This is my first Substack newsletter - welcome! I am going to share thoughts, essays and, possibly, crimes related to all things - love, laughter, grief, dogs, biking and starting over. I hope you will join me.
This is the first post - and I even did a VoiceOver! It is 5 minutes and 28 seconds long - and recording it was a bear. I tried a million times and then finally, I went for it, one final go, no turning back, my back straight, my dreams on the line. The result? I was sweating, swearing, shedding clothes, and holding my breath the entire time - all while trying not to cry.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, because I know I didn’t. 😂
Happy Holidays to all and thank you for reading my essay below! If you have time, perhaps take a moment to write something down in your own one-of-a-kind-barely-legible-what-does-this-even-say handwriting. Maybe a little note tucked into a stocking, dated. What fun it will be to find this year - and next year added to. And some day, it will be a bit of history, Christmas lore - and love.
The Christmas Card
It came in the middle of summer. The handwriting in blue ink from a pen that was spotty and uncooperative. My mother had written through the fading in and out of it, two pages worth.
The Christmas card had been mailed back to me by a family friend after she had come across it in a dresser drawer. I had asked people to send me mementos of my mother, especially handwritten notes, if they had any.
I did the math. It would have been my mother’s last Christmas.
I stood in the driveway and opened it right there, standing in the dirt, in the sun, not waiting to walk back to the house. Inside, was a small, envelope-sized picture of my mother’s strength: My mother had written a long, cheerful note, and not a word of how her body was betraying her.
The card sounded like any other year, like all the years she had sent out cards to her list. There she was, her happy self, there on the page, despite it all. I saw then, that in the end, my mother had gone back to the things that comfort, the things that work. The growing kids and the old snowmobiles and the happy dogs.
Then, I saw that my mother had written about her grandchildren, my two boys. My breath caught. It was just a line or two, simple and short. But it was concrete evidence: My mother and my sons had lived in the same lifetime.
For years, I had worried. Had there been enough? I couldn’t remember a single thing that my mother had said to them or them to her. But there must have been thousands of words and kisses and hugs and moments. My mother had lived to see my boys reach just 2 and 4 years old. Had my youngest spoken much at that age? I was desperate to remember something specific. How would my boys remember if I couldn’t?
But here, the card said it was so. My mother had been there with them, written about them, her love for them, and mailed it out into the world. Relief rifled through my veins. I had known all along, but some days, the years made me forget.
I flipped the card shut, to start over, the joy of reading it all again - when the cover design made me go still.
I’d signed dozens of that same card for my mother that year.
She had insisted on sending out them out that last year, even though everyone would understand if she didn't. So one December afternoon, my mother and I sat on opposite sides of her dining room table, both signing cards. Our writing was almost identical, who would know? Besides, it was a comfort: Christmas was coming, the cards were going out!
But, by then, we knew. And the afternoon together turned into a quiet going-through of all the people who had been a part of my mother’s 59 years.
I would read a name, and my mother would tell me what to write. Sometimes, though, she would laugh, and I would say, “What, Mom? Tell me!” until we were both laughing, an old story retold.
For people she saw all the time, it was something short, a simple Merry Christmas!, a way to cut down on the effort. She sat under a blanket, in her wheelchair, tucked up to the table. Others, though, she had me address and slide across the table. She wanted to write a handful of cards herself. To people she hadn’t seen in a long time and might not again.
With a rush, I remembered that day. I had forgotten about that our system, her stories, my forgery. It could just as easily have been my own handwriting in that card - could it be? I looked again, filled with fear. Had I even forgotten what her writing looked like?
But I hadn't.
It was my mother’s. The letters tilted right, her cursive spotty, the signature loopy "J" in her Judy at the end. The writing was so her, that it hurt.
Standing there in the driveway, with the rest of the mail tucked under my arm, in the hot sun, with no one around, I realized I was holding my mother’s hand in my own. Again.
And, on this Christmas, my 15th one without her - 15! How could that be? - her card is on the shelf I walk by every night on the way to bed. A reminder. The holidays no longer look like they did, but some things remain. The simple things, the things that work. Like the old sled fixed up. Like the dog at our feet, a puppy again. Like those two boys, all grown up, here for Christmas.
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Very cool! Thank you for sharing!
Can't wait for the new one!