Every holiday as I was growing up, I would wait until New Year’s Day to read all the Christmas cards that trickled in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. I started this practice when I was about ten-years old, and have continued it right through the present. I discovered the heady joy of hearing from family, friends, acquaintances and wanna-be friends in one stampede of correspondence. It was like having everyone important in my life in the same room at once. I also delighted in imagining that all these people cared enough about my family and me to choose a card, write a note – brief or long- address the envelope, stamp the envelope and find a mailbox. The whole time, I was, for just a little bit, on their minds. In the hey-day of the United States Postal Service (pre Facebook, Linked-in and iMessage), it was not unusual to receive 75 cards. On New Year’s Day, I was punch-drunk on greeting cards.
When I struck out on my own, had a legitimate address with my boyfriend – later to be my husband – we began to grow a list of card senders of our own. Between my husband’s business connections and my communicative family and friends, our basket of cards grew. For a few years, I abandoned my habit of waiting to open them, but I missed the rush of having so many loved ones converge in that one magical hour. It made sense to revert to a habit that worked for me. I spent the time carefully -- reading quickly scrawled regards – then rereading them closely. I could be found moving a lamp closer so I could hold a magnifying glass to a photo postcard to better assess the expressions on my friend’s children’s faces. The magnifying glass would float over those near and dear to me and I would wonder had I aged equally? I would note that my cousin’s family had grown from five to six, or was it seven?
There was one category of card that had, traditionally, received some ridicule in my family, but, truthfully, provided us all with untold pleasure. It was the card that, when opened, included The Holiday Letter. The letter was devoted entirely to recounting all of the remarkable events in a family’s life during the previous year. Of the ten or twelve we received every year, there would be one, just one, that would cause us all to wonder what potion of homeopathic, black-market pharmaceutical or serum of grandiosity the scribe had ingested before the annual account was written. It was unkind and petty of us. We would read the winner’s essay aloud and howl at the unheard perfection of life that luck and tunnel vision had visited upon them.
Emergency gall bladder surgery? They had the best surgeon in the Northeast. The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980? Why the National Guard escorted them to safety. Johnny was attending Wesleyan? Don’t forget he is a legacy student and his grandfather donated the new library. I am uncomfortable when I confess I was so catty that I would laugh and laugh. My parents reassured me that I was not laughing “at these happy boasters,” but rather “with them.” I am pretty sure that is not true.
Most Holiday Letters describe the trips, the graduations, the career moves, the changes in residence, the hospital trips for anxiety attacks, the sad and moving news that a beloved family member has been laid to rest, the trials of college applications. In other words, most Holiday Letters describe the stuff of life, with a bit of a positive spin, but rooted in reality and offering a strong focus on the successes with a minimization of the failures, disappointments and struggles. It is only that one rare, boastful exception of the Holiday Letter each year, the one overflowing with hyperbole and bordering on being comically braggadocio that fell outside the norm. My parents had friends from the 50’s that reliably sent such a Holiday Letter. And then their cards ceased all together. Their lives took a 90 degree turn and things went sideways. There were no more cards.
In a category entirely of its own is a card from my closest college friend. Usually, sometime in January, I receive an elaborate, multi-folded card that has been designed, directed and produced by a N.Y. ad agency. Built around a theme (i.e. Pirates of the Caribbean) every generation of the family is captured in an elaborate storybook pose. Addresses to match their images (all 54 or so) are catalogued on the back of the card. I wait for that card like a wine connoisseur awaits the snifter of after-dinner port. It is a rare and special treasure that brings to a close that year’s greeting cards.
I have received some cards this year. They are from my closest family and friends who have succeeded in keeping up with my address and location. The good news is that, to the best of my knowledge (and God, if you are up in the ether somewhere, I am not taunting you, and please don’t laugh at such presumption on my behalf) my mailing address is fixed. Two days ago, I met the man who has the post office box next to mine. I said, “Can you imagine, my family has had this box for 50 years, and I have never met you?” His crusty retort? “Well, I have had this box for 87 years, and I have never met you.” I surely hope my family has the same box for another 50 years.
I hesitate to launch a Holiday Letter of my own. 2014 has been a year of trials and triumphs. My progeny have surprised and surpassed my expectations of them in their pursuits in life. However, of more importance, each, in their own way, have demonstrated character, compassion and integrity. In my mind, there are no awards, career-paths or achievements that can outshine the importance of character, compassion and integrity. 2014 has granted me a renewed appreciation of the value of family and friendships. They have kept me aloft when I nearly lost my way. My father’s death and a series of relocations left me rudderless and adrift. Yet, when I needed help, it was there. Always. Inexplicably. I am left with profound gratitude for the blessings that seem to populate my life, even in those darkest moments. I believe there is a mathematical formula that can reduce this phenomenon to something we can all understand; the absolute value in any moment of despair, loss or sorrow is love.
This year, I was in receipt of fewer-than-ever Christmas cards, photos cards and Holiday Letters. However, I was more than ready to break them open and see just what kind of year 2014 delivered to those about whom I care…..and better yet, I looked forward to reading what hopes my friends and family held for 2015. I was delighted. Meanwhile, I am still waiting for that one card that always closes the season. I hope my friend has my address…
Wishing good health, hope and effervescent light – d.