To the Editor: Jolly holly

To the Editor: 

Early every November, my mom carefully selected a beautiful sparkly Christmas card from a catalogue produced by a small gift store in my hometown. Around Thanksgiving, the cards arrived, imprinted with our family name. In those days copy machines didn’t exist, only mimeographswith blue ink, smelling like ether. Mom then wrote personal letters, carefully, by hand, to include with our cards, sometimes the only contact we had with distant family and friends for an entire year. 

My dad worked long hours teaching and commuting back and forth to New York City. He never used his job as an excuse to weasel out of domestic chores. During the long nights in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, after dad washed and mom dried the dinner dishes, the two sat down at the kitchen table with the Christmas card taskWhile mom wrote the letters, dad addressed and stamped all the envelopes. Then, he’d also add a special touch, to each card. In those days colorful markers didn’t existonly fountain pens, complicated gadgets requiring cleaning, with levers, on barrels to fill with ink. Dad used two pens, one with red ink and the other with green. He’d deliberately decorate each card neatly with two green holly leaves and three red round berries. This was the only art I ever saw my dad create. He was a fine mechanic and could fix anything, but he wasn’t an artist, except for these drawings. 

My parents sent and received at least a hundred cards every year. In between our front door and the living room, we had a glass door leading to the vestibule, a small entry room with a closetIt’s where visitors left their boots, hats, coats and bumbershoots. taped all the cards we received onto this glass door opposite our Christmas tree. It stood every year next to our upright piano, at the foot of a staircase, all festooned with greenery and red ribbon. 

My parents were deeply connected to their family and friends. The card exchange was meaningful. Nowadaysit’s often sadly reduced to seasonal greetings mailed from insurance agents or banks. As time passed, the number of cards my parents sent and received dwindled. Nineteen years after my dad died, six months before she died, mom sent out her eightieth cardHer cursive, once a source of great pride, had deteriorated and was barely legible. I’ve kept her last card to remind me of my parents and the ritual they passed on to me. Before I mail my cards, I pull out two colored markers, a red one and a green one. Somewhere on my cards, or on the envelopes, I draw three red holly berries and two green holly leaves, like my dad didwhen I was small, a kidwatching my folks, true companions who worked hard together and always laughed. The three berries and two green holly leaves symbolize cheer, something everlastingwhat family and friendships mean and how my parents treasured them. 

Beth Ellen Warner 

Salisbury Cove 

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