The card rack display, strategically placed in the center of the store, ensured a high volume of customers would pass by. “Smart,” I mentally approved as I examined the vast inventory. “As people pass by, seeing the greeting cards will prompt them to buy cards for upcoming birthdays, graduations or other momentous occasions in their family.”
The greeting card industry is big business. Americans spend 6.5 billion dollars a year on cards. Seven out of ten card buyers consider greeting cards essential to them. Typical cost of each greeting card is between two dollars and ten.
I’m one of the three people out of ten who don’t feel cards are essential. I’d rather give someone a gift worth an extra ten dollars than spend it on a card. I hate greeting cards for many reasons.
My biggest complaint about them has to do with their messages. If I’m looking for a birthday card to send to my mother or father-in-law, I spend a long time scouring the available selection for messages I feel comfortable with. Many of them say things like, “Thank you for all the wonderful things you have done for me. The lessons you taught me about life will live on through your grandchildren.” Gack! They didn’t raise me, so I don’t want a card like that.
A lighted garland crowned the archway between the kitchen and living room where a festive balsam tree glittered and twinkled. My husband Arnie and son-in-law Mike sat on the couch next to the tree watching a football game on television. My daughter Niki and I sat at the table in the kitchen. Arnie held six-month-old Jon in his arms while Anne, my two-year-old granddaughter, ran between the two rooms playing with her toys.
A tea kettle on the stove began to whistle. Niki jumped to her feet. Placing a steaming mug of hot water and a tea bag in front of me, she sat down with a cup of her own and commented, “I love the holiday traditions I grew up with, but I would like to have some new traditions that I are my own.”
Taking a bite of Christmas cookie and a very small sip of the hot tea, I questioned, “What sort of new traditions are you thinking of?”
Pushing a library book towards me, Niki launched into a list of ideas, concluding with, “This book had so many good ideas that it was hard to pick which one I wanted to start for my family. The top one on my list is to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.”
Cupping my hands around the delightfully warm mug I asked, “How do you plan to do that?”
My daughter had obviously formed a game plan. She detailed, “I want to buy 12 very small gifts for each of the children. Then, every night between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany, they will have a package to open.”
“Hello. Kathy, Niki and Tammie are here to visit!” I called out as I opened the farmhouse door and walked into my childhood home, My two daughters rushed ahead of me. As I stepped from the entryway into the kitchen, I heard the back door open again. Glancing over my shoulder I saw my brother Billy entering the house. Seeing my car enter the yard, he had stopped doing chores to come inside for a visit.
Hearing us, my mother ordered, “Come on in!” I pulled off my coat and hung it up on the stairway newel post. Noticing my daughters had tossed their coats on the steps, I stopped long enough to drape them over my coat on the post. Grammie was comfortably settled in her upholstered rocking chair in the living room. Niki and Tammie were on the floor leaning against her knees. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room, glittering and sparkling. From the other room I heard Silver Bells playing on the kitchen radio that always played from morning to night.
Billy sat on the sofa. My brother Casper strolled out of his bedroom a moment later and sat down on the other end of the sofa. I sat down on a dining room chair near the tree. My eight and twelve-year-old daughters were gobbling Christmas candy from the bowl on the table.
Glancing over at the candy dish, Mom pointed out that it needed to be refilled. I jumped to my feet. I knew where the candy was kept. Carrying the green glass bowl into Casper’s bedroom, I opened his closet door and knelt down. Just as in my childhood, a box on the floor contained various brown paper sacks filled with a variety of candies. Scooping handfuls of angel food, bridge mix, chocolate covered caramels, butter finger bites and peanut brittle into the dish, I remembered all the times I had raided the Christmas candy stash as a teenager.
Back in the living room, Billy commented on how the shadows on cold winter days were blue-colored. I stood by the large living room window and studied the clear sky and the lengthening late afternoon shadows. He was right. The shadows cast by small pine trees near the house did look very blue against the snow. On the distant radio I heard Bing Crosby singing, ‘Adeste Fideles’.
Leaning against Mama, I whined, “Why can’t we put up our Christmas tree?” Longing for Christmas was beginning to make me feel sick. Hearing holiday music on the radio, listening to letters to Santa on the radio, knowing everyone in the family was secretly wrapping presents behind closed doors and talking about Christmas with my second-grade friends was nice, but I had an anxious, deep desire for it to finally come. In the past week, my longing for Christmas had started to feel more like pain than pleasure.
Mama sighed but patiently repeated, “I told you, we don’t put up the tree until Christmas Eve.”
I wailed, “Other people don’t wait until Christmas Eve! My friend Peggy said their Christmas tree was put up last week.”
“Peggy’s family has different traditions.” The look Mama gave me as she answered told me no amount of begging would change things.
December 24th finally arrived, but I continued to wait, pining for Christmas. Daddy and my brothers had time to bring the tree into our house before the noon meal. Mama wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted we sit down to eat first.
