Funny thing about life is that if you live long enough, you’ll have the chance to play each role. To better illustrate my point, we’ll use one of the many traditions of the season, the Christmas card.
Since it’s Christmas Eve, one would think great thought and timing went into this article. Nope, I just needed a break from writing all of those addresses. I finished mine in 10 minutes, but The Wife’s got lots and lots of friends and needed some help.
Growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, weeks before the real tree went up in the family room and the fake white tree went up in the living room, Mom would start the business of sending Christmas cards.
For two weeks out of the year, our dining room table was converted into an assembly line. At one end would be the huge stack of store-bought cards. We watched as Mom took great pains to write a special note on each one and then address the envelope before it was sent down the line where it was stuffed, licked, stamped and eventually stacked.
For the ones going to kids, there would be an extra stuffing. Mom would always stuff the envelopes with five $1 bills.
We all had a role to play in the assembly. Big Brother James was the stuffer. Twin Brother Mark and I used a wet sponge to seal the envelopes. Of course that was after we licked the first 10 or so. By then, we had decided that the reality of not getting into trouble for sticking our tongues out at The Sister all afternoon wasn’t as fun as it sounded.
Older Brother Richard was the lone stamp affixer, and The Sister was the stacker. Each year Mom had us rotate so we could learn each position. It kept down on some of the fighting that way. Besides, one day we would have kids and how would they learn if we didn’t rotate and learn each position?
Through it all we listened to Mom describe about when she was young and about how different things were way back then. “We didn’t send store-bought cards; they were too expensive. My mom had us kids make all the Christmas cards. That’s what made them special.”
Even to this day, I can still remember how archaic I thought a homemade card was. It wasn’t until many years later, when The Boy was 5, that I finally realized my folly. Having children changes everything, even the way you perceive the business of sending Christmas cards.
I remembered what Mom had taught us kids, the stories of when she was a little girl, and how much fun she had making cards. So two weeks before Christmas, I converted the dining room table into an assembly line and decided to carry on the age-old tradition of card-making with The Boy. Store-bought cards were replaced with construction paper, glitter, and glue.
After the first week, I too understood just why Mom used store-bought cards with us.
This year the business of sending Christmas cards has changed for me once again. Slow, archaic hand addressing was replaced with the speed of a computer mail merge that printed directly onto the envelopes. Hand-stuffing, sponge-sealing and stamp-licking still had to be done, though, but it didn’t take long.
On the way to the post office, proud of my card accomplishment, I phoned The Boy and told him what had used to take two weeks now took less than three hours. Surprisingly, he laughed.
“Dad, that’s the old-fashioned way. All you had to do was send the computer files to the drug store. They would’ve done all that addressing, sealing, and stamping, and mailing.”
“Aha, yes!” I answered. “But you’re forgetting the most important thing – the extra stuffing. I guess this means you don’t want the 20 dollars I stuffed into your envelope?”
Pulling into the post office parking lot, I hung up the phone and smiled. The Boy, I think he’s starting to see the value of doing Christmas cards the old-fashioned way.[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]