Miscellany – The Old Address Book

Mailing out holiday cards offers plenty of chances to cause offense. And yet …

For more years than I can remember, I have been sending out cards during the holidays. I’m not always sure of people’s religious affiliations, so I look for a card that has a greeting or artwork that is cheerful, but not necessarily belief-specific.

My holiday greeting card recipient list has changed over time. When I was active in theater and film, my agent and fellow cast members were added. When I was in real estate, past and current clients were included with my friends and family. At one time, my card-writing list numbered over a hundred.

My friend Ron doesn’t send out cards anymore, and I told him I wasn’t going to send any out this year either. But then he told me that at one time, he sent out more than 200 cards a year, before AIDS and time took the lives of most of his social and family circle.

So, while I still can, I put some thought into who I would like to include in this year’s list and purchased a box of lovely cards that contained four different greetings: “Hope,” Peace,” “Joy” and “Love.”

To send our good wishes to the right places, my partner and I rely on envelopes from cards we received the previous year and an old address book with many cross-outs and changes. It’s not up-to-date. We aren’t really good at adding new spouses or deleting the old, but the cards go out anyway.

My Aunt Georgia and I have been mailing cards to each other for so long that it’s now a competition as to who gets their card out first. She is on her second marriage, and even though she has been married to Husband Number Two for 30 years, I still have a hard time remembering she is no longer a “Peterson.”

My mother kept her second husband’s last name, even though he passed away in the late ’90s. The last card I got from her had the return address of our childhood home, even though she hadn’t lived there since she married her third husband, a Lester… something, some years back. After she passed away, I couldn’t bring myself to cross her name out.

Steven’s mother gets a card addressed only to “Susie.” I think her third husband’s name is “Scott.” She is still with us, but her mind is slipping. We never know for sure whether she gets our card, but we hope it puts a smile on her face, even if it’s just for a few moments.

Oh, the changes that happen over time. It’s a challenge to keep up. But I learned recently that this can cause some hurt feelings.

My friend Jeanette sent me a text when she received her card in the mail. It read:

Hi Jim, thank you for the Christmas card. I was a little sad that it was only addressed to me. After 13 years of being married, I would love it if you would include Cragun next time. Merry Christmas to you both.

This got me thinking: Have I been offending people all these years by not properly addressing my cards?

It put my whole holiday card tradition in a new light. I might be making people unhappy at Christmas. I set about reviewing the old address book and the envelopes from cards received the previous year, to get it right.

I even dug deep into my holiday box that holds cards and envelopes I have received over 50 years. I put the box out at Christmas to offer a reminder of the people who sent those cards, many of whom have passed on or out of my life. My investigation revealed that, to my surprise, there are a whole bunch of holiday well-wishers who are guilty of the same thing!

My mother never got the spelling of my daughter’s name right. My grandmother never got my first wife’s name spelled correctly, and most of them never included my partner, Steven. I have been with him since the new century began, and we’ve been happily married since the option became available to us.

This was something I hadn’t noticed before. I was so focused on the greeting that I missed the careless way the card had been addressed.   

I vowed to myself that from now on, it will be different. I will be more precise. I will update the old address book and get the entries correct or I won’t send cards out at all. The holidays are hard enough – no one should feel sad when they get a card from me in the mail. I was getting pretty worked up.

But all of a sudden, my thoughts went back to my well-loved Grandma Thelma, whom I lost on Christmas Day 2006, just shy of her 99th birthday. I looked over the years of cards that I had saved from her, all the way back to my boyhood.

At first, they came from “Grandma, Grandpa and the kids.” Then they came from her, Grandpa and their dog, King. After Grandpa died, it was Grandma and Virgil, her oldest son, who came back to live with her later in his life.  When he passed on, they came from only “Thel.” Each card was always heartfelt, with a personal greeting inside, but she rarely addressed one properly or added the name of whoever I was with at the time.

But even if she couldn’t get my first name right today, I would love to get a card in the mail from her or get a card out to her to let her know:   

I am thinking of you and wishing you a bit of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love in your life. Miss you!