Grandma Gave Herself a Christmas Gift

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, December 21, 1914: I look by these pages of late that I don’t take much interest in keeping a diary. I really don’t because I have nothing exciting to write. Am done Xmas shopping for this year, and my pocketbook is done, too. The trouble for me with Christmas presents is that I never get enough.

Had one of my Brownie pictures enlarged. It came this morning. A Xmas present for myself.

Alma Derr, Rachel Oakes, and Ruth Muffly at Niagara Falls (Caption order may not be correct; Uncertain of the order; of the women)
Alma Derr, Rachel Oakes, and Ruth Muffly at Niagara Falls (Caption order may not be correct; Uncertain of the order; of the women)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma, do tell—Was it the picture that you took of the girls at Niagara Falls last summer?

If so, I feel tingly. By giving yourself a Christmas present, you’ve given your descendants a gift that has lasted a hundred years.


Whew, I can hardly believe it. I’m only aware of one photo that Grandma took which still exists—and I think this dairy entry may be referring to it. My cousin Alice has a photo that Grandma took of her sister, her cousin, and a friend during a trip to Niagara Falls in August, 1914. Grandma really liked the photo, and mentioned it in previous diary entries.

I asked Alice about the photo last summer. I’m reposting what Alice told me:

My Dad and I were cleaning out sheds on our farm outside of McEwensville, probably around the summer of 1977 or 1978. That is when we found the picture. I had just bought my first house and was delighted to have some pictures to hang. There were several other pictures from the Muffly and Swartz family.

I love the picture so much. It still hangs in my office and I enjoy looking at it every day. Everyone looks so happy.

39 thoughts on “Grandma Gave Herself a Christmas Gift

  1. If only she knew how many people would be waiting to see what she was doing everyday. Do you keep a diary? I am sorry now that I did not. I enjoyed checking every morning to see what your grandmother was up to.

  2. It’s wonderful that this one photo of Grandma’s still exists! How special.
    I’m wondering what Grandma meant when she wrote: ” The trouble for me with Christmas presents is that I never get enough.” Since she mentioned that right after her pocketbook being “done”, I took it to mean that she wasn’t able to get enough presents for her family and friends, not that she didn’t receive enough.
    It’s difficult for us to realize how “tight” times were back then!

    1. It’s difficult to tell what she meant–and seems like it could be read several ways–but it makes sense that she wished that she could buy more gifts but ran out of money. I agree–we’ve become spoiled. Money was so much tighter back then .

  3. For anyone that blogs about their personal lives this is a diary in itself. Hopefully in years to come these entries can still be read by family members. I feel Grandma is getting trstless on these last entries.

    1. I plan to keep the blog up after it ends so that people will be able to go back and read it. I’m also working at getting it into other formats, so that family will have it and it isn’t dependent upon WordPress.

  4. Our family has a lot of old photos from the late 1800s early 1900s. They are a treasure. I only wish more info was available for each. Today, we have the facility to tag photos with key words that might still be available years in the future to viewers.

    1. It’s so important to take the few extra moments to tag photos. I’m sometimes surprised how often people are not identified in family photos. Several friends have shown me Blurb books of weddings and other family events–and I’ve been surprised how some of them have not identified the people in the pictures.

  5. I love how this entry addresses the notion of what a gift can be. I agree with Dianna here that she may be lamenting that she couldn’t afford more gifts for family and friends (which probably would not have survived the century anyways). Instead, she gave herself a gift that reflects her creativity, and as you note, it lives on as a gift to you, and through you, your readers. Such sweet irony.

    1. What an interesting thought. . . It is a sweet irony that the gifts she didn’t buy because she gave herself a gift probably wouldn’t have lasted long. 🙂

  6. What would she think if she knew how important this was to so many people? And you know, it’s never too late to keep a diary. You can start today and who knows where it will go. Thank you so much for this blog.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. It is really interesting to think about all of the little decisions by multiple people across that last hundred years that resulted in the existence of this diary.

  7. Honestly? Given that this is a diary, I suspect that Helena’s little aside about not getting enough presents may be a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of a reality. It may even be that, as a “grown up,” she’s begun receiving fewer presents than she did as a young child. That was a pracitce even when I was a kid. Some people assumed that Christmas was for kids – at least in the gifting.

    I very nearly experienced a Christmas with no gifts one year. Of course, I was in Salisbury, England, which was a pretty good gift all on its own. Still… As luck would have it, the innkeepers put an orange and a peppermint stick outside everyone’s door, so Christmas morning, there was a treat. It doesn’t take much!

    1. I keep going back and forth on what she meant when she wrote this entry–but I think that you may be right. It makes sense (especially since she had a 8-year-old brother who probably got lots of gifts) that she found it difficult to be a “grown-up” as Christmas approached.

      The orange and peppermint stick sound wonderful–What a thoughtful and lovely gift! .

  8. “If so, I feel tingly. By giving yourself a Christmas present, you’ve given your descendants a gift that has lasted a hundred years” – I love your words!

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