Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Before I post my goals for 2014, let's review my goals for this year
and how well I've done measuring up to them.

1. Work more on my maternal lines
Plan: Thanks to being contacted by two of my White cousins I now know
more than I did last year. There still are some blanks I need to fill in yet
on the family tree.
Results: I didn't have as much success here as I did in 2012. Of course,
much of this side of the family lived in Ireland and Germany, so it's not
as easy  to work on  as my dad's New England ancestry. Failure.

2. Continue researching my paternal lines
Plan: I should finish working on the Ellingwood collateral lines by Spring.
I'll move on to the Houghtons and Barkers next.
Results: Success. I've finished (for now) with the Ellingwood lines and I've
started in on the Houghtons and Barkers.  My database now stands at 30,000 +

3. Break down that John Cutter West brick wall!
Plan: Hope springs eternal!
Results: Failed. John's parentage still remains a mystery,

4. Join a local genealogy or historical society.
Plan: I need to get this done. Actually attending any meetings will
have to wait until I get a car, though.
Results: Nope, still haven't done that. Failure.

5. Continue with Find A Grave activities
Plan: Cemetery visits are curtailed until I get a car. However I still have
quite a backlog of photos from last Spring and Summer that need to be uploaded.
Results: One of the successes of the year. I have a car now, Ping II, aka Pingzinga
and I'm back out taking pictures. Also, I've now added a total of 301 memorials
to Find A Grave, mostly for Mt Vernon Cemetery here in Abington. So I rate
this as a success.

6. Trim My Tree
Plan: I need to be more agressive about this. I have too many multiple entries
for people.
Results: Moderately successful. I've trimmed a lot but there's still a lot more
left to work on.

7. Do some more indexing for FamilySearch
Plan: I enjoyed indexing the 1940 Census. I'd like to work on another project. I just
need to find the time.
Results: I did some, but not as much as I did for the 1940 Census. BUT...since my
Find A Grave memorials are added to Ancestry, that's sort of a form of indexing,
especially since some of it may be names new to Ancestry. So a conditional
minor success.

8 Write more.
Plan: I should do better with this compared to last year since I don't have the
1940 Census to distract me. I've already posted more posts(2) than I did all
last year on The Old Colony Graveyard Rabbit. Here on West in New England, I
need to  write at least one more blogpost for each month than I did last year.
Results: Success. I've written more for both blogs than I did last year, although
the posts here will still be the second lowest yearly total out of 6 years.

9. Organize, Organize, ORGANIZE!!
Plan: Same as last year: JUST DO IT!
Results:  Moderately successful. I've managed to get my downloaded images
renamed and filed by surname.

10. Scan, scan, SCAN!
Plan:  See #9
Results: Failure. I barely scanned anything this year.

So out of ten goals, five were successful, one moderately successful, and four
were disappointments. But still, not too bad, and motivation to do better in

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Earlier this month I shared a post about my distant cousin Benjamin Curtis
Donham. I'd discovered that Benjamin had been working in Korea in the
ealy 20th century, and a document from the American Embassy in Seoul
had raised  some questions about his professional and private life that
made me want to try to find the answers online.

Benjamin was working as an engineer in Seoul, so I googled using his
name and the words "Korea" and "engineer" . The first thing I found was this:

"B. C. Donham is chief engineer for Collbran & Bostwick, general and railway
contractors of Seoul, Korea. News comes of a daughter born November 13, and
it is needless to say that "Ben" is proud and happy. Just now he is too busy to
 write,—building a water-works system for Seoul, among other things,—but
the secretary hopes to have a "foreign letter" from him by our next issue."

P 104  Technology Review Volume 9 Association of Alumni and Alumnae of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1907

Benjamin Donham was a MIT graduate! This was confirmed when I found  an online
"Class Day" edition of The Tech, the MIT student newspaper from June 1895. It has
the names of members of the graduating class, and Benjamin C Donham is among
them with a "Course One" Bachelor of Science degree.

Also, in 1895 he co-authored a book with a Harold Kildreth Barrows, A Design of a
Water Supply System for the Town of Weston,
which was published by MIT Press.
Perhaps this was Benjamin's senior thesis?

And finally, the 1908 Year-book of the American Society of Civil Engineers lists
Benjamin on p 150 as the Chief Engineer of the Collbran-Bostwock Development
Co. of Seoul, Korea.

Next I searched for Benjamin's wife Edith McKean to find information on their
wedding. I found two newspaper stories:

WILL WED IN YOKOHAMA Miss McKean Sails for the Orient to Become a Bride
ALAMEDA July I5 - When the steamer Iorlc sailed to - day for the Orient Miss Edith
McKean of this city said good - by to friends and home to become the bride of
Benjamin Donham in far Japan The bride - elect was given a pre - weddihg reception
here and received many handsome wedding presents which she Is taking with her to
her home in distant Corea. Miss McKean and Ben Donham were warm friends only
when he left here two years ago to try his fortunes in the Corean mines. Later they corresponded and it was by letter that they became betrothed and that her consent
was won to venture across seas to become his wife. Donham Is a civil engineer in the
employ of Coburn & Bostwick. Mr and Mrs Donham will reside in Seoul the capital of
Corea and will make that country their home for a number of years He will meet her
in Yokohama where they will be marrled
 San Francisco Chronicle › 1902 › July › 17 July 1902 › Page 5

James IV McKean Selects Final Rest-
ing-Place Two Weeks Before Death Comes.

