Christmas with the Animals: Treasures from Aunt Ruthie & Fanny and Mary Martin

When I was a little girl, my Aunt Ruthie painted this wooden dish with a lamb and the Bethlehem star. She made one for each of my sisters too. I’m sorry there is no date though I imagine we were in elementary or middle school in the early 1950s.



Christmas scenes always include animals. A donkey, lamb, and sheep usually surround the manger scene with the Christ-child as the focus. Sometimes camels too, though missing from this nativity scene . . .

We were fearful that this nativity set was somehow lost in our move this year, but was discovered in a crowded corner of the garage at the last minute.
We were fearful that this nativity set was somehow lost in our move this year, but was discovered in a crowded corner of the garage at the last minute.

A Dog

Victorian postcards also pictured animals. Some in my stash include an adorable chocolate-colored puppy embossed by a floral-frame already imprinted with 2-cent postage.



A Flock of Birds

I was surprised to find a card addressed to Mrs. Samuel Martin, my Great-Grandmother. Mary Horst Martin, a robust, warm-hearted woman whose mother died in childbirth, and orphaned after her father died in a logjam on the Susquehanna River near Middletown, Pennsylvania.


My sisters and I wish we could have known Great-Grandma Mary, who never met a stranger. “Just put an extra board in the table,” was her motto when unexpected guests came to her door. She also had a practical streak and opened wide the “door” of her bodice if she got too hot in the kitchen. In the photo here I see some mischief playing in her eyes, her hands folded “just so” probably at the photographer’s prompt. And although she wore a covering, her white ribbon slightly askew, it probably did not put a lid on her free spirit.

The card she received featured large-breasted birdies in the snow.


Mary was a farmer’s wife with a rural delivery address (R. D.), and her friend Stella, probably from Middletown, gives instructions to “come up to the house” when she is in town.

Excited to think that some of my great grandmother's DNA may remain on this postcard from 1913.
Touching the card, I am excited to think that a trace of my great grandmother’s DNA may remain on this postcard from December 23, 1913.


A Designing Woman with Gifts


When she was in her twenties, my Grandma Fanny received this card from Barbara, who would be considered now a millennial, communicating through iMessage, Instagram, or Snapchat.


Her unedited message on the reverse side of the card (punctuation missing) appears in neat penmanship:

Hello Fannie times look very suspicious down here, from away up yonder you know. Ha! Ha! If I could only tell you the rest. You can imagine. How do they look up there? And sure enough you expect to entertain me on Xmas ha! A Merry Xmas and A Happy New Year to all.

And then on the face of the card above: “Yours you bet, Barbara!”

The untethered gifts that exceed the grasp of the young, demure woman on the card may suggest that the “treasures of dear remembrance” mean more than a gift wrapped up with a bow. But maybe not . . .

What do you imagine she is thinking?

Can you identify the breed of bird in the postcard?

What else stands out for you in Christmas correspondence?




63 thoughts on “Christmas with the Animals: Treasures from Aunt Ruthie & Fanny and Mary Martin

  1. Lovely Marian! The birdies are surely robins? Great Grandma Mary looks mischievous indeed, and Grandmother Fannie clearly inherited some of that streak evident by her response back to Barbara. Don’t get me going on what she may be thinking – the woman in the picture …

    What a delightful painted plate by Aunt Ruthie. All the mementoes are delightful, thank you for sharing them.

    Have a wonderful Christmas Marian and to your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy to share these. Appropriately, I found them stashed away in a tall, mahogany Victorian secretary in Aunt Ruthie’s sitting room a few months ago. Because of their brilliance, I assume they have not seen the light of day for years and years. Thank you, Susan. And a wonderful Christmas to you and your family too!

      One of my LinkedIn commenters who obviously knows ornithology mentioned that they are Rotkehlchen (red-chested robin).

      Ah, today I believe you begin your summer solstice, Susan.


