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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Cards and Other Correspondence

I'm pacing myself this season and may not have everything done by the big day. After almost 50 years of having my own home and, therefore, decorating, shopping, wrapping, getting dinner ready and writing cards pretty much single-handed, I've passed some of the chores on to the daughter and others I've scaled back. A LOT.  One  thing I've always enjoyed is sending and receiving beautiful Christmas cards.

I grew up in a family where birthdays were always remembered with a lovely card, almost always Hallmark, and definitely specific: To my Mom, For a Special Daughter, To the Best Sister Ever, etc, etc. I've continued that within my own small circle of three and to my one Aunt remaining of seven and my Sister. I had extended it to the in-laws but, except for one, it isn't anything they have the time or inclination to do.

But I digress. Today, I was home alone for much of the day. The daughter and husband having gone to do their shopping for me. So, I decided it was perfect time to do my favorite thing. I got out the special Snowman box in which I keep my cards, return labels and lists of what cards I sent to whom last year. I hate repeating them since I have a selection of beauties and I like to vary them. I write just a one line personal greeting and our name and off they go.

Cards go to relatives: the aforementioned Aunt and Sister and their children, one sister-in-law and her husband ( the other two and the brother-in-law don't send cards ), cousins on both sides of the family. One cousin beats me to it every year--she writes the cards on Thanksgiving Day and mails them on Friday. We've laughed about it for years--I've told her she will ALWAYS beat me--I like to write when I'm in more of the Christmas spirit. With hot chocolate and Bing Crosby crooning by my side.

Next come the friends: Some have been in my life for 40 years or more, others are more recent and a few are former students who have now grown up, started families of their own and call me by my first name, now. I use my address book to make sure I have all the kids names right ( I put their names in the space reserved for email addresses! ) and that I'm using the most current address. There is always a pang of sadness as I move from one letter to the next---the relatives and friends who are no longer with us and won't be sending a card this year. That list gets longer each year but the list of new friends and acquaintances also grows, though not at the same pace or number.

Today, though I knew last year that I needed more cards, I ran out at the G's. Darn! Like my Mom before me, I always buy Christmas cards in January, when they are half price. Buy them now and pay full price?? Well, yes, because I love to send cards and love to send beautiful ones. So off to the web. Neither the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, nor the Metropolitan in New York City had yet lowered their prices. Too many procrastinators out there--so they know these cards are still going to sell. Besides, there are always dummies who forgot to buy them cheaper last January,too, and they will run out. Well, I think not.

 So off I went to the Lang site. Ah, look---some cards already half price and 40% off the whole order besides!! Fill up that shopping cart, girl and so I did. Buying cards is almost as much fun as sending cards. Oh, the selections!! Snowmen galore, Santas of every shape and size from Woodland Santa to Peppermint Candy Santa, Country Scenes from Barnyard to Bringing Home the Tree, Snowy Driveways leading to Log Cabins, White Clapboards, Elegant Bricks, Angels, Nativities, Poinsettias, Kitties, Puppies, Candles, Churches, large and small!!!!  You go, Girl!  Fill up that Cart!!! And so I did. But then reason prevailed. Just how many more years will I be around to send Christmas cards?  And what about that deminishing recipient list? So, back to the cart and culling. Out went those that I really, really liked But Did NOT Love. Then on to checkout and payment. And waiting. Hopefully, they'll get here in time for me to mail the rest before the actual day.

After that flurry of excitement I found that Bing had finished and my hot chocolate was gone. With time on my hands I found myself thinking about Christmas cards and letter writing. Before the days of " free " long distance calling and email my family, friends and I were prolific letter writers.  Stationery was an important purchase and it was always selected so carefully. The color, the embossing or border, the weight and feel. There was always a box of white or beige linen texture for business letters.  I loved setting time aside to get out my stationery and sit down to write a long newsy letter to someone. My hand was usually cramped up but it felt so great to correspond.

Then the anticipation of the response would carry one through the next week or two. If the wait was any longer, patience would start to fray but oh, the joy of finding an envelope with the return address of someone dear. Sometimes, frenzied, the flap would be torn raggedly to get to the news immediately. Other times, the letter would be placed tantalizingly on the table or in one's purse ( does anyone carry them anymore??) to be read when there was time to leisurely peruse it. And then, as they say, the ball was in your court.

I wasn't always a prompt responder--though frequently I'd put pen to paper immediately upon finishing. Many times, though, my response began with a heartfelt apology for being so long in answering.

I wish I had some of the correspondence now, especially the letters I exchanged with my Mother. I have only one and it is a single page saying not very much. There were none of mine amongst her things. She knew she was dying of cancer and so she destroyed letters and pictures since she didn't think anyone else would want them. She chose to throw them away herself. I wish she'd told me--I would have loved to have them.

When I look at the sole note from her and see her familiar handwriting, it brings her back to my mind's eye and as I read her words I hear her voice in my head. There is a book about things that have been used as bookmarks and some of the things are letters. What a clever use for a special note. It would be so nice to have some of mine to show my daughter.

She has only written me, perhaps, three or four letters so far. She calls frequently and we used to IM when she was away in school. I wrote letters to her but she never answered them in writing. Friends email now all the time but never are there letters. Some friends don't send Christmas cards at all. For awhile I continued sending to them but somehow the lack of response in kind made it less enjoyable. A let down, if you will,like calling someone with the excitement of speaking to them and getting no answer, or worse, a generic machine message asking for your number and name. If I don't just hang up, I just say, hi, thought I'd chat for a bit and then hang up. Sometimes, if they aren't too busy, they call back. More often I get an email. Grrrr.

I can't decide what to do with the stationery in the desk drawer that is faded and dusty with age. All the cute note cards. The stationery folder that my Mom gave me, beautiful red leather, with the blotter that was my Gram's and the fountain pen. Parker, you know. Can you still get INK for that? Oh, well, at least at Christmas the excitement of a personal letter in the box returns. Sometimes it requires me to respond and sometimes it is a response. Either way, I love it.

The beautiful card, the handwriting, the gorgeous stamp and the feel of the envelope. And I imagine the sender sitting and writing just to me and my family and I am happy and thankful for that moment in time.

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