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I was curled up on my sofa a couple weeks ago, listening to some instrumental Christmas music and appreciating my tree lights and my cats, thinking ahead to having a relaxing Christmas holiday to be …
I was curled up on my sofa a couple weeks ago, listening to some instrumental Christmas music and appreciating my tree lights and my cats, thinking ahead to having a relaxing Christmas holiday to be shared with my son, his fiancé, and maybe some friends here and there.
I felt relieved that I was not pressed to duty...writing out Christmas cards the way mother used to do years ago. I had noticed some Facebook friends busy sending out piles of cards and humorously thought, “do people still do that?” It seemed almost as old-fashioned as watching someone walk up to the TV and turn the dial to change channels.
Mother hated writing Christmas cards and would complain about it every year from Thanksgiving continuing for a couple of weeks as she struggled to get her 10 or so cards out the door. She was a full-time schoolteacher and had plenty on her plate, but it was one of those unwritten things that she felt she needed to do, or she would be purged from proper society. Mom would always get a Christmas card from my older cousin and they were generally....Hallmark, made to impress, and adorned with glitter. Card glitter spreads faster than the COVID virus and was everywhere, on everything for days and weeks to come. Thinking back on its expected arrival, preparations could have been made to isolate and contain the glitter. The card should have been taken out of the envelope with surgical gloves, laid down on a newspaper and handled very carefully from at least a foot away with outstretched arms and a set of long-handled tweezers, in order to prevent the glitter from invading the entire house. After reading its lovely verse, it could have been slowly closed so the glitter would not become airborne, then methodically folded up in the protective piece of newspaper and eased slowly across the kitchen to the trash bin and deposited...with a gentle push. God forbid if a dog were to come racing through at that moment, causing the chosen carrier to fumble the thing before touchdown occurred.
I am surprised that my mother didn’t figure that out over the years because she was very good at reading other cards, keeping them for a day or so, then throwing them away, even if you had agonized in front of the card rack...spending hard earned allowance dollars on it. I would see it lying in the trash bin shortly after her birthday and say, “Geez mom you’re already throwing my card away?” She would remark, “Well I read it, we don’t need it hanging around forever, do we?”
The same abrupt death was never in store for those Christmas cards as they gradually grew in number in the small, wicker basket. I could almost see the glittery ones rubbing and gyrating against all the other plain rather Mennonite cards that held no sparkle of any kind. In fact they were the less expensive cards, the budget packs with the off-shades of red and green inks that brought a gentle nod with the words “its the thought that counts” to mind.
I liked to sit and read through mother’s modest pile of Christmas cards every year....about five times or so. They came from a few relatives and women she had taught with at various schools earlier in her career but had not seen in decades. There was always the card from “Twi,” short for Twila who lived far away in Sheboygan, Wis. Their handwritten messages varied little from year to year and were quick summations about husbands, the most accomplished child prodigies that walked the earth, accidents, broken bones, an occasional bunion surgery or appendicitis.
Unfortunate occurrences were always mentioned at this most joyous time of year. These vessels of heartfelt intention had similar last paragraphs building to the ongoing hope of finally getting together to visit with mom in the coming year! If memory serves correct, that never happened. There was “Weezy,” too...or was she “Wheezy?” We kids wondered why she had that name....but kids are like that. She was a former college roommate that I never met or saw a picture of. Did she even exist? You wonder maybe if mother just wrote those cards in the dark at night after we’d all gone to bed? They could’ve been a stack of prop cards that she pulled out of the Christmas box in the basement every year, kind of like stock actors that appear in certain films. I know that’s not true because I would see the cards arrive in the mail and eagerly wait to read about these people that I did not know or would ever meet.
At any rate, the happiness and relief I felt about not having to send Christmas cards was soon put to the ultimate test by the universe. I went down to Virginia a couple weeks ago with two friends to see the Tuba Christmas concert at Goodman Auditorium. We went to have lunch first and were seated at a table at a popular family restaurant.
I had no sooner eagerly taken my menu in my hands when I noticed a familiar woman being directed to the table right next to us by the hostess. “Oh my God,” I thought, “it’s my glitter-card-cousin who I had been planning to not send a Christmas card to...again this year.” This decision I had made on the couch that night in the contemplative haze of the tree lights. Over the course of my life, seeing her at various family events she rarely failed to deliver awkward comments or questions in regards to my life such as, “I see my cousins haven’t lost any weight this year either.” I knew she would recognize me at some point, so I spoke first to just get it over with. I quickly introduced my friends and made some lighthearted comments in anticipation of attending Tuba Christmas. Then the silence grew, and I could feel the waves of her thoughts moving above the dingy carpet...crossing the five feet from her fork to mine. Out came those zinging words... “How’s your husband doing?” I had avoided telling her over the brief conversations I had with her in the past couple years that I was divorced....again. Why would I? It’d be like sharing a chapter of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with a church book study group. “Oh, we’re divorced,” I said. She assertively replied, “I wondered when that was going to happen?” She proceeded joking over the top of her omelet to her friend that I had really been married to some “doozies.” It was like a big pancake sailed into the side of my head as I thought “but they were MY doozies damn it!” Her pristine alter had been soiled by divorce too, so let us not cast pancakes. It didn’t end as she further narrated her memory of my mother rolling her eyes about my life. “That’s all fine and dandy too,” I thought, knowing that mother and I were cut from a different cloth, but loved one another dearly. At this point I started having an out-of-body experience and I know If I had been drunk, I probably would have dashed a glass of ice water in her face. This had to be the universe putting me in a Saturday Night Live comedic sketch to invariably teach me another lesson, show me a truth, confirm the suspicion that pancakes do fly. She concluded with instructing me to send her a Christmas card with all of the details. (A cold-day-in-hell event.) I did not say anything more and when I was finished, I stood up and simply left. Sometimes silence is all the glitter you need. Well, these things happen and provide good story material at any rate, confirming the truth that “you can pick your friends, but you cannot pick your relatives.”
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
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