thanks for sharing. I love hearing the stories of my Indiana family. Brought back memories of Grams trips to Greendale. Couldn’t wait for the orange rolls and oyster cracker mix. Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year to you and all of your family. Congratulations on becoming a grandpa. It’s one of the most wonderful things there is. Cousin Sherry

  3. Anonymous says

    My father, 86, tells me that his father made Brown Bobbies during the Depression to survive. He would frost them for holidays only. We, too, have a machine, and an old, handwritten recipe (calling for lard and using parafin to keep the bobbies from sticking). Many years ago we tried it (actually found lard in the grocery store after looking in all the wrong places…). I’ve since wanted to adjust the recipe and try it again with modern vegetable shortening, etc. Might have to do that this Christmas and start a new tradition!
    Signed,
    No one you know (but someone happy to have read your post)

    • says

      Thank you so much for your comments. I am always amazed at the number of folks who had (or have) a Brown Bobby. They certainly meant a lot to our family over the years. Here’s wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas Season. Jeff

      • Anonymous says

        Thanks, Jeff. Funny – I have a brother named Jeff and had a stepbrother named Jeff growing up (you know… Jeff and the other Jeff? We actually called them “Big Jeff” and “Little Jeff”). Maybe we’re leading some kind of weird parallel lives??? I called my father yesterday and invited him to make donuts before Christmas. I think we’ll find a way.
        Merry Christmas to you from chilly mountainous California.
        Kristi

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