Each year I face a dilemma– AKA–the Christmas letter. The strain and energy that goes into staring at the computer screen is like pushing a grocery cart of goodies through six inches of snow. Uphill. In a blizzard. Wearing flip-flops. Did I mention the cart has one bad wheel? What’s in the cart is great, but getting it from the store to the car is surprisingly difficult. Arrgh.
Prior to writing I like to set the mood by playing Christmas CD’s, lighting a scented candle, and clicking on the fireplace. The purpose is simple… compose our annual Christmas letter that shares tidbits about our family and joyful happenings. The target audience is loved ones who don’t see us often. It’s fun to review and reflect on a year of blessings—at least those are the things I chose to remember—and start a mental list of what I’d like to include in our holiday greetings. But those memories become tricky. How much is too much information? When do details about trips or successes make the switch from happiness to bragging? At what point does it go from generic blather to snoring-boring minutia about family members? And when oh when does a parent stop including blurbs about her now adult children? Did I say arrgh?
I set some perimeters to follow:
1. Everything I have to say must be on one page. That does NOT mean writing single spaced in a 3-point font with ¼ inch margins.
2. Make it fun to read. No lengthy descriptions of Tad’s colonoscopy, the depression state of the economy, or how I chipped a fingernail on the way to accountant’s office.
3. No travelogues that start with “On day one, at 7 a.m., we drove to the airport. Traffic was brutal. I was sipping a Diet Coke and Tad was wearing a green tee-shirt that really didn’t match his teal and pink Hawaiian print shorts. At 7:01 we passed what looked like a rather large pothole at the intersection of Grand and Marshall. At 7:02 I took another sip of Diet Coke and noticed the chipped fingernail that must have occurred at the accountant’s office…
4. No references to a family member known only to God and DNA testing. “So, as I said, it was great to see Billy after thirty years. As you recall he is Bert’s son by Aunt Leona’s third cousin’s second marriage after Uncle Sven had that affair that really upset Grandma Arlene’s adopted sister. Billy stayed with us for three weeks. He likes French toast and sausages.”
5. No fibs and exaggerations. “Little Stacy crushed the competition in her third grade macaroni art class last month. The teacher said she has never seen anyone so talented in the use of starchy shapes. We’re expecting an offer from the Louvre at any moment to have a gallery showing of Stacy’s ‘pasta de la resistance’.” Roughly translated: Stacy brought home macaroni shapes glued onto construction paper, and was rewarded a tiny gold star for effort. Stacy misspelled “Mom” but this is Art, darn it, and not an intellectual inquisition.
Do you see what I mean? Christmas letter writing is hard. So much sifting, sorting, and snarkiness to get through. No wonder most people simply sign, “Happy Holidays” and are done. But I persevered. At 7 p.m. I lit a candle, poured a cup of tea in the mug I bought when I visited Ely, Minnesota, in this great little gift shop that lets people order maple syrup coated lutefisk , and stared at the computer screen. At 7:01 I sighed and noticed dust behind the picture of Dad’s cousin’s fourth child by her fifth husband after the freakish accident involving a unicycle and stacks of plates. The frame is one I made in second grade that has elbow macaroni pasted on the wood. Several of the macaroni have fallen off over the years and now all that remains are shiny crusty U-shaped glue smudges. At 7:02 I noticed I still hadn’t addressed that chipped fingernail…
Did you ever read Erma Bombeck? Her humor and her heart brought so much to my life. The one entitled, “Come Holy Spit” is one of my favorites. I am including it in case it has escaped your reading.
Erma Bombeck – Christmas Chimes
Everything is in readiness.
The tree is trimmed. The cards taped to the door frame. The boxes stacked in glittering disarray under the tree.
Why don’t I hear chimes?
Remember the small boy who made the chimes ring in a fictional story years ago? As the legend went, the chimes would not ring unless a gift of love was placed on the altar. Kings and men of great wealth placed untold jewels there, but year after year the church remained silent.
Then one Christmas Eve, a small child in a tattered coat made his way down the aisle, and without anyone noticing he took off his coat and placed it on the altar. The chimes rang out joyously throughout the land to mark the unselfish giving of a small boy.
I used to hear chimes.
I heard them the year one of my sons gave me a tattered piece of construction paper on which he had crayoned two hands folded in prayer and a moving message, OH COME HOLY SPIT!
I heard them the year I got a shoe box that contained two baseball cards and the gum was still with them.
I heard them the Christmas they all got together and cleaned the garage.
They’re gone, aren’t they? The years of the lace doilies fashioned into snowflakes … the hands traced in plaster of paris … the Christmas trees of pipe cleaners … the thread spools that held small candles. They’re gone.
The chubby hands that clumsily used up $2 worth of paper to wrap a cork coaster are sophisticated enough to take a number and have the gift wrapped professionally.
The childish decision of when to break the ceramic piggy bank with a hammer to spring the 59 cents is now resolved by a credit card.
The muted thump of pajama-covered feet padding down the stairs to tuck her homemade crumb scrapers beneath the tree has given way to pantyhose and fashion boots to the knee.
It’ll be a good Christmas. We’ll eat too much. Make a mess in the living room. Throw the warranties into the fire by mistake. Drive the dog crazy taping bows to his tail. Return cookies to the plate with a bite out of them. Listen to Christmas music.
But Lord … what I would give to bend low and receive a gift of toothpicks and library paste and hear the chimes just one more time!
Thank you for the lovely reminder of one of my favorite women. I used to read Erma every chance I got, but I haven’t seen any of her work in decades. She still makes me laugh and sigh at the same time. What a gift she was to women everywhere. No matter the experience,she brought it home with laughter and heart. Kinda like you, Claudia.