Last week I handed a shiny square envelope to a friend, Matt, who looked utterly confused. “What’s this?”
“Er, a Christmas card.”
“For what Christmas?”
I know how pathetic it is, but I am still writing my holiday cards.
I try to start cards early. I herd my protesting sons outside, and shoot film, and the few well-exposed shots come back torpedoed by rolled or half-shut eyes, and gaping grimaces. Then we lose the camera during Thanksgiving at my sister’s (it turns up a month later in her 3-year-old’s toy box), so ” slapping makeup on a new black eye ” I re-shoot, using an old camera, and rush to a one-hour photo shop.
The shutter has stuck. We all have floating, though this time well-lit, heads.
I give up and fortunately, though expensively, order cards online using a shot taken last summer by my brother.
Then, and here is the confounding part, I feel it necessary to add a note or letter to nearly all of the 150 cards.
Who among us isn’t time-starved? My friend Karen has ” twice now ” posed and printed boxes of cards that yet sit intact in her cabinet. She can’t recoup the investment by sending them out another year; the erstwhile baby is now 3.
My habit started back in college, in the caffeinated throes of an endless exam week. One friend actually finished her exams on the second day. As we watched in awe and dismay, she began writing Christmas cards. Ever since, cards have seemed a beckoning light.
I also love getting them. Cards show me friends’ children I have never met. I’ll gladly take group letters, though indeed some are painful: “My parents visited in March.” … “We finally cut Lily’s hair. It looks real cute. It had gotten so long and bushy.” … “He is 6 now, extremely sensitive, loving, and creative.”
Yet others are entertaining and descriptive. From Nick, whose letters always fit on one page and never brag, an epistle not about his latest book, but the squirrels in the attic: “We hired an animal-control man to remove them, with the result that we have a new household unit of financial measurement. Whenever we buy something, we consider the price in squirrels. A flight to Denver costs four squirrels.”
Catherine, my old college roommate, sent the thematic “Year of the Knife”: “Catherine: three knee surgeries, one wrist operation; Ian (son): one eye surgery, one ear operation; Mac the Dog: two ear and tooth cleanings; John (husband): Showing remarkable good sense, or unreasonable fear of modern anesthesia” ” she is an anesthesiologist ” “only one little knee surgery.”
Another friend, Tracey, sent a letter ostensibly written by her cat.
We Christmas-card people find each other. One stalwart can be a sufficient focal point for a group. In the mid-’80s, I spent three years in Boston. I still get cards from one co-worker, Linda, that have not only deepened a cordial friendship, but keep me included in the lives of eight or 10 others. When a card from Linda comes in, I pounce on it.
Through annual cards I can stay in touch with a few people’s ex-spouses whom I liked, in at least one case better than my friend. I write old friends of my family, people who have done me favors, people I went to school with, people who don’t write back. I write people I might not phone, but don’t want to lose.
For 17 years I’ve written the mother and sister of a young man who died in an avalanche during a rescue mission, sending updates on the life of one of the boys who had been lost in the storm. They like hearing about his decency and productivity, and sometimes send messages for him.
Last August ” yes, August, 2003 ” I received a 2002 Christmas card from my friend Lynn, normally a paragon of organization. I was never so grateful.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com (write GSPI as subject heading).
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