(Courtesy of 123rf.com)
We have a holiday tradition in our family, adopted from that of a good friend. Each year as the season winds down and we begin to put away (or throw out) the trappings of Christmas, we go through the greeting cards we’ve received and keep our favorite ones. These get packed away with those of years past, to be taken out next season and displayed in a wicker basket. (We have a separate repository — a woven sleigh with metal runners — for the current year’s cards.)
Why keep old cards? Well, for the same reason one retains any keepsake — for the pleasure of recalling good memories. In this case, the faces and voices of friends, some of them long gone.
A random scan through the basket produces these treasures:
A Christmas tree done in crayon on plain white paper with a bright yellow star and a scrawled “Merry Christmas” drawn about 10 years ago by a girl I will watch graduate high school this coming June.
All the Christmas cards my husband and I have given each other through eighteen years of marriage. (That’s another tradition.)
Cards from a gaggle of young men who grew from uncertain Coast Guard cadets into confident officers.
Two cards bear the shaky scrawl of my ailing mother, still determined to push a pen in order to send us her greetings.
Handmade cards, each a unique work of art.
The first card we received from new friends we met back in 1994…and the latest, sent last year to mark seventeen years of friendship.
One shows a team of reindeer pulling a sleigh, spiraling out of the sky to land on a roof. The signature is that of a woman we knew when we were first married, our elderly neighbor Alice who passed away in 1997. Seeing her name written at the bottom of the greeting evokes a bloom of bright memories. Same for the card signed simply ‘Hap,’ my husband’s first father-in-law. We were lucky enough to both enjoy a wonderful, close relationship with him, speaking on the phone once a week until his death a few years back. I run my fingers across his penned name and for it a moment it’s as if he’s beside me.
And so it goes. Folded bits of paper spilling a wealth of memories. Cards from those we miss and those we mourn; those we love and those from whom we are now estranged. These in particular send up a bittersweet tang upon re-reading. Is it took late to try to mend that fence? Life is so short and it is, after all, Christmas.