Monday, December 31, 2012

'Tis the season

Christmas, short days, long nights, cooler weather (ummm, actually cold here). I do enjoy the carols and Christmas music - but not right after Halloween. From about Thanksgiving on is good, feels right, like when I was a kid. If you haven't yet, thinking about gifts for those to whom you will give gifts. We usually keep our eyes open all year looking for the right gift for someone so that there's not really that much shopping to do by Thanksgiving.

Having said that, my bride and her mom along with others of the All Girls Spending Team (hat tip to Lex) head out for the Black Friday Follies. One of several activities that are appropos of the season.

One particular Saturday my bride and I were of the occasion to be walking along Church Street in downtown Burlington. We were specifically there to purchase a gift for some friends of ours from a shop on Church Street. Said shop being the only location we were aware of to purchase this item. We swung by the Three Tomatoes, an Italian restaurant we frequent when in the area. It's doorfront is at street level, but the restaurant is actually located downstairs. An enjoyable atmosphere that brings us back repeatedly with good, local, fresh produce served in the Italian art (as my German friends would say). Emerging on to the street once we had finished with our repast we found a typical Vermont afternoon in December - cold and snowing. As we strolled along we enjoyed the ambiance of walking hand-in-hand, enjoying the decorations and the Christmas spirit invoked when outdoor decorations are accented by falling snow.

It reminded me of the Kristkindl Markts in Germany sans the gluehwein and gemuetlichkeit that are the hallmark of the real thing. Again, with many happy memories of previous times in previous locales.

Cards. Specifically Christmas cards. Reminders of times in our lives, moments of our past encapsulated in a card with simple greetings, hand written notes, and form letters updating one and all of their family's doings for the past year. You will frequently hear folks denigrate the whole idea of once a year sending of a card to someone that you don't feel enough about to maintain more contact during the year.

That would be one way to look at it.

But as the cards come in, I look at the names on the return address and remember the folks behind the address. Seeing these names invokes memories of the people behind the names, of the memories we shared with them, of the point in our lives in which we met them. For instance, we received cards from several friends of our time in Texas. We moved there after I retired from the Army, when I started my corporate life in a place we'd not previously visited. Our daughter had already completed her freshman year of high school and had to change high schools. Our son visited the middle school and immediately deemed it a prison. When we arrived at our new home at 4:30 AM, it was in the high 80s and my bride was ready to melt down. Fortunately, the dogs and the guinea pigs were more sanguine about it.

But, it was a good time. Both kids attended and graduated from high school during this time. Learned to drive, learned to date, did that awkward high school-teenage thing while we were there. Pool parties, Boy Scouts, proms, and all the things that kids do during this time. We became empty nesters while we were there and relearned how to be a couple again. We reforged our relationships with our children as the relationships became one with adults instead of kids. Different but still satisfying in a way that defines our and their new status in life. And we had friends that we celebrated things large and small with. So, it was a special time for us and seeing these names brings it all rushing back.

Cards from Florida, Massachusetts, Texas, California, Minnesota, New York. Friends, family, former coworkers. Friends from our time in the civilian world, friends from our time in the military. Our new friends have only been our friends for about 15 years. Our old friends double that. Each card a moment in time for people we fondly remember.

No, we aren't as close as we once were. No longer seeing each other on a daily or weekly basis. But we mattered enough to reach out each year anyway. To maintain that connection, tenuous though it may now be.

And I discovered that I really enjoy seeing the cards come in and remembering these folks from our lives. The memories they bring back, good times, good friends, part of our past, and immutably part of us.

I hope that you have the same experiences this season. That the incoming cards bring the same simple joy that we are experiencing. 'Tis the season.


  1. I'm like you. I love the Christmas cards. What I love is going home and reading my Parents' Christmas cards. They were military like you, so when I sift through cards, I see a couple from their first squadron in the 60s. Roommates from his college years. Cards from families that we would cleve to during deployments. (My Mom had Moms she hung out with and we'd all do things while our dads were gone for what seemed like forever. No long distance phone calls or skype...)

    I write a letter every Christmas on behalf of our family and I try to keep it light... a bit jaded too. We're not perfect, living the high life. Just a regular family, trying to get through it all... hopefully laughing more than anything.

    So I'm with you. Maybe it's a military thing.

  2. Yeah, when the kids visit during Christmas they are surprised to see some of the names and ask how the kids are doing, the ones that they used to play with. On teams, when the teams deploy the wives and kids all hang out together. Plus, SF is a regionally oriented thing, so even though we moved overseas, you rotated on a loop to the same places.

    During our last move to Germany, about a year and a half after we got there, my son's good friend from our last assignment in the States moved into the apartment directly above us. Small world.

    I've thought about the letter thing for similar reasons. Rather than writing smaller letters in so many cards, over and over again.

    I suspect that anyone that has had to move a bit enjoys getting cards at Christmas for the reasons that we've discussed.

    No discussions of ordering hagis though. In our family it's ordering weisswurst for Sylvesters Abend (New Years Eve). It's a Bavarian custom that we picked up and my daughter does too with her crew down in Texas.