This year I sent out Christmas cards- something I haven’t done for a few years.
Last year, like the year before I went to the store and pored over boxes of cards and decided that none of them really said ” Merry Christmas ” so I took a pass and skipped it.
Nowadays people send e-cards that sing and dance. How could a bit of paper and ink compare with that? Besides, people talk smack about the cards they get and the newsletters that some people put a lot of work into so I figured, nobody really likes to get old fashioned cards anymore.
But it turns out I wasn’t completely right.
I had to update my address book and decided to send a few cards out and lo and behold there is a small group of people in my life that were excited about getting actual mail.
At least, I hope that when they got my cards they would not be put off by the little black envelopes they came in and the less then traditional cards that I chose to express my holiday spirit:
This year during the Christmas season I decided to spend time reading Victorian Era ghost stories, I took my big dark dog for walks late in the evening when it was chilly and cemetery quite outside and when we got home I made us a little snack that we both could crunch between our chattering teeth while we sat in living room glowing from the lights around my fireplace and on our Christmas tree.
My cards may have come in little black envelopes and inside those envelopes were pictures of Yule Cats, Yule Lads Krampus and Pere Fouettard and I will admit they are a little odd- but they are just as much of the Christmas tradition as Fruit Cake, Black Friday and Over Eating.
This year’s cards were my way of saying I was part of this big grand tradition- and even though I didn’t celebrate it in a traditional way I think that I had more fun this year then I have had in ages.
Another way of looking at it- my cards weren’t greetings.
They were an invitation.
I wonder if the people I sent them to will answer- in their own and unique way.
My Grandfather and my least favorite relative used to bury the hatchet for one day- and one day only.
On Christmas Eve they would sit near the fireplace and play games- cards, dominos, Battleship sometimes they played Parchessi .
The games changed, their sweaters that Grandma knitted would change from year to year too but the two of them, focused on each other and the game they were playing- that intensity never changed.
They would glare at each other and slam back glasses of whiskey until midnight and Christmas was officially here- at the stroke of 12 they would get up leaving their game unfinished evrn if they had been in midplay.
At that time, Grandpa would push his chair back and then my least relative ( my cousin had killed my cat and blamed it on my dog ) would push his chair back and they would get up and go to different parts of the room and the freeze was back on.
At the end of the evening Grandpa stood in front of the tree with a glass of wine- probably something that Grandma had liked and he raised his glass and said, ” We miss you Clover sweetheart. We’ve missed you every single day of the year, but tonight. On the night we lost you on that road and-”
Grandpa looked at each of us- and he seemed to make up his mind to not go any further- to not say the name of the man who took Grandma Clover away from us on Christmas Eve six years ago.
” I miss you Clover, we all do. ”
We all felt a chill, even though we were right in front of the fire place and the room was ” toasty roasty warm” as Grandma Clover used to say.
” Drive careful- every single one of you. ”
We assured Grandpa we would and he followed us all out to the street where everyone’s cars were parked.
I was one of the last out of the house because I always was last and I walked and skated on the frozen ground to my parent’s car because who was going to yell at a kid to run in the ice and the snow on the very same road where her Grandmother had been mowed down by a crazy man and left her broken and as family legend said headless body on the sidewalk I was now taking my time walking on.
In truth, I just wanted some extra time in the snow and the car ride home was a long one.
I sort of slid up behind Grandpa and heard Cousin Mel sort of slur, ” Merry Christmas Killer.”
” Happy New year Mr. Shakedown”
” I’m the least of your problems Gramps. I’m not the one who framed the nicest person, literally the most friendly person on Earth for something you did- a couple of times from the looks of her.”
” No, but how’d that life insurance money taste Mel? Half. You got Half.”
” Yeah. Well. It wasn’t worth it. Who knew he had a friend even more twisted then you. Have you heard from him?”
” I’m expecting to, sooner then later. ”
They both looked down the street, towards the woods.
” Who is this friend of his? ” Cousin Mel asked ” because maybe we can, you know. Reason with him.”
Down the road I know we all saw a black shadow break away from the trees and start on it’s way up the roads towards us. It was big and hunched over but maybe that’s because it had something slung over it’s shoulder.
At that point I decided to get a move on and zipped into the car and slammed the door shut so fast I almost took my own leg off.
Grandpa and Uncle Mel could have made a mad if not graceful exit to the house and the toasty roasty warm family room, but I think they didn’t because it wouldn’t have mattered.
When our car pulled away I saw them standing there in the snow.
Grandpa, Cousin Mel and an enormous dark figure with a black sack slung over one of his shoulders and yellow fire where his eyes should have been.
My Great Grandmother Edith ( or Nan as her Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren addressed her ) did not receive visitors in ‘ living room’, she invited them into her Parlor.
It was not decorated in the style of the day( which was the early 1970’s) , it was arranged tastefully, elegantly, planned to encouage her visitors remember to sit up properly, speak quietly and above all to act in a dignified manner at all times.