ALAMEDA, Aug. 24.— Two weeks ago James F. McKean, an old and respected 

resident of this city, went to San Lorenzo Cemetery and selected the plat that 
was to contain his grave. Last night he passed away at his home, 1216 Versailles avenue, and will be buried In the spot that he chose for his final resting place. 
He had been ill but a few days.

James F. McKean was born in County Armagh, Ireland, seventy-three years ago.
He came to California in 1854 and for many  years followed the fortunes of a 
miner. Twenty-eight years ago Mr. McKean, with his family, moved to Alameda. Deceased conducted a watch and jewelry  store on Park street until failing health compelled him to retire Iast June. Complications due to advanced years caused 

Surviving the deceased is a wife and grown family. A son, Winfield M. McKean,

is the cashier of the Bank of Alameda. Miss Minnie E. McKean, a daughter, is
a teacher in the local school department. Another daughter, Miss Edith, recently
went to Hongkong, where she became the bride of Benjamin Donham, a civil 
San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 86, 25 August 1902

So Benjamin and Edith had been married overseas, either in Yokohama, Japan, or
Hong Kong, China., depending on which newspaper story had the correct place.

I'll summarize what all this told me in the next post in the series.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


When I was a kid the day after Christmas was a wonderful day: I knew I had a
week or so off from school and I had some new toys or games to play. If I
grew bored with them I'd just go to the library and take out some more books
to keep me occupied. If it had snowed, I'd go sledding over on Selden Street
with Barry Solomon and the other kids. 

The torn wrapping paper was stuffed into empty department store bags (
plastic trash bags didn't become popular until the 1960's) and the boxes that
toys and appliances came in were hauled out by the curb for the city
trash trucks. This was how we knew what  the other kids got for Christmas
or Hanukkah. Inside, gifts had to be removed from under the tree to our
rooms a day or so after Christmas so the pine needles under the Christmas
tree could be vacuumed up.  
If Christmas fell on a Friday or Monday that year there'd be a round of visits
to our McFarland and McCue relatives or they'd visit us. So Christmas decorations
stayed up for several weeks, sometimes to the end of January. When we were
living on Capen St. my Mom used Glass Wax stencils to decorate our apartment
windows but she stopped after one year when cleaning the windows off was
harder than usual. Besides, nobody could see them anyway since the apartment
was on the third floor! We also only used "angel hair" to decorate the tree

But eventually we'd take off the decorations, lights, and garlands from the tree
and pack them away, and the tree would be hauled out to the curbside. If it
snowed before trash pickup it might be out there an extra week or two. In time,
as we grew older, the artificial tree would be disassembled and taken down to
the cellar.

Christmas was  over.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Christmas Eve was sometimes hectic in our family, especially
those years when we lived in Dorchester, because Mom and Dad
would drive around to Mom’s cousins’ houses to drop off gifts for
the kids. Sometimes my sister and I went along but as we got
older and more responsible we’d stay home while the gifts run
was made.

Then there were Christmas Eves where we were all home
and spent the night wrapping presents for each other or other
relatives. I think I liked those quieter nights best.

The past two decades or so Christmas Eve is spent at my sister
and brother-in-law’s house. Gifts are given out and opened and
my sister’s youngest son Mike(now in his twenties) often ends
up with the handing out the gifts duties since he’s the youngest
family member. Then there’s food served buffet style. At that
point, I am just trying to stay awake because I’ve been dealing
with the last minute shoppers at the store all day and a good
meal on top of that makes me want to take a nap. And next
day I go back over for dinner.

All in all Christmas Eves over the years have been good ones,
sometimes saddened by losses of loved ones but we all enjoy
being together and relaxing after the end of the Christmas rush.

2009 Update: A new tradition began last year with the Christmas
Eve festivities moving to the home of my niece Sarah and her
husband Steve. And this year I am actually having a day off on
Christmas Eve, so I won't be so tired and sleepy!

2010 Update: Christmas Eve will be at my sister's this year and I'm
looking forward to some lasagna. I expect that Michael will be helped
with giving out gifts this year by my 2 year old grandnephew Noah!

2011 Update: Christmas Eve will again be at  my sister's house and
there will be lasagna! One change this year: since the bookstore closed
I haven't been working the Christmas shopping rush so I may not fall
asleep as early as I have in past years!

2012 Update: Christmas Eve was at my sister Cheryl's house with her
family and my brother Phil and his oldest son Phil. It was a great evening
and much lasagna was eaten. 

2013 Update: Christmas Eve will be at Chery & Pete's house tonight with
gift opening and food. Christmas Day will be at my nephew Paul's house

One nice change the past few years since my retirement is not having to
work on Christmas Eve. There were nights where one manager at the
Borders store would take FOREVER to close down the store, so it 
might be two hours before the unlucky few of us working the close
could go home. Luckily, the other two managers I worked for there
in later years were just as anxious to get home as the staff was, so 
we were out pretty quickly. And there was the Christmas Eve we
were all out of the store, the alarm was armed, and all the cash
registers were already locked away in the safe.... and two teenagers
ran up and asked if the store was still open and could we sell them
a cd they needed. No, we didn't reopen the store. If we had, there
would have been more people showing up and wanting to come in.

Ah memories... 

