Thursday, December 19, 2013

Addressing the Cards





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. 




23 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Every few years, my wife buys a new address book and transfers the current addresses from the old one. She doesn't throw them out though. Be interesting to look in an old one and see how many names I don't even recognize anymore.

BECKY said...

Betty, although I've often left comments about how beautiful your writing is....this particular post is absolutely THE BEST. It is "publication worthy!" I can't begin to retype all the descriptive words here that I loved so much, because I'd have to retype your entire post! I, too, loved the stack of cards that used to come in the mail. I still do! Once a year, for a couple of weeks, I get something other than Junk Mail and Bills in my mail slot! Have a beautiful, blissful Christmas with your CVNM!!

Olga said...

Such a poignant post written in such poetic prose. I use the computer to address the cards. But I do keep my address cards, and, like you, I cannot pluck out the ones for those who are gone. Even those who move all the time (my son and my niece) have cards that are stapled together. I cannot throw away their history.

Out on the prairie said...

I used to send over 80 but the list has dwindled. I get about half what I send, many have fell behind on this tradition.

YrHmblHst said...

Fantastic prose. You have such a way with the language...
The rolodex is just a reminder of our need for material manifestation of ideas and memories. Addresses on a computer screen, stored on some nebulous, silent chip inserted in a black box inside a larger box, just wouldn't have the same effect. The rolodex is real, just like the people and memories they invoke.

Daisy said...

This is such a lovely piece. I really enjoyed this. Merry Christmas, Betty! :)

jenny_o said...

I relate to this so much, as I'm sure many of us do. I have an address book instead of a rolodex, and even though its little pages can be replaced, I've never done so. I can look at it and see those who have come and gone in my life and those who have moved around. Each Christmas I add the year beside each name as I make out my cards, and I can see which years were hard and no cards were sent. It really is a little, abbreviated history of our relationships.

Alison said...

My mom's system is a filing box with index cards that carry birthdates, gifts sent, cards received. Very organized. I simply have an old address book, with pencilled-in names over erasure marks. Still have lots of defunct addresses and a few deceased in there. Also several names that make me scratch my head, wondering who the heck those people are! But I don't erase any of them; it's too much fun to rediscover them every couple of years.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I use an address book and I have many addresses crossed out of older relatives who are not gone and of my two tumbleweed sisters who change addresses a lot. Like you, seeing some of those names calls forth memories.

Gigi said...

Beautifully said, Betty! I get the same feelings when I look through my address books.

Madi and Mom said...

Hi BB I still use my Rolodex too.
Every year I say I'm going to go through it making labels yet to do it.
Hugs Madi and mom

mama .bonnie said...

I SO get what you are saying........

Mary said...

Hi there Betty, what a beautiful piece you've written. I've been writing Christmas cards this evening, noting the passage of time, old addresses, new addresses, sadly people no longer with us, new additions to the family ... many changes from last year ...

Merry Christmas and may your year ahead be a great one. Keep writing.

Tabor said...

Each person faces the challenge of THE LIST differently. For some it is too great an expense in time and money when budgets are tight and work demands are great. I still do them but forgive those who do not! Keeping old cards is such a good thing, as they take up so little space.

Lin said...

Yep...my address book is the same as your Rolodex. There are those people who never move..their information is written in pen. There are those who move all the time--they are in pencil. There are old friends, new friends...friends who are no longer friends for whatever reason...friends who will always be....

Don't you love Christmas card season? I do.

annie said...

Address books and a Rolodex are the best. Memories..sigh.
My mother in law went with me. She always had good taste in people. ;)
I enjoyed this peek into your world.
Have a wonderful weekend dear Betty.

Pat Tillett said...

First off, I'd like to say that I bet a large portion of our world today (the younger portion) has no idea what a rolodex is.
I went through the same experiences with names after my first marriage when kaput. I don't do the cards myself anymore. My wife has taken that on. She uses an address book.
I hope you have a great Christmas Betty.

Leah J. Utas said...

Keeping the mailing addresses of those who've crossed over is a good, material way to keep their memory alive. A physcial hook is important to memory, at least for a while.

Retired English Teacher said...

Oh Betty, I loved this. It is just perfect. I love how you keep your address on the old Rolodex cards. I keep my Rolodex file in a drawer where I can gaze on the old cards also. There are professional cards mixed in with personal cards. They never cease to give me a bit of nostalgia for time that have gone by.

I affixed printed labels on my cards this year. My hubby helped me. I did sign each card and folded each preprinted letter, but I just didn't have time for a personal note. I miss doing that. I just simplified this year. Next year...

Midlife Roadtripper said...

"the kind with the flippy cards that recline against each other like sleepy friends on a long road trip."

Lovely line. And lovely essay. Read a few times as I pondered my thoughts. I wrote my cards last week and at the same time updated my old coverless, torn page address book. I remarked to my husband at one point that everyone on a certain page in the old book was now deceased. Seemed so odd to not add them to the new pages of the next address book. When finished, I put the old one up on the shelf next to the old one before that. Doesn't seem real, at times. That passing of life.

Beautiful piece, Betty. Merry Christmas to you. If I had your address, I'd write you a card, too.

Madi and Mom said...

MERRY CHRISTMAS BB
HUGS MADI AND MOM

Baby Sister said...

I will probably never send as many to people that I would like to send them to because people move away from our lives. It makes me sad, but it is what it is. There's nothing that can be done about it.

Suburban Correspondent said...

My father died last September, and it fell to me to clean out his personal items. Never a sentimentalist, I didn't hesitate to toss any number of things; but when it came to his Rolodex, I couldn't touch it.