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.

Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

The chrome escalator wound up three floors. On the third floor, Tinseltown-inspired red carpet flowed forward, toward the hallway of smaller theaters. Life-size posters of the latest blockbusters and box-office bombs lined the walls: “Toy Story 4,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” “Men in Black International.”

Stanton and I had come to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. The last time we had seen a movie in a movie theater together was—shake your head if you must, friends—more than four years ago. Little kids, work, Saturday-morning soccer games, visits with family and friends…all good things, but movie-theater date night had tumbled toward the bottom of our list of priorities, right there with meticulous personal grooming. 😉

I shared all this with the bespectacled young woman at the ticket counter. “The next time we’re here, it will probably be four years later,” I added. She smiled politely, and slid our two admission tickets across the counter.

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” Stanton said, as we walked away hand in hand. The pervasive, ultra-buttery scent of movie-theater popcorn seemed to fall into step with us.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers,” I agreed. Then I gasped. “Maybe a title for a blog post?”

“Mel, no.” Stanton gestured around—just a regular day in our life. “This is not a blog post.”

Instantly, we looked at each other, eyes wide. Stanton smiled, sighed. “OK, that’s a good title.”

And it was, until Grace and Anna told me they liked “Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art” better.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers…”

I try to update this, my website, with new writing (in the form of blog posts) at least twice a month. I’m always working on longer pieces behind the scenes…er, screen. These pieces take more time, though: fiction such as short stories, nonfiction like corporate press releases. I want to keep my site as fresh as possible, which Stanton knows. Thus, he knows that I often “think in blog posts.” What a cool quote, cool launching pad for my next post.

I don’t want to exploit my life for my art. It’s a common dilemma among writers, musicians and artists of all kinds. Personal experiences spark creative turns in our professional work. An aha moment hits us, and we try to create something from it without debauching the beauty of our real world.

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction. No doubt. The conscientious writers among us, however, recognize that some stories aren’t ours to tell, no matter how much we camouflage the identifying details of our characters. (We also balk at starting family feuds, or being banished from friends’ speed dials.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many bestselling plots and million-dollar lyrics never saw the light of day (or pages of The New York Times Book Review or Billboard Hot 100).

There’s art, and there’s life.

Then there’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

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I’m not a film critic, so I won’t share an amateur-hour movie review here. All I’ll say is wow. Talk about conflating life and art—this quasi-historical, pop-culture fairy tale centers on Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders, with a twist…actually, several twists. Totally engaging plot, complicated yet relatable characters, and white-hot, feels-like-L.A. lighting.

And oh, yes…Brad Pitt. Wow again. Wow for both churning out a super-cool yet charming performance and—sigh—still looking mighty fine at age 55.

For our first Valentine’s Day together, back in college, Stanton gave me a “Fight Club” poster featuring Mr. Pitt in all his shirtless, prime-of-life glory—pretty super-cool and charming of Mr. Leddy himself, I’d thought. My college boyfriend turned standing Friday-night date knew I was a fan of the two-time Sexiest Man Alive, as well as “Fight Club.” (I’m not a rom-com girl, which often surprises people. Give me David Fincher, QT, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson any day…although, like everyone else, I do enjoy Nancy Meyers features for the interior design inspirations.)

Coincidentally, this past weekend I stumbled upon an old photo album from college. And there, in the album, was a picture of my very first, freshman-year dorm room. And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

That was 17 years ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

I believe very strongly in living in the present, making the most of the here and now. From time to time, though, I can be sentimental. I can have a moment of nostalgia.

I had a moment then, friends.

I flipped through a few more pictures. Smiled at the late-teen/early-20s faces of some wonderful college friends, who grew up to become wonderful life friends.

There was another picture, of myself with a good friend who passed away much too soon. He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

This person actually introduced Stanton to me, and meant a lot to us both individually and as a couple.

I held the picture out to Stanton. He looked, and gave me a little smile. Half happy (for the memory) and half sad (because we’d never again have more than that).

“We were all so young and happy,” I said.

“Yes.”

He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

The girls and I were at our town library three days in a row this week. It just kind of happened; there was no grand plan. One day, we returned an overdue DVD; another, we stopped by after playing at a nearby park (and stumbled upon an outdoor concert on the green, complete with complimentary popcorn and temporary tattoos for the kids).

The girls marveled at our good luck. We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The guitarist was strumming the chords to “Edelweiss,” from the classic motion picture “The Sound of Music,” and singing along, the lyrics coasting across the library green: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

I said hello to a librarian I know, and mentioned that we often ended up at the library.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” she replied with a smile.