  2. You have such a treasury of lovely vintage postcards! The woman’s face makes me think of the female faces my mother used to sketch almost endlessly, anytime she had a pencil or pen, pad, and a few idle moments, she did artistic doodling–including in church as entertainment for bored or wiggly little ones. They were always “models” or glamour girls, sketched with pointy noses, arched eyebrows, perfect lips, long necks, often with collars designed with currently stylish dresses or blouses. I need to get her to sketch me some to share. 🙂 I think she can still do it, so effortlessly. Thanks for stirring this memory.

    I’m glad you found your missing stand-up nativity scene card (if that’s what it is).
    Have a great Christmas in your new home, Marian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your “flash memory” for the lady postcard is lovely in its detail. If your mother consents to sketch, I’d love to see the result sometime. “Effortlessly” would not describe my attempts at drawing. 🙂

      The nativity scene is wooden and over a foot high, so it does make a statement. By the way the garage is now cleared out and I can park my car there – ha!


  3. Good morning, Marian! I always admire your treasure trove of family postcards and memorabilia. It it such fun to think of what was going on in the minds of the people writing, making, and receiving these cards and gifts.
    I assumed the birds in the postcard were robins. The woman holding the gifts in Barbara’s postcard (love her slangy talk), resembles women I’ve seen in WWI era patriotic cards.

    I’m sure you and your family will have a wonderful holiday season–first one in your new home! But I will still wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barbara’s personality would fit right in with my Grandma’s joie de vivre. Yes, I too was surprised at the slangy talk. I appreciate how you can add something special to our conversations as you look at my pictures through the lens of an historical scholar.

      Thank you for the good wishes – Happy Hanukkah to you. (I can almost taste the warm yumminess of the challah bread I saw you’ve already baked on Facebook.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I forwarded this on to my friend Mary Horst in Johnstown, NY. Since you reference a relative by the same name in this BLOG. Hope she might pick up your BLOG and start following.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are kind to share, Carolyn. Horst is a strong German name; Mary had brothers named Harry and Leonard, who operated a hook and ladder company in Philadelphia in the early-mid 1900s, if that helps. Thank you!


        1. You may remember I lived in Charlotte for one year among gracious young women, got married at Calvary Presbyterian Church and left for Florida – fond memories of your city as genteel and cool. Don’t remember any robins though. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  5. What wonderful treasures you have, Marian! How fortunate your families in America were to live in peace and harmony all those years when so much of the world was in turmoil. Our families could not save their treasures in this way. Let us pray for peace in the coming year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Russian Mennonites may have suffered more persecution than the German/Swiss Mennonites who settled in eastern United States. They came at the invitation of William Penn, who valued their farming abilities. I know I don’t take this peaceful heritage for granted; men during the second world war, at least, could register as conscientious objectors. Thanks for pointing at this disparity, Elfrieda. Like you, I do pray for God’s mercy – and peace in the coming year. Thank you!


  6. Once again the family curator has captured the heart and mind of the readers as she skillfully leads us through the corridors of her memory! We all can instantly relate and recall similar phrases, attitudes, and picture post cards of our own. I feel a joyful smile on my face and thank God for the gift of memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You said it so well by hinting at one of my goals: inviting readers to search for entries into the corridors of their own memories. Thanks for posting here, Carol. Merry Christmas to you and your extended family! 🙂


