We either send them or receive them.
DUN, DUN, DUN....THE ANNUAL HOLIDAY NEWSLETTER!!
Most of them are sent to and from distant friends and families you ordinarily don't hear from at any other time of the year. In the intensely boring newsletter you are subjected to the braggart accounting of children's accomplishments, the changes in careers, the ailments discovered or overcome, exotic travels, marriages, births, and a variety of upheavals, joys, and disappointments that occurred since the time passed from the previous year's letter.
We sent one every year. We knew we shouldn't subject our friends and loved ones to our shameless boasting, but we just couldn't help ourselves. When we started writing and sending them, we were displaced from friends and family, both in New England and in Canada, while we lived in Omaha with our four perfect, genius, handsome children who we just had to brag about. We included photographs, certificates of achievement, report cards, locks of hair, newspaper clippings. As the kids grew older, we asked for their input, and posed for family portraits with cat and dog--often in coordinating wardrobes against a backdrop of glittering Christmas decoration and twinkling light, or mahogany bookcases filled with leather-bound classics.
Until one year.
We employed the help of our new friend, Jim McHarg. He and Stephen look like they could be brothers--or at least related; both are tall and lean, and each have the same hair growth pattern. So we asked Jim to join us in our family photo. We asked Stephen to step out.
We gathered in the living room, the three remaining kids still living at home (Justin had already left the nest), the dog, the cat, the antique furniture, the dark-walled paneling.
Jim and I stood side by side, beaming--as proud parents would--with the children close by.
Kathryn, our popular high-school teen, in the foreground wearing a large t-shirt that clearly displayed a distended belly representing at least 7 month's pregnancy--her smile not so much beaming, but rather chagrined.
Olivia, our youngest girl who ordinarily wears a link of pearls, a classy cashmere sweater, and perky capri pants, her long locks of youthful, vibrant, brown hair, fresh-faced stood barely in frame of the camera at such an angle and with body language that suggested she'd rather be cutting herself than posing for a lame photograph. Her pin-straight hair, dark-rimmed eyes, heavy with mascara, combat boots, straight leg blue jeans, and arms clenched and folded in front of her created an authentic image of a rebellious, angry, disassociated teenager.
Andrew had to sit in the library rocking chair. It is hard for him to stand--since he's missing the lower half of his right leg, so his crutches are propped against the chair where he sits and the vacant pant-leg knotted-- clearly revealing its absence.
Jim has his arm around me; we're still affectionate after all these years of marriage, even with the obvious stresses we've encountered since last year's holiday newsletter.
The dog and cat have gone missing.
and another to be sure....SMILE everyone; LIFE IS GOOD!
We took two pictures that year. The one just described that we dashed off to print and make 35 copies to send to our friends and family who we think will enjoy our little holiday photographic prank. The other photo was more run-of-the-mill, with both me and Stephen, the dog and the kids, all posing cheerfully. That's what we sent to those on our mailing list who we knew wouldn't understand the joke photo.
The newsletter describes an otherwise mundane year, not making mention of a teenage pregnancy, an horrific accident that cost a young man his limb, or the trials of dealing with a distant, angst-filled teen daughter who clearly has not embraced her new-found health since being in remission for a few years and is considered cured.
"Merry Christmas, blah, blah, blah......" lick, seal, stamp, send.
While we were on Christmas/New Year's holiday in Canada, we checked our telephone messages back home in New Jersey, to hear several repeated messages left by Stephen's mother who with each message, and with increasing urgency, implores him to return her call--she is very concerned for our family after seeing the photograph.
There is also a message from my sister. She is sickened by what she's seen, and what's worse, is troubled that I hadn't shared any of these significant details about our family with her before now. I have RUINED her holidays.
Those who knew us well, and shared our sense of humor, enjoyed the diversion from the typical treacle we'd ordinarily sent off year after year. My sister and mother in-law did not. We returned their calls, and assured them that all was well. (Really? Neither of them didn't recognize that it was NOT Stephen standing next to me; REALLY?)
It's been several years since we mailed the epic FO-TOE-GRAF--one we now refer to as "The Christmas Card incident".
"I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely."
Maybe, it shouldn't just be when Christmas comes around....J. Chrysostom