 ((Originally posted in 2007))

The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at

Monday, December 23, 2013


Today is the holiday of Festivus, and in keeping with the tradition I have
some genealogical grievances I want to air:

If my various ancestors were going to have the same names for 4 or 5 generations,
they could have at least added some descriptive phrase to each name, like "John
Ames the Short" or "Jonathan Barker the Strong" to help us later generations sort
them out  more easily?

But on the other hand, I've got three Scottish ancestors who have those phrases and
they're  driving me crazy. Why was David Forbes called "David With the Black Lip"
Forbes? Didn't he wipe his mouth after eating?  Why was one David Forbes called
"Evil David Forbes"? And was another David Forbes called "David Trail the Axe"
Forbes? Was he too weak to carry it, or was this some Scottish euphemism for
a particular physical attribute ?

When my colonial ancestors were dictating their wills they could have at least
made sure that the person writing it down for them had neat handwriting!

And why hasn't Genea-Santa sent me a clue yet to help break down that John
Cutter West Brick wall???

Finally, what is the problem with politicians who cannot understand that most
identity fraud is not caused by the SSDI?

Sigh. There. I feel much better.

How about you? Do you have a genealogy grievance to air for Festivus?

Sunday, December 22, 2013


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I once worked several years
for a New England based toy store chain. At the end of the
Christmas Party my first year there(this would be the year before
the incident with the car and the tractor trailer box)I was called
into the warehouse office and told that they didn’t need me there
after the holiday but they could use me at the Dedham
warehouse where they stored all the returned damaged toys.

So the week after Christmas I found myself in a small warehouse
amidst stacks of Chatty Kathy’s and See and Say’s and Barbie
dolls. Sleds that just needed to have a screw or bolt replaced
were broken up with sledge hammers.

It seemed like such a waste when I found out the other toys
would be returned to the toy company for credit. Couldn’t the
sleds be repaired and given to kids?

No, I was told. I won’t tell you the reason I was given because it’s
pretty disgusting but given the nature of retail it’s not surprising.

So I went from being a Santa’s helper to being the Grinch’s

Eventually I was sent back to the main warehouse. A year later I
left the company and found another job.

And the toy store chain? It went out of business a year or so

I like to think of that as a cosmic lump of coal in their corporate

2011 Update: That reason that the company person gave was
that if people got the repaired sleds free they wouldn't be spending
their money at our stores to buy new ones. When I pointed out that
a lot of people couldn't afford to buy a lot of gifts I was told that
parents would find a way to spend money on their kids so they'd
have a good Christmas, including folks on welfare. 

The only good thing I can say about that whole conversation was that
it took place long after the Christmas holidays so it didn't ruin the
Christmas spirit for me that year.(That came years later when I
started working in retail on the sales floor.)

2013 Update: For those wondering what company did this, it was
Child World. It's been about 25 years since they went out of business

  The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at

Saturday, December 21, 2013


It's become a Geneabloggers tradition to join our friend

footnoteMaven in the annual Blog Caroling Event, when
geneabloggers post their favorite Christmas carols. Then
you can check the links on fM's blog Christmas Eve and take
a blog caroling tour of everyone's choices!

This year I have a new favorite, a carol to reflect my Irish
heritage from my Mom's side of the family. It's the Wexford
Christmas Carol, which historians say dates from County
Wexford, Ireland in the 12 Century A.D. I first heard it
sung on a Lorena McKennitt album. There is a version
on YouTune with Allison Kraus singing with accompaniment
by Yo Yo Ma on cello that you can see and listen to here:   

Nollaig Shona Duit! (That's "Merry Christmas" in Gaelic!)
The Wexford Carol
Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born
The night before that happy tide
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town
But mark right well what came to pass
From every door repelled, alas
As was foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble ox's stall
Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God's angel did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear
Arise and go, the angels said
To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you'll find, this happy morn
A princely babe, sweet Jesus, born
With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went the babe to find
And as God's angel had foretold
They did our Saviour Christ behold
Within a manger he was laid
And by his side a virgin maid
Attending on the Lord of Life
Who came on earth to end all strife
There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah lay
They humbly cast them at his feet
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

Friday, December 20, 2013


I don’t recall many holiday parties from my earlier childhood. In
our family folks were too busy working or shopping at Christmas
time. And when we lived in Dorchester the apartments weren’t
really big enough to hold large parties in, although there might
have been one or two. If so, they would have followed the rules of
other adult parties my folks had: after saying hello to the adults,
my sister and I would be sent off to our beds to eventually fall
asleep while listening to the adults in the other room laughing
at Rusty Warren records. We wondered what "roll me over
in the clover" meant.

As an adult, most of my Christmas party experience has been at
work, including one at a now defunct toy chain warehouse(more
on that job later) when I was in my early twenties. It snowed
when I left for home. My car at the time was an Olds 98 and
being in a hurry to get home, I didn’t completely clean the rear
windshield. I backed up, turning the car around….

…and smashed my rear windshield by backing the car up under
a tractor trailer box front end as if it were a big rig hooking up.

The good news was, my Dad worked in the auto glass repair

The bad news was I had to call him and tell him what I’d done.

It was an …umm…interesting conversation.