  7. I love entering the world of the past, and imagining the lives of those who lived. YES, definitely a sparkle in your great-grandmother’s eyes – what a woman. You have such magnificent women in your family – no surprise there. xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Through the long view of family history, I see the strong line of matriarchs I am heir to. The men did their part, laboring in fields and machine shop, but I felt their influence more at a distance, also imparting a strong work ethic. I like how you mention “imagining the lives of those who lived,” which allows for a lot of “perhapsing.” Thanks, Pam!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What beautiful treasures. You are so blessed to have all this history and pictures to share with your children and grandchildren and all of us. I have one picture of my mother three years old with her mom, aunt, and grandmother. That my cousin David gave me from the treasures of his mother. Who was my mother’s sister-in-law. I made copies and gave to my siblings for them to have. Post cards and picture are so nice to look at. A reminder to keep writing hand written notes and cards an art were losing. You have a very Merry Christmas and we need to pray for these next four years. Remember our ancestors made through many hard times. We to have to leàrn the same. GOD bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gloria, the fact that your treasures are few makes them all the more precious, I think. One thing for sure – you are weaving wonderful memories into the fabric of your family right now, precious too. God bless you and all the generations that will surround your table this holiday season!


  9. What wonderful treasures you share with us, O Wise Woman Marian.
    I am especially fond of your photo of Great Grandparents and your interpretations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not surprised to see you here, Dolores, knowing as I do your love for animals — and for good stewardship of all living things including those who exist only in memory. As you observe, I indulged in some “perhapsing” here as learned from our gentle Ben. However, all of Mary’s children, including my great uncles Joe and Frank did attest to their mother’s great-heartedness.

      I’ll accept your compliment about wisdom although if you knew the stupid thing I did with my computer yesterday, you may take exception. Ha!


  10. These are indeed treasures. I love the look of your Great-Grandmother Mary. She has the same spark and determination my Great-Grandmothers had. You obviously have the blood of strong women running in your veins. It is so nice to have these keepsakes. Have a blessed Christmas my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Their robust shape suggests abundance and, by extension, happiness. I wish I were an ornithologist, but I can only guess. My daughter says the dog is of indistinct breed and suggests that the artist may have made it up as the Victorian ideal of a dog.


      2. You seem very definite, so I will defer to your knowledge, Athanasia. Actually, I thought bluebirds displayed more blue rather than red-orange. Maybe they change color with the seasons, which here is obviously winter. Hmmmm . . .


  11. I love your earthy descriptions of your earthly family members, Marian. And I can hear your exclamation as you opened Aunt Ruthie’s drawer and found these post card treasures. You are getting double heirloom mileage from these lovely keepsakes by blogging about them.

    And I do enjoy your snowflakes coming down the page every December. Sent from Florida. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the blog posts are part of my legacy – as long as the pixels and electrons hang together (I may have heard you say).

      Ah, the irony of snowflakes descending from my Florida screen. 🙂

      It did not escape my notice today that one of your family members is a mother in waiting. Congratulations, Shirley!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Another delightful post, Marian! I love the plate. Seeing the old postcards makes me determine to look into my own stash of old postcards from my own great aunts! I’m sure the birds are robins. Thanks for sharing these lovely memories of yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Christmas time is a nostalgic time, and usually things slow down a little bit after the big day comes and goes. That may be a great time to sift through your stash. I’d love to see some on a blog post in the new year. I’ll bet they are quaint and charming, similar to mine. Thanks for joining the conversation here. It’s always nice to see your sweet smile. Merry Christmas!


  13. The birds look like rose-breasted Grosbeaks to me, but they go south for winter. I agree the color patterns are like bluebirds, but bluebirds are very blue and these birds aren’t. They look more like bluebirds than robins–and both those species can be found in my woods in the winter. The imagination at play. What a treasure the painted plate must be. I was struck by the sense of possibility and even slight wildness in Barbara’s postcard and Fannie’s message. The secret lives of girls who wear the cap. And then your great-grandma has that look of mischief. She also looks like she could take down your great-grandfather if push came to shove. A woman who must have suffered terribly, but came through it with a strong sense of self. You obviously come from a strong line of women–women who label and save things for their descendants. I’m working on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your analytical mind at work, Elaine: Thank you for scrutinizing the birds, postcards, and intentions, both hidden and apparent. I trust your assessment of the birds: bluebirds vs robins. After all, you see them in your winter woods. We have landed in what amounts to a nature preserve, albeit very small, yet I intend to better understand the ducks and geese I see. The quacks, takeoffs and landings of the birds on the lake fascinate me. Today I checked out Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small. After that I want to find something more scientific, perhaps searching in an .edu domain.

