Centenarian Santa still shining bright

“‘Twas the night before Christmas….” Time to wake Little Santa Light up from his annual estivation/hibernation.

Covered with nicks as one would expect with his years, Santa spends 364 days carefully cradled in fluffy cotton to extend his life as long as possible. We are unsure of this Saint Nicholas’ actual age, but family lore passed down by the Mister’s grandmother, Virginia Lamar Hornor (1895-1988), traces his birth back before World War I.

With expensive early electric bulbs regarded as fragile and unreliable, Santa was treasured even at a tender young age. Grandma said the Lamar family would light him each night during the holidays, keeping Santa burning to guide her brother, Lucius Mirabeau Lamar, III (1898-1978), safely home from World War I.

Through the ensuing decades, the jolly old elf became regarded as a good luck omen – as long as he would light. And he has continued to do so.

Partially crediting Little Santa Light with his own safe return from World War II, Louis Hamilton Hornor, Jr. (1922-2005), coddled him for years. The Mister’s uncle bought Santa his own little Charlie-Brown-esque tree and found a sturdy box to serve as his bed. Uncle Louis fretted over the proper voltage for the aging family relic, so he attached a voltage attenuator to ensure no powerful electrical surge would knock the little guy out.

The annual Christmas Eve lighting is always tinged with excitement and a bit of fear. Suppose this is the year Santa refuses to rouse? What would a burned-out Santa signify?

Once again on December 24, family members took a deep breath as the Mister’s younger brother screwed Santa in tight. Sighs of relief and cries of good cheer burst forth as Saint Nick suddenly glowed.

Not wanting to exhaust the family’s oldest member for much more than a flash, he was quickly unscrewed and tucked snugly back in his bed. As we closed the lid once more on his lair, I am sure I heard him whisper as he went out of sight: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) wrote the enduring poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” in 1822.

Edward Hibberd Johnson of the Edison Lamp Company first hand-wired 80 red, while and blue light bulbs and strung them around a tree in the shop’s window in 1882, according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine.


Older than Methuselah and larger than the whale that swallowed Jonah

Growing up, we had an attic stretching the length of the house. When spring-cleaning was forcibly enforced, we three girls would take all of the things we could not bear to part with, virtually everything, up to some corner in the attic.

When my poor mother finally got ready to downsize, she logically assumed we would return for all the treasures she housed patiently for us through the years. But no. We wanted all of those things – my Shirley Temple doll and Barbies and those hoop-skirted formals of my oldest sister – but we wanted them in my mother’s house, not ours.

We are now going through mountains of papers, books and photos carefully retained for more than a century by the Mister’s side of the family. Our generation now is supposed to assume guardianship, but, in our case, we already have downsized. The next generation has not yet, if they ever so choose, upsized.

I am the last person who should ever go through remnants from the past. I cherish every scrap of paper offering clues about past lives. I wander through old photos more slowly than Moses found his way out of the desert.

Take this Bible, for example.

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It’s older than Methuselah. Okay, not quite that old. It was published in Philadelphia in 1831.

This is not your ordinary King James I Bible. In addition to the Old and New Testaments, it ecumenically includes the Apocrypha, all translated out of the original tongues. There are “marginal” notes and references; an alphabetical index of every character mentioned; tables of scripture weights, measures and coin; historical maps; and numerous engravings. The cover is gold-embossed, and the Florentine lining almost makes our granite countertop seem pale. It dates from a time when historical engravings could even bare breasts.

Of course all of these things add up. They add up to a full four-inch-thick volume, rather weighty to slip subtly onto any bookshelf.

The original owner bore a name from one of the most brutal fire-and-brimstone books of the Old Testament, Zephaniah. This book describes a vengeful god making men plant vineyards, but not allowing them to drink a drop of the wine they produce (Chapter 1: Verse 13). The Lord in this book was fierce:

I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling-blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord.

(Chapter 1, Verse 3)

Reading that made me worry that the Mister’s third great-grandfather might have been rather frightening. But Zephaniah Turner Conner (1807-1866) appears to have been named after his Aunt Sallie’s husband, Zephaniah Turner (1779-1855). Zephaniah Conner and his wife Louisa Ann Godwin (1815-1891) were descended from families who’d been in Virginia for several generations, but the newlyweds headed out to Macon, Georgia, after their marriage and increased the population there by producing at least 11 children, according to their Bible. Among the great family names bestowed upon these children is a personal favorite, Granville Cowper Conner (1837-1900).

Although Zephaniah Conner served as a colonel in the Civil War, he allowed his daughter Virginia (1839-1931), the Mister’s second great-grandmother, to marry a man born in Massachusetts. Serving as a Lieutenant in the Georgia cavalry easily made up for the original birthplace of William Allis Hopson (1836-1873). The couple took their vows in Christ Church in Macon, Georgia, in 1866. The Bible, with a ticket from the 1871 Georgia State Fair serving as a bookmark, was handed down to them.

Their daughter Georgia Hopson (1870-1928) married Lucius Mirabeau Lamar, Jr. (1866-1931), a family with a set of remarkable names as well, in Christ Church in 1894 before heading to Mexico. Perhaps she lugged the weighty Bible with her on that rugged journey.

The Bible then found its way to San Antonio to the home of the Mister’s maternal grandmother, Virginia Lamar Hornor (1895-1988).

And now the Family Records contained in this tome covering half my desk when open taunt me to dig deeper into all of their backgrounds. Some day I will, but I have a whole cemetery of people whose memories I currently am excavating.

I am closing the cover now, wondering who will assume the role as its caregiver. Maybe this Bible that has traveled so far needs to find its way back to Macon.