I smiled back. “Totally agree.” (I knew I’d put it in a blog post.)

Where do we end up? What are we doing? How does it all happen?

These can be hard questions, but at least one answer is easy: It all happens fast.

We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The girls go back to school after Labor Day. “Summer went fast,” Grace noted. “I remember the first day of summer vacation.”

Tell me about it, girl. I mean…I remember college. I remember my “Fight Club” poster; I remember 17 years ago.

Once upon a time, we were all so young and happy.

I’ve had some dark days, but overall, I am happy. And incredibly grateful. Not as young as I used to be, though.

I wrote much of this post freehand, old-school in a notebook with a pen, at a park this week, while the girls were playing. It was a picture-perfect summer day, and I did snap some memories. As I did, a quote crossed my mind, and it beautifully sums up the message I’d like to share today:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Gerard Way)

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.

All the Beautiful Pictures

Tubes of sunscreen on the back porch, flip-flops piled up nearby, the freezer stocked with ice cream and the lazy Susan cabinet with sugar cones—summer has settled in at our house, and yours too, I’m sure.

Summertime presents a picturesque backdrop. The other evening I was taking a walk alongside rows of century-old evergreens, and the pink-tinted clouds outlining the setting sun took my breath away. It was an Instagram-worthy moment, to be sure, and I almost did take a picture. But then I thought, no…be present, enjoy the moment.

Probably about half the time I’m present, enjoying the moment…and the other half I’m taking pictures, documenting life.

(Partially, I consider my picture-taking habit part of my “mom” job description. If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so images of the past ten years…the majority of them shot tilted upward, which women everywhere know shows our thighs from the most unflattering angle. P.S. Love you, honey! 😉 )

During a different walk, with the girls, Grace asked for my phone. She wanted to take a picture of a butterfly. I told her I had left my phone at home.

“So we can be present,” Grace grumbled.

“Agh,” Anna added.

Huh. “Right,” I said. “Be present together.”

The girls groaned.

Everything in moderation, I’ve tried to explain to my daughters, from screen time to swimming to ice cream. We don’t want to zone out, wear out, sugar-rush out. And I try to practice what I preach.

If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so pictures of the past ten years…

I’m a people person, though, and I do love keeping in touch with family and friends, sharing pictures through text, email and social media. I try to strike a balance between good days and not as good, moments that are both “proud mom” ones as well as “I can’t believe this happened.”

I try not to be annoying, or brag, although I’m sure I’ve done both at some point(s).

A while back, the girls gave me a sticker from a weather-themed sticker sheet. The sticker depicted a sun with “No Bad Days” scrolled underneath. We were driving in the car, on our way to somewhere, and I stuck the sticker under the car radio.

“Do you like it, Mom?” the girls asked.

Of course, I told them. I loved the cheerful-looking sun, and I appreciated the positive-thinking sentiment: “No Bad Days.” There are bad days, though, I told the girls, and that’s OK. We just make the effort to move forward from them.

Recently, I shared a picture, and a friend replied, “Beautiful!” It was a beautiful picture: summer, sunlight, glorious colors and smiles galore. And I thought…all the beautiful pictures.

Each of us may be, consciously or not, on a journey to collect beautiful pictures.

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We want to remember our good times, and our iconic moments. The first day of kindergarten, the time we arrived at the crown of the Statue of Liberty.

All the times we arrived.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and beauty can be found, too, in the moments we wouldn’t adorn with a “No Bad Days” sticker—in the times people showed up for us, were there for us in our darkest hours.

Still, our for-posterity’s-sake photo albums trend toward years of memories cast in perma-sunlight. Mine do, anyway. Why memorialize dusk?

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing. And if a fortune teller looked into their crystal ball and divined for us a lifetime of “No Bad Days”…who wouldn’t want that, at first glance?

My lifetime of 36 years thus far has run the gamut of “Clear/Sunny” to “Cloudy,” with wind speeds ranging from light to strong. There have been some scattered showers, and even a natural disaster or two. It has not been a lifetime of “No Bad Days.”

But if I had the chance to do it all over…I really think I would do it all over, even the truly dark hours. Because I’m not sure I could have ever known what happiness meant, until I felt sorrow too. “Inside Out” told this story too, several summers ago—and it wasn’t the first time a children’s story had a powerful truth to share.

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing.

