My mom always sent out Christmas cards when I was little; for most years they featured her five girls. It always took all of her spare time over the course of a week to get them all addressed. Meanwhile, I watched out the window of our farmhouse for the little truck David the mailman drove to make its way down our road.
Right after he left, I’d brave the snow and make my way out to the silver box on the wooden post stuck crookedly in the milk can. I loved finding and opening those cards. Even though our yard was covered with the real stuff, my favorites were those with scenes of glittery snow. We strung a piece of red yard across one wall of our house and hung the cards there, adding to the growing art gallery each day.
I have carried on my mom’s tradition of sending cards each Christmas. For years, they featured my children and charted their growth for relatives and friends. I enjoy the process of sending the cards, writing notes, sealing the envelopes, feeling the stack in my hand as I walk to the mailbox to deposit them.
While others have gone electronic, storing their addresses in the computer or on their phones, I still use an old fashioned Rolodex, the kind with the flippy cards that recline against each other like sleepy friends on a long road trip.
I use my fingertips to gently awaken them one by one, the motion of my finger seeming to beckon each one to come toward me and bring whatever memory it carries. Sometimes, they say little, others are more talkative, and some speak of a life I used to know, one that does not belong to me anymore.
The division of financial assets is a part of divorce. It takes hours and reams of paperwork. In the end though, it is done--down to the last cent. The division of friends seems like it would be more nebulous, especially after thirty years. However, when it happens, it happens in a chillingly predictable way. In my case at least, the friends he came into the marriage with, went with him. I thought I would always stay in touch with my in-laws, but, of course, they went with him too.
As I flip through my Rolodex, I am amazed at the number of people in there I thought would be in my life forever, but now they are not. For a minute, I think of them sitting at their desks, addressing Christmas cards. Do they linger for just a second when they think about me? Do they smile? Frown? Have they scratched my name out? Put me in an inactive file? Deleted me completely? Perhaps so. Then why do I find it so hard to do the same?
A better question would be why I keep the cards of the dead: two friends and my mother-in-law. I place my fingers around the cards, prepared to pluck them out, but I can’t do it just yet. Their addresses belong to others now; their phone numbers have been dissolved, sent back into the busy sky of numbers that floats above us and yet….
Perhaps it is that little tap of memory each card gives me that I still need. Perhaps it is the interspersing of all these people, those who are in my life and those who have moved on, that somehow gives me a fuller sense of the scope of my life. For in with those names that cause me sorrow, are those names and addresses that give me a sense of warmth and also those that give my life a vibrant, forward motion. I trace my children’s lives from home, to dorm, to apartments. I add new names to the growing young families of my nieces and nephews. I add more cards as my life and relationships expand in ways I never thought it would.
It seems fitting that this holiday, this season of faith, devotion, and miracles, garishness, glitter, gluttony, and, yes, sorrow comes to us just before the start of a new year.
In the rush and chaos of the season, I am grateful for the simple act of sitting down with a pen, clean squares of envelopes, and a clean square of time in front of me.
My Rolodex awaits.
I am ready.
I begin to address the cards.