      I smiled reading about Great Grandma Mary’s ability to “take down” Sam. He lived with my Grandma until his death and my memories of him are of the comical, amiable variety. Who knows whether there was any pushing and shoving in their household. I doubt it, but appearances can be deceiving.

      Thank you for your musings here – always. And a peaceful holiday celebration wherever you are!


      1. Concerning ducks: I love my two field guides to the birds–one 50 years old by Peterson and a modern one by Stokes. I also have flower, tree, and animal track guides. I like to know my neighbors.

        About strong women: My Dutch paternal grandma was the beneficent queen of her home. I saw a similar look with Mary and Sam, but all my projection. I never heard my grandparent’s raise their voices or argue, but it was clear who ran the show.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. When I was walking in the woods yesterday I thoughts of Peterson’s Field Guide I had for years but must have given away. I’ll try to find the southern birds version now and check on Stokes whom I’m not familiar with. I’ll start by looking in the library 📚.

          Our pedigree seems to include matriarchs, beneficent and otherwise – at least on my side. One day our country will have a woman world leader, perhaps in the order of Germany’s admirable Angela Merkel. Peace to you now and into the new year, Elaine.


  14. What wonderful nostalgia Marian. Amazing the things that remain in your possession through the decades. Are those not robins on the postcards? They sure don’t make things the way they used to, in more ways than one, lol. 🙂 Happy Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you like these nostalgic bits.

      Several readers suggested the species of birdies from bluebirds to robins. So far, Elaine (above), I think, made most sense because she has seen birds with this coloring in her woods in New York state.

      Victorians sometime made an amalgamation of several species especially when it came to the doggy, my daughter Crista thinks, “It had to look good – not comply with one actual breed.” I’m still open to all suggestions!

      Happy Hanukkah – or whatever festivity you and your family enjoy this season, Debby. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting concepts. One thing is certain, the cards are beautiful. 🙂 And thanks for the holiday wishes. It’s a Christmas weekend and Hanukkah on Monday. The best of both worlds. 🙂 Merry Christmas Marian! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  15. You have the most delightful treasures Marian . Aunt Ruthie was a talented lady , we have seen this in previous posts , such and interesting lady . I don’t think I’ve see your Great Grandmother Mary , what spirit she had in her eyes , love to have met her . I bet she had some stories to tell .
    When you see a photo you long to know it’s story but sometimes it’s nice to imagine your own.
    My lovely mum suffered with depression and stress related illness all my life , and yet I have a photo of her when she is in the A.T.S in W.W.2, she has her head thrown back and she’s smiling the biggest smile ever. The breeze seems to be just touching her hair and she looks free. Yes, there may have been a war on but she had found a pocket of happiness and when I look at her I share it with her ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it a blessing to have pictures documenting happy times, especially of you smiling mum, her head joyfully thrown back. At your wise suggestion, I will look for a “pocket of happiness” today – lovely sentiment for this season. Bunches of peace and joy to you too, Cherry! ❤


  16. I adore all those old Christmas cards and your wooden plate with the lamb painting. I believe the birds with the red chests are Robins, very popular here on Christmas cards. I have a couple in my garden and, indeed, they are the British national bird by popular vote! Merry Christmas, Marian. 💜🎄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am certainly glad I asked the question about the bird breed. Wow – my readers certainly know more about birds than I do. Thank you for adding the British perspective here . . . always happy to see you here, Fatima!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ll bet the birds on the card are Blogger-Robins who just had a great Pennsylvania Dutch meal at a Diner on their way to Florida…but were surprised by a sudden decided to wait it out while chatting about circa 1900 Christmas postcards.

    Liked by 2 people

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