Movies, we know, are pictures in motion. In high school, I loved the movie “Meet Joe Black.” It was long, clocking in at three hours, and a “box office bomb,” according to IndieWire. But I loved it then, and love it now. “Meet Joe Black” asks questions about life and death, love and family, and includes an awesome coffee-shop scene.

One of my favorite scenes is between Brad Pitt’s Joe Black character and an elderly Jamaican woman who is ailing. Her time on earth is winding down. She tells Joe, “So take that nice picture you got in your head home with you…If we lucky, maybe, we got some nice pictures to take with us.” Joe asks her if she has some nice pictures; she says yes.

This summer, every season, let’s celebrate our beautiful pictures. Every gathering with loved ones, each beach trip, all the ice-cream cones too. Every pink-tinted sunset we pause to photograph, or simply savor as a memory in our head.

All the beautiful pictures represent our Mostly Sunny moments, and every one of us deserves some of those.

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.

Remember the Time? On Family, Memory and Where You Keep Your Shoes

My sister mailed me a card for my birthday, a couple of weeks ago. The front said, “‘Remember the time…?'” followed by, “There are about a thousand different ways to end that story!” in multicolored font. I loved everything about it, from the sentiment to, especially, Jenna’s heartwarming note inside.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took one (excuse my amateur photography skills!) to illustrate my message here. I put my sister’s card in the last remaining spot, on the bottom, of the hanging card holder in the kitchen. See it there? You can also see our family’s kaleidoscopic collection of other well wishes for assorted birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, special occasions… Yeah, Marie Kondo probably wouldn’t approve. 😉

So—”‘Remember the time…?'”

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Inside the card, Jenna wrote about how she always enjoys our adventures and conversations. Over the course of our life together, there have been a lot of them—not “about a thousand,” but thousands upon thousands. Jenna, along with both my brothers, were there, and continue to be there, for…well, my life.

Last night, I was lying beside Anna as she drifted off to sleep, and all of a sudden, a long-ago memory came to mind. I don’t know why, but I thought about the refrigerator in my grandparents’ old house. Before I left for college, I put pictures all over it. I joked that I didn’t want Grandma and Poppy to forget me, so I transformed their fridge into a collage of photos and magnets.

After Anna fell asleep, I called Jenna to share this memory with her. Because your sister will always answer the phone, even if you’re calling about your grandparents’ not-sure-if-it-even-exists-anymore refrigerator. “Awww,” Jenna said when I told her.

“I also remember—I mean, I can almost see this—Poppy sitting in the sunroom, just smiling, his arms crossed, watching TV. And,” I added, “he’s wearing that blue polo shirt he always wore. You know the one…?”

“Yeah, with the pink on the collar.” I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, so, I just wanted to tell you about that…”

“Do you remember,” Jenna said—she really did send me the perfect birthday card—”every New Year’s, we would all go outside and bang on pots and pans? And set off Mom’s car alarm?” We laughed.

Maybe a little corny at times, and certainly loud a lot of the time, but this was/is our family…and I love them.

I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

I have been truly lucky with my husband’s family too. After I talked with Jenna, I called Stanton’s mom to say hello. Charlotte was exercising, and I apologized for interrupting her. She asked me how I was doing.

“Honestly,” I replied, “I just poured myself a glass of milk and am about to eat a cookie. I’m doing the exact opposite of what you’re doing.” (You simply can’t make this stuff up, friends.) Like with my sister, my mother-in-law and I shared a good laugh.

Stanton had just been in San Antonio for a conference, and I was glad he got to spend some time with his family while he was there too. It’s a busy season of business travel for him, and he told the girls about a few other upcoming trips.

I made the joke (in retrospect, not a funny one) to the girls, “What’s Dad doing home now, girls? Does he live here too?”

Anna gave Stanton one of her wonderful bear hugs. “Of course he lives here,” she said. “This is where his shoes are.”

Sometimes life lends itself to quotable moments.

Home is where you keep your shoes. It’s where you hang up your cards, and pictures. It’s where, at the end of the day, you call the people you love. You call them to share a memory, or just to say hello.

Home is where you get the best bear hugs too.

Remember the time?

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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.

 

I Can’t Picture You Old

My mom and dad came to visit, this past weekend. It was wonderful to see one another.

On Saturday afternoon, I smiled as I watched my dad play soccer with Stanton and the girls. They passed Grace’s gray, much-kicked soccer ball around the backyard. Every so often, one of them scored in the portable goal, which Stanton had set up to the right of a cluster of maple trees.