((First published in December, 2007))

2013 Update: I think this is my favorite out of all the things 
I've posted every year about past Christmases. I remember the
windshield incident with a smile now but at the time I was 
a nervous wreck waiting for Dad's reaction, especially since I'd
had a few highballs at the Christmas party which probably had
a lot to do with my backing into the trailer. I also had to drive
the car home with no rear windshield in a snowstorm and I was
worried I'd get pulled over by the police. When I got home we
covered the broken window with something, probably a cut
open garbage bag and masking tape, and a few days later Dad
found a replacement at Goldy's, a local junkyard. 

Most of all, I remember Dad getting out of his car when he drove up 
to the  Child World warehouse, taking a puff on his cigarette, and 
giving me The Look before asking me "How the hell did you manage 
to do that?"

 The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at

Thursday, December 19, 2013


(originally published in Dec 2007))

It’s funny how some Christmas memories fade and some endure,
especially when it comes to gifts.

We weren’t poor but we weren’t exactly well off either when we
were young. Santa’s gifts were often determined by budget
concerns but he always managed to leave us clothes and some
toys. (although one year I got a note with the other gifts:
“Dear Bill, I owe you one telescope. Santa Claus”)

Ads for a forthcoming movie brought back more memories. One
Christmas Eve my sister and I could hear Alvin and the
Chipmunks “Christmas Song” play over and over while our
parents laughed. When we asked why the song kept playing we
were told it was the radio and to get to sleep before Santa came.
(of course by now I already knew the Awful Truth). It turned
out Santa had left us a portable record player along with a copy
of the record!

I still have the gift my sister gave me one year: a wooden chess
set, the kind that doubles as a box to hold the chessmen. It’s
over thirty years old now.

As I grew older I learned that giving gifts was as much fun as
getting them. We didn’t have a color tv so one year when I was
working at the toy warehouse I put a portable Magnavox color
tv on layaway and gave it to my folks for Christmas. That tv lasted
for years, even after my folks got a larger console set. It migrated
from bedroom to bedroom passing from my kid brother to my
sister’s kids back to my brother’s kids until it finally gave up the

And then last year, I got a gift from a group of great friends, the
computer that I’m using right now to preserve these memories.

Oh, yeah! I eventually got the telescope!

2010 Update: When I moved here from my old apartment I had
to give up my desktop computer from my friends due to space
limitations. But my family had given me Sheldon the laptop
computer for Christmas last year, so I'm able to sit here in
the living room and do my blogging and research in my
comfortable chair. And the year before they gave me the
digital camera that lets me chronicle my road trips in pictures.
I'm very grateful for these and other gifts from them.

2013 Update: In 2011 my family gave a newer digital camera,
a Canon Powershot, which I've used to take some good photos
on my car trips and at cemeteries for Find A Grave. You can see
a few at the bottom of this post. 

So Santa has been very good to me over the years!

  The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


This was originally posted back on 25Jul 2007. I thought I'd repost
 it again because of the Christmas memories:

This the first in a series of posts which are my transcriptions
of 13 handwritten pages. They were written by my Aunt Dot
(Dorothy West Bargar) and given to me yesterday when we attended
my nephew Paul's wedding.

Some explanations of the names mentioned: Phillip was
Phillip Jonathan West, Dot's grandfather and my great
grandfather. Bud is my Dad, Hazel was her older sister
and Flossie(Florence) the youngest.

"Dingle" is a new term to me and sounds like a shed.

"Our family lived on Back Street in Upton from about 1830 to
1927. I have a picture of Bud and Hazel, taken Aug., 1926 that
was given me by Pop’s cousin Louie West (his dad was great
uncle Paul -Philip’s brother). This was the first I heard that I
ever lived in Upton. My birthday was in April of that year.

From conversations, I think I remember we probably moved
to Magalloway for a short time, then to Wilsons Mills. Phillip
stayed in Magalloway.

The first place I remember living was in a little square cabin on
the shore of Azichoos lake back a trail from the dam house.
There was a wagon trail past an old stone quarry and a foot
path along the lake shore. The quarry was home of the bear
that we always looked out for. The cabin was partitioned off in
one corner-a room big enough for a white iron double bed and a
built in double bed with a bunk (half size) up under the eaves.
There was a path between the beds wide enough for a dresser.
The remainder of the cabin was one L shaped room (except the
L was upside down & backwards) (end p.1)

The back door opened to a covered walk that led to a dingle

where we kept outdoor tools and dry wood for the fire. The
space from the door to the dingle was about the width of a
standard sidewalk. I have always remembered the dingle
because that is where the bag of toys that Santa brought was
kept. I only remember one Christmas that we received presents
and must have been when I was three because Flossie was not
yet in the family.

Don’t remember what Hazel & Mother got. Pop got a necktie,
Bud got pocket knife. (he would have been 5 years old) and I got
a pull toy -it was a green platform with red wheels & a red pull
string and had a white celluloid lamb on the platform. We also
got a tiddle wink game, which at my age was a great failure at,
but liked it anyway. That was probably 1929.

In years later we always decorated the house and had fun
making our decorations from newspapers and magazines. For
many years we had carefully saved the few fold out paper
Christmas bells and a few pieces of red & green rope that had
come with the family before any time that I recall."(end p 2)

Sunday, December 15, 2013


(I'm a week late on this Saturday Night Genealogy Fun Challenge from
Randy Seaver of Genea-Muings but better late than never!

