Christmas Prisms

One aspect of our society we should hope never succumbs to speed, convenience or economy is the habit of exchanging Christmas cards. The real paper ones sealed inside envelopes, bearing stamps, and dropped in mailboxes.

Unlike the rotary phone, black & white televisions, and phonographs, inventions that became consumer goods which progress raced by and rendered obsolete, printed cards delivered via surface mail, bearing stamps, contained in covers carrying the sometimes nearly indecipherable scrawls of well-meaning senders who held the recipients in worthy esteem, are worthwhile remnants of our less instantaneous time.

They reflected humanity. Ours.

I still keep stationary stores in business by purchasing cards and mailing them out. Christmas after Christmas the number received isn’t commensurate with the amount shipped but that’s all right. It’s not an ego thing. It’s simply a gesture which gives me pleasure.

This addressee enjoys a mild delight upon reciprocation. In hand is tangible proof of not having been forgotten, ignored, or dismissed. Better, somebody on the other end thought enough to make the effort to maintain contact.

Relatives and friends are far-flung from Nevada. The modern pace of life looks favorably on emails and texts. Phone calls with their inevitable pauses of dead air that allow cogent thoughts to gather before voiced, don’t those silent interludes burn too much time? Anyway, aren’t conversations best served face-to-face?

Untraditional, unconventional, just plain weird Christmas cards elicit the best responses. At least from me.

While I appreciate winter landscapes, family portraits, warmth-inducing scenes, even those with that Jesus fellow as a babe in a manger surrounded by three wise guys, er, men, please Mr. Postman deliver me racy, humorous, or weird cards. And by weird I mean peyote-induced outside the sweat lodge.

If I must decipher the card by trying to figure out the state of mind of the person mailing it, I’m in Schaeffer City!

Now let me harken back to a serious purpose for Christmas cards.

Before communications methods bound us so close and so quick, displaying legible penmanship pretty much served as the only way those who’d migrated from the less dynamic parts of America to what then was regarded as “The Promised Land,” a k a, “north,” could inform those left behind of their progress on these golden shores. Or if the greetings bore addresses from below the Mason-Dixon, what had been escaped.

Going through my parents’ possessions after their respective deaths, I invariably came across troves of Christmas cards. Mother’s senior by more than a decade, father, a man who expressed little sentiment, had accumulated and retained a nice bunch of greeting cards from his postwar bachelor days.

He’d also forgotten to redeem a $5.00 chance for a holiday box of “cheer” from the Little Egypt year of 1949. Somehow I hold the notion that whiskey so close to the end of the Second World War tasted miraculous to combatants who survived. Especially those like father who made through the duration unscathed.

Father was better than me in retention. Several weeks into the New Year, I discard whatever was retrieved, opened, and admired. I’m reminded often enough of what’s been left behind or may never be part of my life.

So many tangible acknowledgements of what I’m missing and will probably never have just might become torture. And I am a man who does not believe in unintentional torture.

One may presume father mostly exchanged missives with family members, although let me surmise several must’ve came from girlfriends. It remains strange imagining our parents with other partners, lovers, or companions during their untethered active stages of life. You know, when they were single.

Going further, what made him give these particular women the gate – or had they kicked him to the curb?

A man, I prefer the former to the latter.

My folks never spoke much at all about their courtship. While affection existed between them, one can’t entirely discount the practicality of their union.

They were two level-headed adults who’d been raised in and subjugated under circumstances cruel without exaggeration. Neither likely sought a pure mirror image but a spouse with whom he or she could advance into safety and comfort minus worry the other would succumb to a wild hair.

Back in their heyday, a pair lightened the burden of being black in America.

Of the two, mother had the bigger pile of holiday cards. She didn’t hoard. Just collected.

Rummaging through these brought back the faces and voices of plenty of long-ago relatives as well as neighbors. By the time I got to the pile the sole common feature of most of the signatures on the heavy stock in my hands were they’d predeceased them both. Only a few senders remained alive. Each younger than my parents had been.

On one hand, I suppose that’s morbid. On the other, isn’t that the way of the world? We come along. Our wave swells, it crests, then it flattens out onto the shore before receding. Then another wave follows us, and so on and so on …

From whence they’d come, the majority of those one-time migrants then residing in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and other northern environs enjoyed the hell out of Christmas. Not the gift-giving and getting so much as the relatively unencumbered festivity. To many of them, Christmas was more Thanksgiving than Thanksgiving. Simple as that joy, even to inexperienced eyes it appeared tinged with mixtures of relief and regret.

The celebrants were thankful to be away from testy straits; somewhat annoyed still at the memories of years expended on everyday pettiness.

By the hour I shuffled through the older of my parents Christmas cards, the formerly vibrant colors had mellowed and the paper fibers had softened. With a few nearly 60 years old doubtlessly a good deal of the excitement intended and expected had also faded.

Certainly. For the most part I lacked any idea who’d mailed them.

Merry Christmas!

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