Dennis McCarthy: A grandma’s ‘White Christmas’ cup is the gift that keeps giving

A few times a year, Richard Baida gets nostalgic and opens the display cabinet in his living room that holds his fondest memories – none more dear than a 30-year-old musical cup that plays “White Christmas.”

It may sound strange in early October to be thinking about late December, but when you have three grown children serving in the armed forces – kids you haven’t seen together in your living room for more than eight years – it makes all the sense in the world.

You miss them, and they miss you, but duty calls and they can’t make it home for the holidays. Again. The best you can do is FaceTime with them.

“FaceTime is fine, but there’s nothing like grabbing them and squeezing them tight,” Baida says, holding the old Christmas mug in his hand like it was expensive Ming China. To him, it’s worth a lot more.

Richard Baida shows off the Christmas mug his kids received in 1988 from their Grandma Rose, who had passed away four months earlier. His three children are currently in the service.(photo by Andy Holzman)

It arrived by parcel post with two others like it a few days before Christmas 1988. Baida hadn’t ordered anything by mail for his kids, so he had no idea who it was from.

The twins, Devon (Marines) and Brooke (Air Force) were 6 at the time, and older brother, Blake (Army) was 8. They ripped open the box and Brooke looked up at her father, and said words that froze him.

“It’s from Grandma Rose.”

They all fell silent. Grandma Rose, Richard’s mother, had died four months earlier.

As sick as she was at the end, she was thinking about her grandkids on Christmas morning not having a present from her under the tree. She knew her time was limited, so she told the company selling the mugs to wait until Christmas to deliver them.

Each one bore a picture of Santa Claus and played a different Christmas carol when exposed to light. The battery compartment was sealed shut.

The kids filled the cups with hot chocolate and toasted Grandma Rose that Christmas 30 years ago. The pain of losing their grandmother was replaced by laughter as they recalled how they’d take turns hopping on the back of her wheelchair while their dad pushed his mother rapidly down their street.

“We’d get her heart rate going pretty fast,” Baida says, smiling. “She loved it, and so did the kids.”

After the holidays, the mugs were put on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard – stored and gaining dust until 1994 when the Northridge Earthquake hit.

“Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells” fell to the floor and shattered that dark morning, but “White Christmas” survived.

Baida carefully wrapped it up and stored it in a safe place. It wasn’t until 2003, while he was moving into his new home in Northridge, that he unwrapped it again.

The batteries had to be dead by now, he figured. There was no way it could still play “White Christmas.” Baida took it outside and held it up to the sun. It still played.

How could that be, he thought? No battery could last 15 years. Something was going on here.

Baida called his kids, who were all serving in the reserves at the time before being called to active duty. He said to them Grandma Rose’s mug was still working.

“I told them I thought she was trying to tell us something,” says Baida, 77, an Air Force veteran from the Vietnam era.

The kids listened and all gathered at their father’s house. They each took turns holding up Grandma Roses’s cup to the light. Nothing. Not a peep out.

“We tried everything,” Baida says. “I couldn’t change the batteries because the compartment was sealed tight. I would have had to break it open. Brooke said why don’t we open the front door and let Grandma Rose in. So, I did.”

And, in she came, sending a chill through the room as “White Christmas” began to play.

“Merry Christmas, grandma,” the kids said, that October.

The cup now was magical and never went back into storage. It took a place of honor in Baida’s display cabinet where all his best memories live.

This week, feeling a touch of nostalgia coming on again, he took it out, opened the front door, and held it up to the light. It’s still playing 30 years after Grandma Rose had it delivered after she died.

“It’s been eight years since I’ve had my kids all together under one roof,” Baida says. “They’re all career active duty members, who have been stationed in far off and sometimes dangerous places.

“They’ve made me a very proud father, and I’m sure their Grandma Rose is, too. I can only hope that before I meet my maker I’ll be able to see them all together again.”

An October wish for every parent with kids on active duty somewhere in the world.

FaceTime is fine, but there’s nothing like grabbing them and squeezing them tight.

Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at

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