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Christmas fairness

Children, the psychologists will tell us, are egocentric.

Self-focused. Even selfish. Always thinking “I” rather than “we.”

LifesaversBut whether the psychologists are right or wrong, there’s one thing The Legal Genealogist is sure of: whenever there’s a group of kids, it’s a safe bet that every kid’s maybe-not-so-secret desire is to be the favorite child, the special one.

And an even safer bet that every single solitary kid’s deepest fear is being the one left out.

So if there is anything in this world that I will remember longer, or more fondly, about Christmas with my grandparents, it is that none of us was ever, ever, ever, left out.

And that in itself is quite a feat.

You see, my mother’s parents had 12 children and raised 10 to adulthood, losing their first-born, my aunt Ruth, in 1918 as an infant,1 and my uncle Donald in 1932 to smallpox.2

So when you start to count up the number of grandchildren, well, let’s just say I usually quit when I’ve already used up all my fingers, taken off both shoes and… To put it mildly, there are a lot of us in my generation. And it wasn’t at all uncommon to have a dozen (or two) at a time crowded into the farmhouse at Christmas.

But — if you’ll forgive what may be the understatement of all time — my grandparents weren’t wealthy people. In fact, it wasn’t until I started doing genealogy that I had so much as a clue that in some families money comes down the generations from parent to child. It sure didn’t work that way in my family.

So how do folks who are living hand to mouth manage to make every single one of their many grandchildren feel included, remembered, wanted, loved, maybe not singled out as special but never, ever, ever, left out at Christmas?

I don’t know how it’s done in other families, but in mine it was done with Lifesavers.

Books of Lifesavers, to be exact.

You see, we never wondered what we were going to get for Christmas from our grandparents. No non-resident grandchild ever shook a wrapped present underneath my grandparents’ tree to try to figure out what it contained.

We knew darned good and well what we were getting.

And we loved it.

Each and every one of us, without exception, got those books of Lifesavers.

I’d love to show you better what they looked like, but today’s Lifesaver books are different, and the only color photos I could find online lacked the contact information needed to get permission to use them. So you’ll just have to look at the 1960 ad above, and let your imagination fill in the blanks.

They were as you can see in book form and you opened up the book to find the rolls of Lifesavers inside. There were no fewer than 10 rolls of Lifesavers and, as you can see, as many as 12 rolls. There were Pep-O-Mint Lifesavers. Wint-O-Green Lifesavers. Butter rum Lifesavers. Tropical fruits. Five flavors.3

And then the negotiations began. The weird ones like coconut, I liked better than my sister Diana, which meant there was a trade possible. She was usually was perfectly happy to take the butter rum ones off my hands, because she could then trade those to our cousin Kay for the wild cherry ones.

It kept us busy for hours. Well, what seemed like hours anyway. And certainly kept us out of the grownups’ hair for a while.

I’m sure that was one of the prime considerations to the parents at that point. Lifesavers to them meant time off from dealing with the kids.

But oh what those Lifesavers meant to us kids!

Every one of us was included.

Every one of us was remembered

Every one of us was wanted and loved.

Maybe we still harbored that secret desire to be singled out as special.

But oh what a joy that none of us, not a single one, never, ever, ever, was left out.


Image: Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette, 30 Nov 1960, p.35;

  1. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by JG Russell. Opal Cottrell was the grandmother of Bobette Richardson and JG Russell. See also receipt, Baby Cottrell Funeral, 22 February 1918, Dutton Funeral Home, Iowa Park, Texas; digital copy in possession of author.
  2. Texas Department of Health, death certificate no. 35631, Donald Harris Cottrell (1930); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  3. I deeply regret to report that there are only six rolls now. Five flavors, wild cherry and tropical. No Pep-O-Mint. No Wint-O-Green. No Butter rum. Blasphemy…
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