Later, my parents said they would get good rest that night. I complimented my dad on his enduring soccer skills. Years earlier, he had coached my brothers’ youth soccer teams. Then my mom noted that my dad wasn’t as young as he used to be.

For a moment, I really had to pause. Then I shook my head. “I can’t picture you old,” I told my dad, and my mom.

For me—and maybe for a lot of us—we think of our moms and dads as ageless. Or, if not ageless exactly, then we think of them as always there. This is how I think of my parents, anyway.

I can’t imagine a time in which I don’t receive an email from my dad, in which he signs it “GG”—short for Gordon Gekko, a reference to “Wall Street.” My family and I joke that my dad has only ever seen the same handful of movies over and over again (“Wall Street” among them, right up there with “Rocky” and “The Godfather”). In my replies back to my dad, I sign off with “Bud,” the name of Gekko’s protégé—all old, inane inside jokes, because we’re nothing like these movie characters.

When I check my email, I consider it a given that a note from my “GG” will be somewhere in the mix, just as I have faith that my mom will answer her phone every time I call. You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith.

You might be right.

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While I can’t picture my parents “old,” I have noticed some aging on my husband’s part (sorry, buddy). Stanton’s hair has thinned a bit in the back. “Wow,” I said, the first time I noticed.

“Thanks, Mel,” he replied.

The past few years have been somewhat of a downhill slog for me too, cosmetically speaking. Case in point: I really should work on my abs. With the best of intentions, I got a kickboxing DVD that promises it will help sculpt them. All I have to do is get up early enough to sweep, squat, kick…but I choose sleep every time. Let’s hashtag it, friends: #hopelesscause.

You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith. You might be right.

While my parents were here, Stanton and I enjoyed a rare brunch date at the Iron Gate Cafe in downtown Albany. This is one of our favorite local restaurants. We sat at a table for two alongside an exposed-brick wall, and had many cups of coffee as we talked.

When you’re the parents of young children, it can be tricky to truly “talk.” Conversations often focus on logistics—who needs a dentist appointment, what time Parents Night at the elementary school starts, when is the absolute latest we can mail in the soccer-picture-order form. So over Stanton’s Bacado omelet and my breakfast BLT, we really appreciated the time and space we had to break bread, literally and figuratively.

We did talk about the girls, of course. And about my writing and his work, and future trips we wanted to take together. “We’ve got to see Maine,” I said, and Stanton agreed.

As we talked, I noticed that everyone around us was talking too. Folks at the other tables were gathered together…talking. Enjoying one another’s company, as well as the food.

I’ve become so accustomed to seeing people take pictures of themselves and their surroundings, wherever I am, that I was actually struck by the talking/non-picture-taking. How awesome, I thought, for all these people to be engaged with their families and friends. To be present.

In so many ways, it’s healthy to be present. And to live in the present. To appreciate the time we have right now, because the truth is, time ticks away from us, quietly yet relentlessly.

How awesome…To be present.

When my daughters are older, one thing I want to pass along to them is to appreciate men like their dad, and mine. Men who value good conversation, and listen to them (and don’t mind unsculpted abs). Men who get outside and revel in the fresh air, rather than get lost in their phones, TV’s and other toys. Kind, hearty men.

Across the ages, some things stay timeless. Honesty, courage, respect for humanity and the Earth that sustains us all. Those values don’t grow old.

In the face of our humanness and impermanence, sometimes the best we can do for our children and families is live the morals of the stories we tell.

Before my parents headed back to Pennsylvania, we all gathered in the breakfast nook. We had some coffee and apple cider doughnuts from nearby Kleinke’s Farm (another excellent local stop). Anna was telling us about her preschool, and my dad joked that his early childhood education came from the School of Hard Knocks.

“Huh?”

“I’m kidding, sweetheart.” My dad smiled at Anna. “Pop didn’t go to preschool.”

“Poor Pop!”

I smiled at my daughter, and my dad. I love my dad incredibly, and throughout all these years, this is what I’ve learned from listening to my dad’s stories—these have been the morals of his stories: Bring people together. Make them comfortable, make them feel welcome, make them laugh.

The content of the story doesn’t matter so much as the context. School of Hard Knocks or creative nonfiction or a story made up at bedtime, it doesn’t matter. What matters is making people feel better because you were there, gathered together with your story.

I can’t picture you old.

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.

When a Picture Falls Out of a Book

One corner of my kitchen countertop is a mess, always. Stuff just accumulates there.

My daughters’ ponytail holders. My Us Weekly magazines (I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit, I’ve been a subscriber, off and on, for years). Stanton’s various electronic gadgets. Pens, batteries, coupons, Shopkins, the occasional card. Lots…of…stuff.

