The countdown to Christmas: Six days as of today, December 19th.
I’m trying to revive an old tradition this year: Sending Christmas cards. When Bill and I were first married, this was one of my favorite holiday activities. Hand writing addresses, writing a Christmas letter, buying beautiful Christmas cards, writing a personal note and signing each one. I had a lot more free time back then to do all of that, plus scurry around looking for addresses.
Two years ago, I had Christmas cards made and threw most of them away the following summer. I sent a few to friends who I thought would get a kick out of getting Christmas cards in July. I’m torn by the process. I love beautiful Christmas cards; yet I want to send people we haven’t seen in a long time a photo; I like to write a Christmas letter, but I’ve gotten a bad vibe about those for a few years; I want to write a personal note on each card...
With time to wait for Will while he and a friend were at a movie Sunday night, I packed my backpack with all things related to Christmas cards and found a Panera near the movie theater. I had my two address books and my phone with me so I could address the envelopes. With my phone, I had a tool that I did not have the last time I did this: the ability to text. I sent several quick requests “What’s your address?” I was about to send one woman that message when my phone pinged with a text from her with the very same question!
One address book is from the 80s and 90s. The second is from the first decade of the new millennium. And contacts in my phone may or may not include addresses, unless the residence is on one of the carpool circuits. And even then, some of those houses are programmed into my internal map by visual location rather than street address.
I started with the oldest address book. The tabs where the letters should be are so worn that I cannot read most of them. I start with the A’s and flip through page after page first looking for people who live in England. Even though it would be a Christmas miracle if any of the cards I put in the mail on the 17th might arrive before the 25th, those are the envelopes I address first. Page after page I turn and run my finger down the entries. And the joy of writing Christmas cards is dampened by echoes of loss over the last thirty years.
We’ve had a lot of drizzly, dull days since Thanksgiving. The sun only peeks out in between swarms of gray clouds. Following in bleakness, the flags have been at half-mast for what seems like weeks. They hang heavy, wet, and limp, perhaps they are too low to catch the winds that pass over the tops of the poles. The iconic white, wooden New England church in our town that burned down on October 23rd still lies in rubble covering a full lot. Our real Christmas tree started reaching its dry prickly fingers to the floor within a week of putting it up. It must’ve been cut down in October before being trucked to the local Christmas tree lot. Its lifeless branches remind me of the feet of dead chicken. If you’ve ever butchered chickens, you know what I mean. Glass ornaments shatter as the tree slouches and shrugs them off.
Initially, the pages of my address book only added to this environmental bleakness, showing me loss over the last few decades. I see names of my grandmothers, two great aunts, many elderly friends, and a few young people. As I become more grown up, losses become more common. They feel like a tearing pain that simply won’t stop. I think the saving grace is knowing I’m not alone. Like generation after generation, to feel this intensely means to have had much. This isn’t new in the world, just another stage of adulthood.
Bitterness makes the sweet sweeter. The sweet life as vibrant as it is all around us, as well as the sweetness of what we’ve experienced in the past with family and friends. As much as the beauty of the Christmas ornaments on the tree remind me of past events and people, those names written in gray pencil lead in my address book are the same. To have two old address books and a phone filled with names of friends and family… how lucky.
And that’s where I am today. Each name that I cared enough about to jot down in the address book is a gift. Some people I knew better than others. My grandmothers’, mom and dad’s, and siblings’ addresses and phone numbers were etched firmly in my memory. Some people were good friends for a time, then by the patter of life, I saw them less and then through distance, heard from them less. Some I see maybe once a year, some more often. Some every few years, or less.
While I feel a ping of hurt seeing names of people who have passed away, at the turn of a page, I laugh at an entry jotted down so I would remember how I met the person: “At the train table in the library.” That mom and I never met up again, but it’s good to know that in the hour we spent with our toddlers at the library over ten years ago that we connected enough to exchange information. That day she was a gift to me – more important than a yellow sticky with a name and a number; I wrote her down in my address book.
I feel the very same about my Linda Malcolm-the-writer’s address book. Our physical paths may frequently or very rarely cross, but I’m so thankful that you are in my address book. You are a powerful gift of light this holiday season.
Blessings to you and yours, now and always.