Real Mail, for a Change: The Joy of Christmas Cards

A couple of days ago, I reached inside our rectangular black mailbox. A little surprised, I pulled out a fistful of mail—real mail, letters from people I know and care about. (Although, to be fair, there also was some of the usual junk mail: promotional flyers and yet another L.L. Bean catalog).

I had been working but took a break to open these envelopes, some red and green, one winter white. They were all Christmas cards, and they all made me smile.

On one card, a family member’s three-month-old baby practiced his newly learned smile under the holiday greeting of “Fa La La.” On another, a good friend and her sweet husband wished us “Mele Kalikimaka” from a picturesque vista, possibly near their new home in Hawaii. Another card opened up to a heartfelt message, no picture needed.

I don’t know if sending Christmas cards is as common as it once was, considering the popularity of social media and rising eco-consciousness. Not to mention, the postage for a comprehensive family-and-friends mailing list can get pricey. All that being said, I do still mail out (some) Christmas cards, and I really enjoy receiving them.

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In the early years of our marriage, I sent Christmas cards to everyone from Stanton and my wedding guest list, basically—quite a bit of stationery and accompanying winter-themed stamps. As the years have moved along, there has been some ebb and flow to my mailing list, some editing and whittling down. As much as I love our old neighbors from our first home together in Richmond, Va., for example, I limit our season’s greetings to an emailed note and picture rather than printed year-end memento.

These days, I send cards mainly to our immediate family and old friends—a much more manageable stack of notes to write out than all the names on our wedding guest Excel spreadsheet.

Sometimes I cheat a little, and address envelopes to, for example, “Aunt Mary and Uncle John and family,” hoping that “and family” can adequately cover Aunt Mary and Uncle John’s three grown children and their multiple children…and knowing it really doesn’t. So yes, I cheat a little on my Christmas cards, friends.

I do a little hand delivery, too, with neighbors, friends from church, the girls’ teachers. Joy and peace from the Leddys (minus the Forever stamp). Hand delivery probably qualifies as cheating too (and/or cheapskate-y). I know, I can be a bit of a weasel. 😉

Hand delivery probably qualifies as cheating too (and/or cheapskate-y).

I call them Christmas cards, but it would be more accurate to say holiday cards. Some of my loved ones are Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. Then there are those folks who celebrate everything, in addition to those who don’t recognize holidays. My mailing list represents all these variations of celebratory spirit, and I try hard to respect everyone’s preference.

Despite my best intentions, I had a bit of a snafu with one card this year. I wrote, “Merry, Merry Christmas!” before remembering that one half of this couple is Jewish. Thus, I added, “And Happy, Happy Hanukkah!” If I had been less distracted at the time (the girls were playing Teenagers, one of their favorite games, nearby), I would have defaulted to, “Happy Holidays!” I’m hopeful, however, that my friends will know I’m wishing them the best, as always.

This is what I love about holiday cards. I love hearing from friends I don’t get to see very much, but who still mean a lot to me. I love seeing pictures of them and their families.

This is especially true of friends from college. My old friends—I mean, these are people I roomed with, ate meals with for years, grew up with. I love these people; I even married one of these people.

I love hearing from friends I don’t get to see very much, but who still mean a lot to me.

I’m not an arts-and-crafts-y person, but at Christmastime, I like to hang twine across our fireplace mantel. Then I use wooden clothespins to hang up as many photo cards as will fit. Seeing the smiling faces of those I love truly warms my heart.

I heard a perspective recently that photo cards are essentially “family ads,” which struck me as cynical. We’re all grownups, and we all know nobody’s life is picture-perfect. I sense that the majority of us who exchange holiday cards with up-to-date pictures are simply keeping in touch, sending best wishes, celebrating the fact that we all survived another year keeping all the balls in the air: work, life, kids, health, all the stuff.

My old roommate’s daughter is absolutely adorable, with blonde hair, a big grin and a sparkle in both her eyes, which I could see even in a picture, though not in person. “I’m really happy for Jackie,” I told Stanton—happy for her beautiful family, her professional success, everything. I think that may be part of being a grownup too: celebrating the good of others, the good in others, even when our formal celebrations (Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) may differ.