Dear Genea-Santa,
Well another year is nearly over and it's been a very good year. To paraphrase
the immortal Chico Escuela, "Genea-Santa been berry berry good to me!" I've
found all sorts of good things researching the family tree this year, such as
probate files and wills. My White family cousin sent me a picture of my
great grandfather Edward F White Sr. And I have a successor to Ping the
Wonder Car, Ping the Second, (aka Pingzinga) so I've been able to visit
cemeteries and take pictures. Last but not least, I was able to meet
geneafriends at the New England Geneablogger Bash and at the
Geneablogger Panel at the Merrimack Valley chapter of the MSOG. So, all
in all, a very good year.

Except for that one thing.

You know what I'm talking about.

Yes, the BRICK WALL. I still haven't found the parents of my 3x great grandfather
the Elusive John Cutter West. I really need some help there, Santa.  I mean,
I'm pretty sure he wasn't a product of spontaneous generation. I'm not greedy
Santa, I'll take even the teeniest weeniest of clues. Work with me here, Big Guy,

Meanwhile, here's another  genealogy gift idea for the elves to work on in
their spare time:

The Transcriber Wand- A magic wand sort of like what Harry Potter has only
when it's pointed at a 17th century document with nearly indecipherable handwriting,
it magically transcribes the whole thing for you on your computer screen.Be sure
the elves come up with versions for both Macs and PCs.

Also, if I might, a few suggestions for the Naughty List:

Indexers at a certain online genealogy site.Not all of them. Just the ones who
make truly silly errors with common names.

Sploggers. Big fat dirty BAGS of coal for them. And maybe a visit from the Krampus.

Finally, Politicians who keep playing political games with the SSDI. They get TWO
big bags of coal.

Well, that's about it for this year. Remember that teeny weeny clue on the brick wall!



My Mom was a working mother for much of her life so she wasn’t
one for major cooking projects except on weekends. Most times
cookies were created with the help of the Pillsbury Dough Boy
although I do recall some forays into Christmas tree shaped sugar

Cookies at Christmas time usually meant the Italian cookies
served at my Aunt Emily’s with that light frosting and the red and
green sprinkles. As an adult I buy them at the supermarket only
around this time of year.

But while my mom wasn’t really into cookie baking, she did like to
make coffee cake and sponge cakes. And when we were living in
Dorchester she learned how to bake mundel bread from our
Jewish neighbors. She also made cupcakes and cornbread.

There was one other dessert dish Mom made and I’m not sure
if it was something that her mom Aggie had done during the
Depression. Mom would send me down the street to the store
on Milton Ave to buy a box of Jiffy Bake Mix and she’d make
biscuits, then would top them with strawberries and whipped
cream. I didn’t care for the taste of the biscuit so I’d make sure
the strawberries had really soaked it before I ate it!

2010 Update: Due to my medical needs I don't eat cookies
much anymore. However, I may cheat  a little if there are any
served over the holidays!
2011 Update:I forgot to mention last year that my favorite
holiday cookies are the ones with the big "Hershey's Kiss" in
the middle. Yes, I know you can get them year round but the
only time I usually ate them was at the holidays. I might cheat
with one or two if any are around this year!

((First posted Dec 2007))

 The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at”

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Ah, fruitcake! The Food. The Myth. The Legend.

We’ve never had any of the perpetual fruitcakes hanging about
for weeks or months in our family. We’re a practical bunch. If it
tastes good, we eat it. If it doesn’t, well, out it goes!

I have, however, invented a mythical fruitcake named Margaret.

Like distant cousin Tim Abbot over at Walking the Berkshires I
have been a role-player for years although mine has been online
instead of tabletop Dungeons and Dragons. One of my characters
is an eccentric Scotsman and last Christmas he gave Margaret
the Fruitcake to another character as a Christmas gift.

It seems it was baked by a female relative who passed away
while doing so and the Scotsman believes (he says) that her spirit
inhabits her final fruitcake. Margaret has been exchanged
between family members each Christmas but last year it was
given to a young squire. Various adventures ensued including a
jailbreak where Margaret was used as a weapon and then the
disappearance of the haunted fruitcake sometime around

Yeah, I know.

I’m nutty as a fruitcake

2009 Update- Margaret's location is unknown at present, although
rumors persist that she is being used as a curling stone by a team
of dwarves.

2010 Update: Margaret's present location is still unknown. The
most prevalent rumor is that she was recently employed as a 
battering ram at the Gates of Mordor. 

2011 Update: Margaret's whereabouts still remain a mystery. Rumor
has it she is presently being used as a doorstop by a giant at
a certain school for young wizards.

2012 Update: Rumor has it that Margaret is now being used as 
ballast on The Flying Dutchman.  

2013 Update: It has been rumored that Margaret the Fruitcake
was brought to North Korea by Dennis Rodman where she is
presently being used as a stepstool by Kim Jong Un. 

(originally posted in December 2007))

“The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at”

Sunday, December 08, 2013


...these are the rules I'd make.

Christmas sales and advertising would be banned until the day
before Thanksgiving.

Black Friday would start at 9am local time sharp. No midnight
madness. No lines at store doors at dawn. People would instead
spend more time at home with their families and store personnel
would not have to leave Thanksgiving gatherings early because
they need to go prep the store for opening.

Shoppers would behave in a mature, civilized and orderly fashion.
If the store has run out of some item the shoppers would not
treat the salespeople as if they have suddenly become the spawn
of Satan but instead would move on to the next items on their
shopping list.

