In 2019, on Christmas day , I received a gift 100 years in the making. Surprisingly, the treat presented itself within an email inquiry and subsequent exchanges; and embraced me with a warming joy best described in the redemptive words of one changed Scrooge, “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy.” Darn tootin’ Ebenezer, my dimples were on overtime after this surprise; I couldn’t stop smiling. And to be delivered on Christmas day, well, that was the holly sprig in the figgy pudding. (Have I used enough Christmas metaphors? Nah, I’m just starting!) But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me parcel the details as they happened, and as I’m want to do by reliving the delight again, word by word, smile by smile.
On December 22, last year, I received notice for a comment awaiting approval on my blog post: A Century Ago, My Farm Was for Sale. The comment from Gary read,
“I have some original pictures of your house from a Danner family scrapbook circa 1900’s to about 1918. I think I could take a picture and email you a couple photos of the farmhouse.”
I reread it a couple times and chuckled, “Yes, yes, absolutely yes!” Of course I had a litany of questions, and responded,
“Gary that would be so awesome. I would LOVE to see any and all photos of the house you have. Do you live on Vashon? How did you come to acquire the scrapbook. I love a good mystery. Thanks for checking in!”
I received a thorough and throroughly-wonderful response from Gary. Here are some excerpts:
“…I bought the photo album at an estate sale for William Danner who passed in September of 2009, he donated all his belongings to the Boy Scouts and they hired a company that specialized in liquidating estates to have the sale. I went because there were some military items, which is my area of interest. I was able to grab (it’s a real scramble at a sale like this) all of Delbert Danners World War I items, uniforms etc., which included the album because it has pictures of his training at Camp Lewis and shots around the house with his fancy new US Army outfit.“
“The album is quite interesting and shows lots of island shots…the steamboat Daring (an early ferry I think), early cars including the Danners’ 1914 Metz, a kit car they had shipped to the island. There are lots of porch shots of your house with little kids, couples, and some full family shots…if you have spirits in your house (we do) these would be them. There are a few full house shots from the front and a really good one of the side back area…Some of the photos are long shots and may be of your property, there is an interior shot of a Christmas tree decorated and with presents underneath and one of an old woman by a parlor stove. Anyway I ran into your site here about a year ago and had sent an email on another page of yours that probably didn’t work out…but I will get right on these pictures and get a couple sent your way.”
I was so glad that Gary tried contacting me a year after his first attempt. I’m not sure why I never received the first message (likely email filters), but I know I’m grateful for his persistence and generosity in sharing the photos with me. And if you wonder how he found me in the first place, his valiant effort started with a search for “Danner” and “Vashon Island” which returned my blog post about said subjects, and references to the farm’s for-sale pamphlet from 1917.
A few days later on Christmas day, I rose early, trundled downstairs in the dark, dancing around dog toys, beloved bones and wayward shoes (Thank you, Buddy). My trek to the ground floor a success, Christmas lights turned on, I was eager to brew a pot o’ joe, settle in, check emails, open gifts, and figure out my holiday phone calls and times, all while trying not to dispatch an entire tin of Russian tea cakes before my second cup of coffee. (Based on the powdered sugar coverage on keyboard, fingers, face and dog, resistance was futile.)
The first email I saw and opened that Christmas morning was adorned with the subject line: Pictures for my new friend Tom Conway. I clapped like a toddler in a high chair eyeing a sippy cup and a bowl of elbow macaroni.
“Hi Tom, here’s a few photos from the album, I am sending mostly shots of the house but in the album there are shots of outbuildings, crops, a barn looking structure, pigs and lots of pictures of the Danner family. I think there are 355 photos in the book with early shots of the island, showing beaches, people swimming and what must be downtown. There is a very cool professional aerial view of what must be your land and a small tower keeps popping up in several of the people shots I’m not sure what it is. Merry Christmas from Gary and Dolly. We hope this little pile of lost information will brighten your day.“
And like the twelve days of Christmas, there were twelve photos to discover. I even thought, maybe I’ll open one each day. That notion lasted two seconds after downloading the first photo.
I wrote back:
“Dear Dolly and Gary, Brighten my day? Oh you two sent me a solar flare! You are my Christmas angels delivering the sweetest missive of joy this very morning. You brought me to tears, truly. Who could have imagined I would be downloading 100-year-old images from the house where they were taken. What treasures, both the images and you two. Thank you so much for contacting me in the first place and being so generous to share this history of the Danner house with me…“
We’ve been in contact to meet in person, but schedules and COVID-19 put a halt to that for now. Until that day, I will relish these photographs and re-imagine the early days of the farm and family who brought the island outpost to life a century ago, and cherish my new friends Gary and Dolly who shared these visions and their passion for history that Christmas day. Thank you Gary and Dolly for the best gift basket of all: new friends, history, stories and fond memories. One day we shall meet I hope, and together write another chapter in the story of this beloved house.
The photos sent…
Over the years I’ve whittled down the celebration of Christmas to what’s important to me in family, friends, places, and moments. If I never have to step into a shopping mall for the remainder of my days, I will consider this an appreciable outcome for a life well lived. The fewer the holiday assumptions I have, the fuller my seasonal celebration. I like to give Christmas a chance to find me, not the other way around. Sure there’s wonder in a Snowflake Lane or Zoo Lights, but don’t dismiss the everyday kindness and generosity that speak more eloquently to the season. I’d trade the aforementioned activities for the giggles and smiles of the neighbor kids delivering homemade cookies to my door, nary one absent of candy sprinkles (both cookies and kids), or the sheer delight of a kind soul reaching out to share a beautiful history that touches me on this day and everyday.
And thank you for joining me on this journey of discovering my farm’s past and the joys of everyday.
And so, as Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”
Buddy, seeks warmth on all levels, and sends his love and seasons greetings, too.