Does anyone else out there remember when Mom set up a card table or commandeered the dining room table for Operation Christmas Cards? Al and I were recently laughing about the tension that often permeated both of our houses as our mothers dutifully dragged out the Christmas card file, cross-indexed to see who had sent one to us and to whom we had sent one in years past. As I recall, if you hadn’t sent our house a card for three consecutive Christmases, you were banished to the back of the file box, and you no longer received greetings from our smiling snowmen unless and until you started sending them again. Great care was also taken NOT to send the same card to someone two years in a row. This was an issue because the number of cards that Mom stockpiled during the post-Christmas sale, always outnumbered the number of people to whom we sent our seasonal best wishes. In fact, I still have some unopened boxes of Mom’s Christmas cards in the basement.
I actually enjoyed helping my mother and it was usually my job to seal the envelope and affix the stamp. To that end I had a little cake plate that held a damp sponge. I used this to moisten both the envelopes and the stamps, for stamps back then were not self-adhering. Of course, what do you want for five cents apiece? I remember the outrage when they rose to eight cents apiece.
Sitting down after dinner to open Christmas cards is a happy highlight in my personal parade of Christmas memories. I opened any that were addressed to my parents and “Austin” or “family.” I reasoned that I had an equal right to open those since I was included as an addressee and that, of course, increased my pile over and above those that were addressed to me.
The best cards, of course, were the ones that contained money, which may be a crass sentiment, but it’s an honest one. The worst cards were the ones that contained novel-length letters about everything that happened in the sender’s family including such riveting highlights as Johnny getting a B on one of his third grade spelling tests and the dog being neutered. I’m not sure those letters would have been interesting even if Johnny had been neutered and the dog had turned out to be a passable speller.
We would routinely receive 100 or more cards every year when I was a kid. This year Martha and I received five and those were from the same five people who sent us cards last year. Well, things change and the logistical puzzle that was the sending of Christmas cards is a fast fading Holiday tradition. I guess my grandchildren may one day sit with their parents after dinner and send Christmas instant messages and that’s okay as long as they experience the same warmth that I did. They’ll never experience, however, the fun of watching Mom turn that wonderful shade of Christmas red when Dad accidentally knocked over the file box, scattering file cards to the North Pole and back.
One of the greatest gifts I ever received came not in December, but in October when I was nine years old and my parents took me to Game Three of the 1966 World Series where I saw Wally Bunker shut out the Dodgers in a 1-0 Orioles victory. I had the opportunity to write a short “biography” of that game, which has recently been published by the Society for American Baseball Research and may be viewed here.
May the joy of a nine-year old seeing his favorite team win a World Series game in person be with you throughout the year!