Nobody acted the fool in Nan’s Parlor.
Not even at Christmas Time.
I was allowed to go into the parlor alone and at the very young age of five, PROVIDING I act like a young lady. No jumping on or off the furniture. No playing with her collection of porcelain figures, no carrying on like a ” rabid dog ” and running in and out or around the room.
I remember the first time I was allowed to use, ” The Parlor ” on my own.
We stood outside the doorway and she spelled out each of her rules, which I was required to repeat at the end of her instructions without prompting.
She seemed satisfied and reached for the doorknob, she turned it while looking down me. ” Do you have any questions.”
” Yes “I asked as I drank in the pictures on the walls- they were paintings and photographs of people in fancy clothes, uniforms and lots of jewelry.
” What is it.”
” Are all of those people dead now?”
She took a quick inventory and said. ” Yes.”
I stepped into the Parlor and with my back straight I turned back towards her and closed the door.
Like a proper, well behaved young lady would do.
On one particular Christmas Eve my Dad took me to Nan’s early so that I could use the Parlor alone- as I enjoyed it the most before everyone else showed up.
After a few words with Nan I was allowed to make my way- like a young lady, Nan reminded me, and not like a Heathen being chased into chased into Church by bible thumpers with burning torches ( that is actually a real family quote) to Nan’s Parlor.
This year there was tree hung with Nan’s collection of old ornaments and I was very surprised to see, real lit candles. Garland trimmed the fireplace and there were little bowls of hard Christmas candy on a few of the tables.
I turned on the radio- which was old and if I remember correctly it had to ‘warm up ‘ because it ran off of tubes and there was a gray eye in the center of the tuner that opened up when the signal was the strongest.
The radio crackled on and the music- which was classical of course- came on. I chose a magazine with a Christmas tree on the cover and took a seat near the fireplace.
Nan had allowed me to mark up her old magazines that she left on a particular table with a red and blue ink pens- it was a reading game. I circled the vowels in red letters and underlined words that told a story about what was on the cover.
I was excited- being the geek I was because there was a Christmas Tree on the cover so I was going to ‘hunt’ for words about Christmas.
I allowed myself one piece of hard candy, took my seat and got to work.
I was so engrossed by the task at hand that I couldn’t tell you how long the Christmas tree had been shuddering like it felt a chill or when a few of the ornaments had fallen off the branches.
I got out of my chair and set my magazine and pen, carefully upon the table next to it and not like a Pirate diving for the last bottle of rum on the planet Earth ( yeah, that one is really from my childhood too.)
I picked the two ornaments- which were very old and light as feathers and carfefully hung them back on the tree- between shudders of course.
” Hello Anita Marie ” said many deep voices from the branches of the tree ” we’ve come a long way to ask you a question.”
” I hope it’s not about math. I’m not good at math, but I am very good at reading and climbing trees.”
” You seem, ” said Nan’s shuddering tree ” to be a very well behaved and polite young lady.”
” This Nan’s Parlor and one does not act like a crazy person running from the funny farm when one is inside of it.”
” We see. So you will answer this question, honestly of course.”
” Of course.”
” Is there any reason why we should not take you off to the darkest, coldest corners of Hades only to let you out on Christmas Eve to help us collect the worst, the most vile and disobedient children to ever curse a family instead of letting you wake up safe and warm your own bed on Christmas Morning? Why should you find gifts waiting for you wake instead of beasts with terrible white eyes and enormous teeth?”
I stood at the tree with my hands behind my back and thought about it.
” First of all, I am a very good girl. I do my lessons and I always listen to my Mom and Dad and especially listen to Nan.”
” And why is that.” The many deep voices that sounded like one voice said. ” Why do you choose to be so obedient and such a thoughtful little girl when you don’t have to be. You’re very clever and if you wanted to I am sure you could do whatever you wanted and get away with it. For example, have more candy, play with an ornament or two. Maybe jump from chair to chair. You know you want to. Why don’t you have a little fun. For once.”
“Because. ” I said as I leaned towards the tree and moved the branches to the side so that I could get a better view of what turned out to be tiny little creatures that were no bigger the mice with horns above their tiny yellow cat’s eyes.
They were dressed in red and their faces looked like spoiled little apples.
” Whey I grow up I want to be just like my Nan. And what she does to disobedient children is much more fun and tasty then what you do to them.”
The tree was flooded with a pale red light, probably from my eyes-which I am told looked like Nan’s. ” Now scoot before I tell her something that would look great on a Christmas cookie is here and messing with her tree.
Nan’s tree shuddered and shook and I heard hundreds of tiny little feet escape up the chimney to the snow covered roof.
I took one more piece of ribbon shaped candy from a little bowl near the tree and picked up my magazine and pen and sat down, carefully, primly to complete my task at hand.
Like a proper, very well behaved young lady would do.