No national chain stores open on Christmas Day. Christmas is
Christmas, period. Forget about sales for one day and let your
employees enjoy the day with their families. Mom & Pop stores
can open but half the day only so that folks who run out of milk or
butter can get some quickly and easily.

People would hold doors open for other shoppers and give up
their bus seats to senior citizens. Young children would not throw
temper tantrums and older children would not curse at their

Everyone would have someplace to go to and someone to be with
on Christmas Day. No one would be alone and no one would be
cold or hungry.

Drunk drivers would be unable to start their cars and so have to
take cabs or other means of transportation.

All our Armed Forces would be home to safely celebrate the
holidays with their loved ones.

There’s much more that could be added, I’m sure. But I’d be
happy with these for starters.

((First published in 2008))

2012 Update: I've added a new one:
There'd be no commercials using Santa to sell cars.

And no commercials with Christmas carols sung badly and loudly
off key for supposed "comic effect". (Are you listening, Target?)

2013 Update: A few more new ones:
NO THANKSGIVING DAY openings. The sales can wait until
after midnight.

No more Michael Bolton car commercials. I'm doing this for you,
Michael. Things can't be so bad you need to do these. Have some
self respect! 

And while we're at it, no more Ron Burgundy car commercials.
They were funny at first, but now they're tiresome.

And another thing about commercials: I'd limit how many times
each commercial could be played an hour. Playing the same
commercial three times in ten minutes would be penalized
by being sent to the "penalty box" for twelve hours.

That's it for now. I'm sure I'll have more by next year!

Friday, December 06, 2013


As you can see, I had a very formal relationship with Santa
No laps for me. A simple solemn pose would do, thank you,
for the photo-op.

Formal attire was also worn when visiting Santa’s Village up in
New Hampshire. A sports jacket was de rigeur for the feeding of
reindeer but one was allowed to be more casual when posing with
the sled and full team. The girls are my cousin Terry and my
sister Cheryl.

Actually, I think we might have been there on a Sunday. We’d
have attended Mass in Berlin and probably continued on home
with a stop to visit the Village.

But by the time those pictures were taken, I’d fallen from grace.

Yes, I no longer believed in Santa Claus.

I’m not sure how I figured it out but I do know I must have been around
six or seven years old because we were still living in Malden in the two
family house that my folks and my aunt and uncle co-owned. I know this
because when I found out there was no Santa Claus, I shared my
knowledge and heard about it for years afterward.

Yes, I told my cousins who lived downstairs. I think that was the
year I got a lump of coal in my stocking (but there were still
presents under the tree).

I’m not sure if I told my sister the awful truth later or if she
found out some other way. I do know I didn’t tell my kid brother.
After all, I was an adult of 17 by then and I had a greater appreciation
for what Santa meant to little kids!

But there it is.

I squealed on Santa.

Originally published in Dec. 2007. 

 “The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at”

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


My family was fortunate in that we never lived in the sort of place
where Christmas outdoor decorations becomes a blood sport.
Yes, people strung lights in their shrubbery or along their house
gutters but there was never anyone determined to turn their
front yard into the North Pole’s Southern Branch Office.

Now for light shows back then you went to someplace religious,
like Our Lady of La Sallette Shrine in North Attleboro or the local
cemetery with it’s entrance lit up, or even just cruised a stretch
of highway to look at the neighborhood lights that might be seen
from a distance as you drove by.

We didn’t really have outside lights ourselves until we left Boston
for Abington. Up until then the only lights other than on our
Christmas tree were the electric candles we put on windowsills.
But at the house Dad did the obligatory shrubbery and gutter
displays as well as one other spot: the apple tree in the front yard.

Dad had experience both with wiring and tree climbing so putting
a string of lights up in a small apple tree was a piece of cake. It
was the taking down part that didn’t seem to work at least for
the tree. One year, long after the other outside lights were down
and packed away, the lights still were hanging in the apple tree.
I’m not sure exactly when he took them down but I do know it
was well after Spring had sprung. I think they were even plugged
in one or two nights. I don’t know the reasons why they were
still there: my Dad’s sense of humor, perhaps? Or maybe an
instance where Dad’s Maine stubbornness and the Irish
stubbornness of my Mom brought about some impasse on the issue?

On my way home the other night from work I noticed at least
three of those large hot air snow globe scenes on front lawns.

Those families must have big electricity bills!

2010 Update: As I discovered in 2008, the apple tree  in
the front yard of the house is long gone. But a news report
the other night made me think of Dad. The holiday
lighting ceremony at Braintree has been postponed a week
because squirrels had eaten through the wires.

The lights had been left up all year since last Christmas!

2011 Update: The big snowstorms last winter had one
interesting effect. Some of the homes with heavily
decorated outside yards remained that way until
the snow melted. One home in particular had an inflatable
Santa and other decorations buried under snow drifts
and you could  just see the tops of them as you drove by
the house. I think they were there until mid-March!