For the past several years, our Christmas card has been an actual card, which is pretty off-trend, from what I can tell. That’s me for you, though. 😉 Then I stick a photo of Stanton, the girls and me in each card, which our family and friends can magnet to their fridge, repurpose as a bookmark, or display and then recycle.

My mom took the picture we used for this year’s card. We had a super impromptu photo shoot back in early November. “Do you want to go somewhere?” my mom asked.

I mean, yes, there are so many beautiful spots nearby, but… “You know, let’s just go in the backyard,” I said. It was a hectic weekend, to say the least.

Stanton dragged a bench outside. He and I plopped down and gathered the girls around us. “Smile!” My mom took some pictures; one was pretty good.

“Maybe one year we can have a real photographer take our picture,” Grace said afterward.

“Like, at a place,” Anna added.

“No offense, Nona.”

I laugh-cried. “Girls, I promise, one year a real photographer will take our Christmas-card picture at a place somewhere other than our backyard.”

Something for my family-and-friends mailing list to look forward to as well, no doubt.

…keeping in touch, sending best wishes, celebrating the fact that we all survived another year…

I still have a handful of cards to send to my very-pared-down list of addressees. Hopefully they’ll arrive in others’ mailboxes before 2020.

As I was working on this piece, I was conscious someone might read it and think, “I haven’t gotten a card from that girl in years.” If so, my sincerest apologies. I wish I could exchange season’s greetings with all the wonderful people I’ve known over the years.

It can become a little much, though, in terms of both time and $, and I don’t have unlimited supplies of either. I truly understand when folks need to retire my address from their hard-copy holly-jolly wishes, and I hope others similarly understand in my case.

It is a beautiful thing, though—for everyone, everywhere, I imagine—to receive real mail for a change.

Happy Holidays, friends. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

Of Course the Noel Sign Lights Up: Merry Everything 2019

The day after we returned home from our Thanksgiving-break trip, I hauled the Leddy family artificial Christmas tree out of the basement. A trail of plastic pine needles followed behind me, from the top of the basement stairs to the front of the family-room bay window.

Clark Griswold would not approve.

“Do you think we’ll ever get a real Christmas tree, Mom?” Grace wondered.

“Yes,” I replied. Not this year…but one year, someday, absolutely.

Stanton searched for a yuletide playlist.

“Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road…”

I raised my eyebrows at my husband. He kept searching.

“No, Dad,” protested Anna. “I love that song.”

We both looked at our 4-year-old daughter. How did she know Lil Nas X?

“We listen to it at preschool,” Anna explained. “The clean version.”

Grace laughed; I laugh-cried. Stanton turned up “Jingle Bells.”

Stanton and the girls began hanging ornaments on our tree while I dug more Christmas decorations out of the basement.

Over the years, I scooped up our decorations during various post-Christmas sales. Thus, every December our home radiates a festively hodgepodge theme of Pottery Barn seasonal clearance meets Hallmark Store half-off, with a little Pier 1 last call thrown in for bling-y measure.

Stanton is rarely impressed with my bargain finds. “How awesome that this was 75 percent off,” I said, showing him my newest piece of decor, a wooden sign with “Noel” in capital letters, adorned with faux red berries and glitter galore (a Pier 1 find, obviously).

In a previous life, Stanton worked as a buyer. “The retail price isn’t the real price anyway, Mel,” he said, for probably the thousandth time in our life.

“Honey, please…I practically made money here.”

Grace pointed to the sign. “Mom, there’s a box here where you put batteries. Does this sign light up?”

“Of course it lights up, G.” I found it at Pier 1, didn’t I?

“Do you have any batteries?”

I’d get some on my next trip to Hannaford, I promised.

…every December our home radiates a festively hodgepodge theme of Pottery Barn seasonal clearance meets Hallmark Store half-off, with a little Pier 1 last call thrown in for bling-y measure.