The other day, I tried to clean up some of the stuff. Scoop the ponytail holders into a drawer. Recycle the magazines. Then I picked up an overstuffed file folder and a coming-unbound book—“Chocolatina” by Erik Kraft, one of the girls’ favorites—and a picture fluttered out of the jumble of paper and pages.

This picture:

When a Picture Falls Out

This picture shows my three siblings and me with our mom and her parents, our Poppy and Grandma. I’m the cute one. Just kidding, friends. 😉 I’m the one wearing the orange shirt.

My brother Josh is making bunny ears on my head. My other brother, Jared (in the striped shirt), would grow up to become the cute one. My sister Jenna is resting her head on the table.

I’m not sure whose birthday we’re celebrating here. If one of them is reading this, maybe they’ll help me out. (Hint, hint…)

I emailed this picture to my family, along with some old friends who have been around us Minetolas so long, and sat at that kitchen table with us so much, that they, too, know all the characters in this story.

Jared replied all: “photo cred: John Minetola?” That would be my dad, and I replied that yes, I thought so. Otherwise, he would have been in the picture.

This was before the selfie stick era, you know.

When this picture fell out of that book, I wasn’t expecting it. But instantly, after I picked it up, I smiled.

I smiled because it was a happy memory. Not a perfect memory—whose birthday cake was that?—but a happy one, because we were all there together. And I’m grateful that we still do gather around that table, many years later, for dinners and rounds of Uno and other normal, nothing-special moments that actually are special in their togetherness.

Poppy, of course, has since passed way, five years ago now. I miss him, but I know he’s in a good place.

I do wish he could have been here to have met Anna. I know he would have loved everything about her—every little thing, from her dimples to the mischievous twinkle in her eye, which is exactly like his.

Poppy did have a chance to meet Grace, about a year and a half before he died. I will always remember the way he leaned over to her—an old man with glasses, looking with big love at my baby—and said, “I hope you live to be 90.” Grace looked back, and I like to think she understood what he said.

Sometimes, our best pictures are the ones we don’t take. But our memories, strong and enduring, of times that touched our hearts and stay with us forever.

“I hope you live to be 90.”

In her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo writes that it can be difficult to organize pictures. Not only do we file them into photo albums, but we also stick them into books as bookmarks, or magnet them to the refrigerator, or pull them out of our photo albums to send to loved ones. Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Have you ever opened a book, or knocked a day planner to the floor, and a picture or other memento fell out, rousing a memory?

What did you remember, friends?

Reflecting on a past moment, we might slip on our rose-colored glasses. We might romanticize a time, long gone, that we struggled through in real time, years ago.

I’ve had my moments with rose-colored glasses, and romanticism too. I’ve had my moments, friends.

People aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. Life is beautiful, and it’s also humbling.

Life is both/and; shades of gray, not black and white.

Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Poppy loved nature. The older I get, the more I love and seek it out too.

Last week, my parents were in town for the girls’ winter break. One morning, I brought my dad and Grace to Five Rivers, a nearby nature park. We spent some time bird-watching at the visitor center, using binoculars to look out the expansive windows. We spotted many eastern bluebirds, and even an opossum.

“Poppy would have loved this,” my dad said.

I agreed.

“The best thing about a picture,” Andy Warhol said, “is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” I loved seeing Poppy again in the picture that fell out of the book. I so appreciated remembering him, too, when I was bird-watching with my dad and my daughter.

Years from now, I wonder if my daughters will stumble upon an old picture, or frayed certificate of participation that I saved—a memento of some kind. So much of our life is digitized now, but we still keep hard copies of this and that here and there.

I wonder what Grace and Anna might find. I wonder what they’ll remember.

I hope they’ll skim over the imperfect parts. The persistent morning rush and end-of-day crankiness. My forgetting Anna’s teddy bear on “Bring Your Teddy Bear to Preschool Day” (that happened yesterday), Stanton’s coming home later than he’d said (two nights ago).

I hope they’ll skim over those parts, and remember that we loved them. At the very least, that we tried.

That is, after all, what families do: Love. Work. Play. Be there for one another. Try.

This quote made me laugh, so I’ll end with it, for your enjoyment too: “My whole family is lactose intolerant, and when we take pictures, we can’t say, ‘Cheese.’” –Jay London

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.

Yet.

We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:

i-almost-shared-this-picture-11-18-16

Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.

🙂

But.

Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.