Mary's Farm: Christmas Cards
My mother’s favorite part of the Christmas season was the exchange of cards. “It’s the one time of year I get to hear the news,” she would explain. She did not live far from where she was born and raised, but many of her friends, following the end of World War II, had settled in faraway places.
Sometime in November, she would set up the card table in her bedroom, organize the cards and envelopes around her, and begin. Like a scholar bent over an important work, she would spend days crafting her cards, writing each one individually. In her round, open script, she shared what mattered to each of these far-flung friends. A little tower of plump sealed envelopes would slowly rise beside her. Once, in the 1950s, a cousin of hers began the tradition of sending out typed newsletters, not even signed personally. My mother felt cheated by this mass production of the yearly greeting.
She always tried to get her cards into the mail by the first week of December. She sent them off as if on the wings of carrier pigeons. She expected something in return, and her wish was always granted. Waiting for the mail truck to ease away from the mailbox, she would pull on her coat, wrap her head in a woolen scarf, and tuck her feet into her fleece-lined boots for the walk up the driveway, often through new-fallen snow. She would return, clutching the thick, square envelopes, sometimes red or green, like prizes. “There’s one from Claire!” she would exclaim. Claire, her next-door neighbor growing up, was by then living in Florida, and she always wrote the long messages for which my mother hungered.
My mother wouldn’t open the cards right away but leave them unopened on the hall table. When my father would come home from work, they opened them together and sometimes read them out loud. My sister and I would sit with them and hear about friends like Claire, whom we had never met but about whom we knew a great deal.
Some of my friends today have abandoned sending cards. Too expensive. Too time-consuming. But, like my mother, I never want to lose touch. Without Christmas cards, I would never know that the little boys I once babysat for are now men with interesting jobs and children about to go away to college. How can it be? I wonder. Another friend is in remission from her cancer. Another is getting divorced, and yet another married. All that life has to offer seems to unfold on this little Christmas stage, which, for my mother, began at a card table.
And so, starting in November, I settle at the kitchen table and begin to write. My mother would be disheartened to know that most of us, by now, have adopted the method of her forward-thinking cousin, recounting the major events of our year in newsletter style. For the rest, the part that counts, I sometimes stay up till midnight, scribbling personal notes, watching snow fall, and, in the morning, mail them off with lots of love and the strong hope of a return.
The View from Mary’s Farm, a collection of Edie’s Yankee Magazine essays, plus her new book, Saturday Beans and Sunday Suppers, are available at edieclark.com