Not long after, I drove to Hannaford. The lights at the intersection outside the grocery store weren’t working. People in their cars were treating this fairly busy intersection like a four-way stop, mostly cautiously, but—nervous Nellie driver that I am—I worried an accident could happen.

Once inside the store, I shared my concern with one of the managers I know, a friendly, hard-working young man. He told me the lights hadn’t been working since the morning before.

“I’m a little surprised no one has called the police or anything,” I said.

The manager said he would do that right now. “I think I have the number.”

I was confused. The number was 911, right?

But no, police departments have non-emergency numbers for situations like this. Within minutes—truly, minutes—two workers arrived and fixed the intersection lights. I was thankful for that.

“You solved the problem, Mom,” my daughters said, when I told this story to them later.

Not really, but a little. Solving problems, though—that’s a lot of what moms do, all day long.

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Grace and Anna love getting out and about. I do too; I’m all for it, truly. By about 6 p.m. on a cold winter’s Saturday, though, I’m usually 100 percent content to stay in, steep a cup of tea to perfection and engage in cozy indoor activities, such as reading or Family Movie Night.

This past Saturday evening, the girls were having none of that.

“It’s public skate at the Y, Mom! Let’s go ice skating! Come on, Mom!”

O…K.

If I didn’t have kids, I’d probably hibernate until spring. I’d stay in, drink hot beverages, binge-watch the rest of “Shameless” on Netflix. Maybe even write something a little longer, a bit more prestigious, than yet another blog post. 😉

That, however, is an alternate reality, friends, and overall, I’m wholeheartedly grateful for the reality I have.

Ice skating, sledding, snowman-building in winter—hiking year-round—swimming all summer—raking jump-worthy piles of leaves in fall—all right, come on, let’s do it.

“Come on, Mom!”

Yes, overall, I’m living the dream.

During the next few days, our children will be participating in a total of four end-of-year events. One holiday piano concert, two Christmas pageants and one performing arts holiday performance. There’s also a Christmas party following one of the pageants, for which I signed up to bring cookies. “Because no one ate the salad you brought that other time,” Anna reminded me. (That’s true: That other time, no one did.)

I mixed up some of these save-the-dates on the hard-copy calendar in the kitchen (I know, pretty old-fashioned to use a calendar you can actually write on), so our December 2019 page resembles a treasure map of circles, arrows and crossed-out words.

I needed to reschedule Grace’s overdue annual checkup, so circled “G – dr. appt!” and drew an arrow to a following weekday afternoon (making her overdue checkup even later). Anna came along, too, and I asked the receptionist if both my daughters could get (again, overdue) flu shots that day. She said yes, and I reached over to sign some forms.

With my other arm, I was holding Anna. At this point, her ears perked up. She clasped her hands around my neck, physically turned my head back up to face the receptionist, and hissed, “Tell her, ‘Anna does not want a flu shot.'”

The receptionist laughed; Anna frowned.

It’s always a good time, friends.

…our December 2019 page resembles a treasure map of circles, arrows and crossed-out words.

Who’s done with all their holiday shopping? Almost done? Yet to start?

You can put me in the “almost done” category. I ordered some things online during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, but I still have some gifts to pick out from I Love Books and Perfect Blend, two of my favorite local shops.

Stanton, the girls and I will be spending Christmas at my mom and dad’s house near Scranton, Pa., and when we show up on their doorstep, I always like to have some coffee from Perfect Blend on hand. Many of our moms and dads don’t really need any more stuff, but appreciate consumable gifts—such as my coffee shop’s Frosty’s Favorite and Sugar Cookie seasonal blends. This is my perspective anyway, and I hope I’m right.

And what do I want for Christmas, you ask? Just what every other parent of small children asks of Kris Kringle, of course: a live-in housekeeper and/or personal chef, someone whose skill set includes handing out snacks every 15 minutes from 4 p.m. until dinner is ready.

“Mom, will you open the healthy drawer?” Anna recently asked as I was making dinner.

Grace sighed. “We don’t have a healthy drawer, boo.”