2013 Update: It's a bit early yet apparently for the lights
to go up for Christmas around here. I don't work anymore
and haven't driven around much after dark so I haven't
seen any houses lit up yet. I did, however, spot two of
those big inflatable figures on someone's front lawn yesterday

(originally published in Dec. 2007)

 “The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at”

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


((First published Dec 2011))

It may not snow every Christmas but there is one thing of which we can be
certain:  the 24 hour "A Christmas Story" marathon on cable tv. Now some
folks might be tired of seeing the movie but to me it is like looking back at
my own childhood. No, Dad didn't win a Leg Lamp(and no way our Mom
would have let him put it in her living room if he had) but there are certain
things in the film that bring back memories for me:

1. Ovaltine- Yes, I drank Ovaltine when I was a kid, but by the time I came
along in 1948 Little Orphan Annie was no longer the big radio hit it once was.
In fact, when I was Ralphie's age it was Captain Midnight who was telling us
to drink our Ovaltine in the secret decoder messages.

2. The cars- There were still many of the older model cars around well into
the mid 1950's with cool things like running boards and rumble seats. The
nursery school I went to in Malden, the ABC Nursery School, used to pick up
students in a big old car with a rumble seat and I dimly remember riding in it.

3. The clothes- Here's a picture of me with Santa. As I've said before, stick a
pair of glasses on it and I could be Ralphie. And in the picture of the car above,
that's me and my cousin Winnie (Winifred).  While I can't recall if it was hard
for me to get around in a snowsuit, I do remember it seemed to take HOURS to
get in and out of them. And Randy looks a lot like one of my younger White
cousins trying to walk around in it once he was bundled up.

4. The school- The first elementary school I went to was the Linden School in
Malden, Ma which was a new building and very modern for the times. But when
I was eight years old we moved to Boston and I went to the Frank V. Thompson
Elementary School, an older building, and the classrooms looked very much like
Ralphie's: the blackboards, the shelves of books, the desks, even the windows!

5. The Lifebuoy- I told fibs when I was a kid. Several times I got the Lifebuoy in
the mouth punishment.  It tasted soap.  Blecch. No, I didn't go blind.

6.The BB Rifle- I don't recall hearing Red Ryder on the radio when I was a kid and
I don't remember ever seeing the tv series. It may have been on at the same time
as one of the other shows I would watch, like the Lone Ranger or the Cisco Kid.
But I do remember seeing the ads in the back of the comic books for a Red Ryder
BB Rifle from Daisy. I wanted one badly. Hey, with a last name like West, a guy just
had to dream about being a cowboy! And just like Ralphie, I heard the same
warnings from my Mom about shooting myself(or someone else) in the eye. Now
my Dad had grown up around guns and was a bit more sympathetic. After all,
he hadn't lost an eye (although he did shoot himself once in the foot with a .22).
So eventually my parents reached some sort of compromise and I got a bb rifle
either for Christmas or my birthday but my Dad was the keeper of the BB
pellets. Eventually the novelty of shooting a rifle that didn't actually have
ammunition wore off and the rifle ended up in the closet. It and the pellets
did, however, make a reappearance a few years later when we were living
in Abington and Dad used it to drive off the more persistent male dogs who
were uh....paying our female dog Brownie.

So that's why I like watching "A Christmas Story" every Christmas!
At least once, anyway.


Every Christmas Mom would break out the Andy Williams
Christmas Album to play on the stereo. There was also a Nat
King Cole album and a Mitch Miller “Sing Along With Mitch”
Christmas edition. But for me, even rock and roll dinosaur
that I am, it’s the Andy Williams album that “feels” like
Christmas to me. I need to hear that "It's the Most
Wonderful Time of the Year."

As I’ve gotten older and my musical tastes expanded, I find
myself listening to New Age and Celtic Christmas music. And
Josh Groban just put out a holiday album that we’ve played at
the bookstore since Thanksgiving and it’s easy on the ears.

As for caroling, well, there are some things that one should
never do in public and in my case, singing is one of them!

2010 Update: I splurged this year for the "Now That;s What
I Call Christmas Essentials Collection." It has the Andy Williams
song and Nat King Cole's version of "Christmas Song" on it,
and I plan to play it Thursday afternoon on my day off!

2011 Update Now that Borders has gone out of business and
I avoid the radio stations doing the "All Christmas, All the Time"
since mid-November, I haven't burned out on Christmas music
as early as previous years. But unfortunately, I am now tired of
"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". Staples use of it
in the back to school ads was funny. But this year, the song has
been overused by retail stores and car dealerships so much
that it's like beating a dead reindeer! Bah, humbug!

2012 Update: My favorite piece of Christmas music this year
is this performance by Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, and Mariah
Carey. It makes me smile.

2013 Update: One of the things I've noticed since I no longer
work at Borders is I don't find Christmas music as grating as
I did for all those years when I heard it all day long at work. I
have some Celtic Christmas music collections Cds I will start
playing soon here at home, I think. There's also a local PBS
radio show "Celtic Sojourn" that puts on an annual live stage
and this year there is a tv special of it I want to see.

 ((originally posted in 2007))

“The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at”


As I mentioned in the previous post of this series, I'd found a "Certificate
Of Registration Of American Citizen" over on for my distant
cousin Benjamin Curtis Donham. It had been issued by the American Consulate
in Seoul, Korea which was amazing, considering the year in which it was done.
But what was my cousin doing here, and could the document help me find out
the answer?

Examining it, I learned:
1. It had been issued on May. 20, 1908, according to the stamped date at the top
     of the document.

2. Benjamin C. Donham had arrived in Seoul on October 6 1905. There is no
     mention of whether he had been there on earlier occasions.

