Making Grandpa’s Donuts is an annual tradition at the Ton Household. 2020 brings the reminder to “do this in remembrance of me [those who preceded us]”.
This year, we took the opportunity to make a video of the story and the process of creating these delectable treats!
“Do this in remembrance of me”. Growing up in American Baptist Churches as the son of a minister (yes, Jeff IS a PK), these words were always front and center. Carved in the communion table in front of the pulpit, he 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, we would like to talk about donuts. Yes, donuts.
Our favorite thing about celebrating Christmas is 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 50th consecutive year). For many years we attended the Christmas Eve service with Jeff’s mom and dad. And, of course, 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, our favorite one is making donuts…it is never officially Christmas until the donuts are done. We call them “Grandpa’s Donuts”, in honor of Jeff’s Grandpa.
Jeff’s fondest memories of his Grandpa Williams revolved around his two magnificent donut machines. Every time without fail when he would come to visit, Jeff and his siblings would run out to meet him as he got out of the car. All four of the 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!
Jeff’s great-grandmother had given two Brown Bobby donut machines to his Grandpa Williams in the late 1920s. During the Great Depression, he would make donuts to sell at the Post Office where he worked. He charged a nickel for two donuts to make extra money to support his growing family.
On one of his trips to visit Jeff’s family 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, his 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 ’90s, Jeff was a new manager and wanted to do something special for his team. He and his mom rummaged through her closet and there, tucked in the back, behind the boxes they discovered THE MACHINE! He donned his Grandpa’s old apron (handmade by my Grandma, with stitching that proclaimed the wearer to be “The Doughnut Man”) and they plugged in the Brown Bobby, fingers crossed it would still heat up. As they made the donuts and listened to Christmas Carols, something magical happened. They began to share stories about Grandpa. Gone for decades, he was remembered with stories, smiles, laughs, and tears. A new tradition was born.
In the years since, Jeff, Carmen, his mom, and his dad would gather around one of the old machines, listen to Christmas music, and tell the same stories. Stories of our parents, our grandparents, and Christmases past. We drag out the machine, plug it in, and hope that it heats up one more time. Jeff dons the apron and waves his hand over the machine testing the warmth just as Grandpa Williams did. Carmen deciphers 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. Stories of our parents, our grandparents, and Christmases past.
In 2012, Jeff’s mom was battling some health issues, so instead of gathering at her house, she and dad brought the machine to our house. She sat at our kitchen island while Carmen, dad, and Jeff made the donuts. We listened to the carols and told stories about Grandpa. At some point, it occurred to us, we were truly making Grandpa’s donuts for the first time. Our first grandson, Braxton, was born in September, making us “official” Grandparents!
As we cleaned up after making the delectable treats, mom suggested (against dad’s objections) that we “just keep the machine at our house”. She must have known this time would be her last.
In 2019, days before Christmas, Jeff’s dad passed away, leaving another seat empty in the kitchen. Still, we made the donuts.
This year, once again, we dragged out the machine, plugged it in, and hoped that it heated up one more time. Jeff donned the apron and waved his hand over the machine testing the warmth just as his grandfather had once done. Carmen deciphered the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listened to Christmas music and told the same old stories…stories of Christmases past and of our cherished loved ones. Wondering aloud, if Jeff’s mom, much less, his grandfather could have comprehended telling Google, “Hey Google, set the timer for 2 minutes 45 seconds” instead of using an egg timer to time each batch.
Over the years, we have given donuts to countless friends, relatives, and co-workers. We have shared the story of “Grandpa’s Donuts”. We will continue the tradition each year as long as the old Brown Bobby continues to heat. Yes, traditions tend to change with time. It is their very connection to the past that makes 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 and “do this remembrance of them.”
Jeff and Carmen (aka Grandpa and Grandma)