“Yes, we do.” Anna pointed to the cupboard above the coffeemaker.

Grace and I both shook our heads. “Honey, you know that’s the snack drawer,” I told Anna. “Just because you call it the healthy drawer doesn’t make it something different.” It didn’t change the fact that that part of the kitchen cabinetry was stuffed full of popcorn, chocolate and chips of all kinds (potato, tortilla and masquerading-as-not-junk-food veggie).

“Please can I just have the box of cheddar bunnies?”

All I want for Christmas is someone to manage early-evening snack requests.

Just what every other parent of small children asks of Kris Kringle, of course: a live-in housekeeper and/or personal chef…

As cliché and corny as it sounds, what I most appreciate at Christmastime is time with my loved ones. Time is such a gift, I think.

I’m looking forward to driving from New York to Pennsylvania with Stanton and the girls, listening to Christmas music on the radio. Once we get there, I’m excited to catch up with my brothers and sister. Jenna and I want to watch some favorite movies together (“Love Actually” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” here’s looking at you—and yes, Hugh Grant, the Minetola sisters adore you).

Riding shotgun, chitchatting, watching movies—these are such little things, yet they’ll be my biggest Christmas wishes-come-true.

What about you?

Whatever yours are and wherever you’ll be, I hope this time of year finds your heart happy too.

Merry everything, friends. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

On Reaching the End of the Road

Almost every Thanksgiving since we’ve been married, Stanton and I have spent the holiday with his family, and then Christmas with mine. The same was true for this Thanksgiving. A sad difference this time, though, was that his paternal grandmother, his Mimi, passed away about a week before Thanksgiving.

Mimi was a lovely lady, both inside and out. I first met her the summer between Stanton’s and my sophomore and junior years of college at the University of Richmond. Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

Mimi’s hometown was San Angelo, Texas, which is about 200 miles northwest from where Stanton grew up in San Antonio (where he and I also lived for several years post-marriage before moving back to the East Coast). Her visitation and funeral were set for the weekend before Thanksgiving, in her hometown, two days before Stanton, the girls and I had planned to arrive in Texas this year.

Fortunately, the four of us were able to change our plane tickets so that we could be there earlier for these final remembrances. We flew into San Antonio and then drove the three hours to San Angelo.

The road from San Antonio to San Angelo is mostly flat, with the “wide open spaces” you might hear about in a country song, as well as endless sky that turns a pink-orange hue at sunset.

Along the way, you also see signs noting the speed limit: 80 miles per hour.

That’s right, friends: 80.

“That’s illegal in New York, you know,” I said, on Sunday afternoon. “And in most parts of the country.”

Behind the wheel, Stanton smiled. “I know.”

I patted his leg. “Welcome back, honey.”

Every place is special in its own way, with pros and cons alike. This is my perspective anyway, shaped after living in three different regions of the U.S. and visiting a variety of other cities, states and countries. I love our hometown in New York’s Capital Region, and know Stanton does too, and at the same time I can appreciate the wide-open, high-speed beauty of West Texas.

Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

On Monday morning, Mimi’s funeral service was held at her church. Before the service, I brought Anna to the restroom. As I walked through the hallway, holding my younger daughter, a long-ago memory jolted me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began crying.

The first time Stanton and I had been at that church together was seven years ago, for Grace’s first Easter. We had spent that holiday in San Angelo with Stanton’s grandparents (Grandaddy, his grandfather, passed away in 2015). We traveled to be there the following Easter too, and walking through that hallway, I remembered those past times so clearly. I had nursed baby Grace in that room, right over there, during part of that first Easter service.

I felt, deeply, what I imagine many people feel at funerals: the impermanence of time, the mortality we all share. Gratitude for the times that were good. Humility in the knowledge that so much of it was luck of the draw.

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From the moment I met them, both Mimi and Grandaddy had been incredibly kind and loving to me. During the next 15 years, I got to know them, and grew to love them. I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family, even when I was missing my own parents, grandparents and siblings in the Northeast.