3. He was there "for the purpose of constructing waterworks."

4. He was married to Edith McKean, who had been born in San Francisco and they
    were residing in Seoul with two children.

5. Son George Alden Donham was born in Seoul  Korea  on February 7 1904.
     Daughter Dorothy E. Donham was born there on November 13, 1906.

6. Benjamin had been identified by two men as an American citizen. The first
    man's name is hard to read and appeared to be H.E. Collbran. The second name
    is E.Hamilton Holman.

7.The Certificate was due to expire in a little over a year on April 8, 1909.

The questions I now had were:

1. What sort of waterworks was Benjamin C Donham constructing in Seoul, Korea?

2. Were he and his wife Edith McKean married in the U.S. or in Korea? 

3. Were the two children Benjamin's children or stepchildren?

4. The Certificate was issued in 1908, yet the two children had been born in Seoul
    previously in 1904 and 1906. Had Benjamin left Korea for some reason and then
    returned to Seoul in 1908?

5. Who were the two men who identified Benjamin as an American and what was
    his relationship with them?

I set about looking for answers.

To be continued.

Monday, December 02, 2013


I don’t get a lot of Christmas cards, mostly because I don’t send
out a lot myself to begin with. I get some from the family and a
few from friends but since I’m not much of a social animal there’s
no more than perhaps a half dozen each year sitting atop my tv.

In years past the amount of umm…cardage…fluctuated. When I
was a kid there were a lot of cards, usually taped to the
doorframes much the same way that Terry’s Mom did at their
house or sitting atop tables.

When we moved to Abington they were displayed across the
mantel piece or taped around the edges of the mirror above it.
The years when my folks were actively involved in the VFW
brought the highest number of season’s greetings. Mom would
spend a few hours herself signing and addressing cards to be
sent out. But as she and her generation of family and friends
grew older the flood of Christmas cards dwindled. Several years
Mom even had some unused cards left over when she finished.

I tend not to like sending “mushy” cards so I usually try to find
something funny. Although this year I may be giving people a
look at a certain dancing elf via e-mail!

2010 Update: I'm going to see what sort of selection we have at
the store tomorrow and hopefully find something funny, although
last year I sent out cards that were more... umm ...
"New England-y"

 2011 Update Since Borders has closed I'm going to have to take
a long walk over to Target soon to get some boxed cards!

2012 Update I'm waiting for my box card order from B&N
to arrive.

2013 Update I haven't bought any Christmas cards yet. I'm also
trying to figure out what to do with the leftover cards from the
last few years.

((Originally posted in 2007)) 

 “The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at”

Sunday, December 01, 2013


You know that part of the movie A Christmas Story where
the family goes out to buy the tree and the parents have a little
argument over it? Well, I laugh every time I see it because
like so much in that film it echoes my childhood.

Every Christmas when I was younger either we’d go shopping
for a tree or Dad would buy one on his way home from work.
Now as regular readers of this blog know by now, my Dad was
from Maine. But even more than that, he had experience in trees.
He’d helped his father cutting down trees, and he’d worked for a
landscaper in the Boston area when he’d first come home from
the war. Mom would remind Dad of his experience every year
when the tree was fixed into the tree stand, the rope cut from
the branches and the inevitable big empty space was discovered.
Usually the problem was solved by rotating the tree so the empty
spot was in the back facing the wall. The lights were strung(and
here we differed from the film. We never blew out the fuses.),
then the garlands, the ornaments, and the icicles. Finally the
angel went up on top of the tree and we were all set. With
judicious watering the tree would last us until around “Little
Christmas” at which time it would be undecorated and deposited
curbside to await the dump truck.

Of course our tree paled in comparison to the giant my Mom’s
Uncle Tommy and Aunt Francis had in their home down in
Milton. It was so big they cut the top off and the branches didn’t
taper at the top. They were all the same size: large. I could
never believe they'd gotten that big a tree into the house in the
first place!

Then the first artificial Christmas trees hit the market and Mom
began vowing she was going to get one as she vacuumed up pine
needles from the rug. Eventually we did but that provided us
with new challenges, such as assembling the tree.

As we all grew older the prospect of trying to get the tree
together became less enchanting and so it too was replaced, this
time by a small ceramic musical tree that was lit from within by
a light bulb. I used that tree myself for several years after Mom
died although I felt no great urge to wind it up for the music. It
lasted until a few years back when I dropped it and the base
cracked. It sits now in a box in a shelf in my living room closet.

Its replacement is a small artificial tree that I bought at work with
my employee discount along with a garland. Last year some
friends sent me some snowmen ornaments for it. I haven’t put it
up yet but think I will this weekend. It fits on top of the tv.

And at some point over the holidays I’ll see that scene from A
Christmas Story again and grin.

2009 update: I bought a small string of battery powered lights
to add to my tree last week!

2010 update: I lost my Christmas stuff in my move last April so
I'll be picking it up another one at work soon.

2011 update
I bought another teeny Christmas tree with lights and ornaments
at Borders. Since the company closed, it will remind me of my
store when I set it out each year.

2012 update
I haven't put up my teeny Christmas tree yet but plan to do it this weekend.

2013 Update
I'll be putting the tree out tomorrow. I may have to buy a new string of
lights this year since some of the teeny weeny bulbs may have died last year.

Originally posted in 2007.

“The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at”