Grace’s first Easter, our new family of three accompanied Mimi and Grandaddy to their church. We sat together in a pew near the front. Afterward, the five of us had brunch at Mimi and Grandaddy’s senior-living community, and then Mimi let baby Grace borrow her bed for a nap, before our drive back to San Antonio.

Grace wore a white and purple dress that day. I took a picture of her sleeping on Mimi’s bed, and I know I have that picture somewhere still.

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

When Stanton and I learned we were expecting a second daughter, we talked about possible names, as all expectant parents do. It didn’t take us long to settle on “Anna,” which we read was a form of both Nancy (Mimi’s given name) and Angelina (my maternal grandmother’s name).

Much later, we also learned that the name “Anna” means “grace,” prompting both our daughters to ask, “Of all the girls’ names in the world, why did you name us the same name?”

Ah…life.

So many of Mimi’s family and friends, including all her grandchildren (six) and great-grandchildren (13!), attended her funeral, a beautiful tribute to her, I thought.

I’m incredibly thankful Stanton, the girls and I were there.

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs. It’s a fast-food restaurant that specializes in, yes, burgers.

After Mimi’s visitation on Sunday, our family of four enjoyed an impromptu dinner at the nearest Whataburger with Stanton’s sister and her family. They asked Stanton what his go-to order was. “I’m a No. 1 guy,” my husband replied.

Whataburger’s No. 1 is its classic large beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard on a bun.  For the first time since the last time he was in Texas, Stanton bit into his beloved No. 1.

“How is it?” we asked.

But we didn’t need to. Stanton’s face, radiating pure joy, revealed the answer.

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs.

Not long after, many of us met up again at a ranch resort near Austin, a four-hour drive southeast from San Angelo, to celebrate Thanksgiving as planned. I so enjoyed watching Grace and Anna play with all their cousins, and was happy for Stanton that he got to catch up with everyone too. I appreciated catching up with everyone as well, especially making s’mores and chitchatting around an outdoor fire in the evenings.

By the end of the week, though, I was looking forward to being home again. We had left somewhat in a rush.

I hadn’t had time to place a hold on our mail, and our next-door neighbors were kindly collecting letters and packages after receiving a frantic last-minute text from me. Other friends were kindly pet-sitting our fish, Ping, who had a bladder disease (according to Google, anyway…). And I had still been working remotely, wrapping up the winter issue of the magazine I help edit.

On Saturday, we flew from Austin to Charlotte, N.C., where we had a quick layover before boarding our last flight back to Albany, N.Y. During the layover, Grace and I noticed an Auntie Anne’s, which is one of our favorite fast-food stops. “But I need to use the bathroom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” I said. “Let’s run to the bathroom, then pick up pretzels on the way back.” I held out my hand, and Grace slipped hers into mine.

At that moment, I noticed how big Grace’s hand was—how much she’d grown. How much she’d grown from the baby she’d been, celebrating her first Easter in San Angelo with Mimi and Grandaddy. Again, I felt choked with emotion; I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

One of my favorite memories of our entire trip was running hand-in-hand with Grace through the Charlotte airport.

Soon we were standing in line at Auntie Anne’s. Grace looked around the bustling airport food court. “Where are we again?”

“Right now we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina,” I said.

“This is a nice airport.” Grace is somewhat of a frequent flyer, and has become an airport connoisseur of sorts.

I agreed.

On our journeys, we each become experts in some ways, about some things. Airports. AP style for magazine editing. Fast-food hamburger (or pretzel) chains.

How to win at dominoes.

At the end of the road, though, it doesn’t much matter what you know, or how fast you got there. In my experience, anyway, people don’t tend to remember you for those kinds of things. Instead, they remember you loved them, held their hand, opened your heart.

I squeezed Grace’s hand again. If I had the time, I would have cried.

“What should we order, Mom?”

“Um…” I said I thought we should get a few different things, and share. And of course, lemonade.

“I was hoping you’d say lemonade too!”

That’s one other thing I’ve learned, friends. If you’re standing in line at Auntie Anne’s during your last layover, you should definitely get lemonade too.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.