Looking forward to having a few minutes of peace and quiet, I pulled into a parking spot next to the building, turned off the engine and leaned back. One minute later the dismissal bell rang. In a remarkably short time a steady stream of grade school children poured out of the school. Hoping my daughters remembered not to take the bus home tonight, I scanned the crowd.
They had remembered. Ten-year-old Niki stepped out of the building with six-year-old Tammie at her side. Niki must have gone to her sister’s kindergarten room to make sure they didn’t get separated. Stopping in front of the school, Niki studied the row of parked cars. Both girls quickly spotted me and ran towards the car with big grins on their faces.
Tammie clutched something in her hand. Giving the object to me, she excitedly blurted, “Angie is having a birthday party and I’m invited!” The crumpled card gave the date and time of the party.
“It’s a good thing we’re going shopping today.” I said, mentally adding Angie’s birthday gift to my shopping list. “You can help pick the gift out.”
I drifted sleepily down the stairs into a busy Christmas preparation zone. Cut out sugar cookies covered the kitchen table. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, I sniffed appreciatively. I could tell that a different kind of cookie, one with a lot of spices in it, was baking in the oven. The linoleum hallway floor sparkled from having been freshly scrubbed and polished.
Seeing that I was up, Mom scolded, “I thought you were going to spend all morning in bed. Hurry up and have breakfast. Then get dressed. I want you to help me rearrange the living room furniture.”
All the sleep cobwebs in my brain cleared instantly. Christmas was less than a week away. Deciding to change out of my flannel nighty first, I turned around and bounded up the stairs back to my bedroom. Eating breakfast wouldn’t take long.
Moments later, as I ate a cookie and drank milk, I glanced out the kitchen window. Fine flakes of snow were falling heavily like a thick curtain. A sudden gust of wind escorted a white veil of ice crystals past the house to a growing drift along a bank of pine trees. Feeling cozy and happy, I smiled.
In the living room, Mom described what she wanted. “I’m going to put the Christmas tree in the southwest corner this year. That means the davenport will have to be along the kitchen wall and my rocking chair in front of the big window.”
Excited, I questioned, “Does moving the furniture today mean you’ll let us put up our tree before Christmas Eve for a change?” Most of my classmates said their Christmas trees were up and decorated already. Only Mom and Daddy and a few of the other parents clung to the tradition of waiting until the afternoon of the 24th to do it.
A cluster of crisp, pale-orange leaves twirled through the air and fluttered down to land with others I’d rounded up earlier. The leaves on the top of the growing mound impatiently twitched with each passing breeze. In my mind I played Frankie Laine singing the theme song of Rawhide. Using the leaf blower to herd another thick mat of leaves toward the pile, I gleefully sang along with my mind song, “Move ‘em on, head ‘em up. Rawhide! Keep movin’, movin’, movin’…”
Instead of accompanying cowboy shouts and snapping whips, the leaf blower purred as I rolled another batch of leaves to my leaf corral. “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’.” With the happy memories of a cattle-drive television show that I had loved during my childhood and a little imagination, I was turning a boring job into fun. I smiled to remember how I had a big crush on the show’s actors when I was fifteen-years-old. I never did figure out who I liked more, Gil Favor or Rowdy Yates.
Looking up, I eyed the leaves that still clung to the maple tree branches. They were stubborn like cattle that refused to cooperate. Why hadn’t they joined the other leaves several days ago in their great stampede? For one glorious, windy hour, leaves fell like heavy snow.
Gray clouds that had hung low in the November sky all day finally rolled away shortly before sunset. The blue sky looked gorgeous. Golden sunshine poured through the living room windows. Its Warm rays lapped across the room’s carpet, sofa and half way up the wall. Sitting on the sofa and blinded by the sun’s sudden brilliance, my husband Arnie folded the newspaper and set it aside.
I walked into the room and commented, “Have you ever noticed how when we have an overcast day, it often clears right before sunset?” The sunlight made Arnie’s black hair and ruddy skin fairly glow, as if he were on stage. Snuggling up next to him on the sofa, I said with admiration, “I love how your eyes look in bright sunshine. Ordinarily, they’re a light brown, but right now they look golden, like tiger eyes.”
Arnie responded, “Right now this tiger is hungry. When will you have supper ready?”
Leaning back on the sun-warmed sofa cushions, I lifted my chin and wailed, “That wasn’t a very romantic thing to say when I just gave you a compliment!”
My husband glanced at me and then leaned in for a closer look. I dropped my chin, but before I could ask what he was looking at, he ordered, “Put your head back again.” Taking a second look, he demanded, “Did you know you have one big, black hair growing out of the underside of your chin?”
There was a long-suffering look in her eyes and a grim, resolute set to her lips. Arthritis had made her joints knobby and her fingers twisted. I didn’t think she looked very dependable. I informed her, “I need you to wash my windows.”
The old lady sighed, and after a moment of silence whined, “Why don’t you ask me cook a meal for you instead? I don’t want to wash windows.”
I exclaimed impatiently, “Look, I know it isn’t fun to wash windows, but winter is coming. Dust, cobwebs and fly specks need to be washed off the glass. I want the windows sparkling clean so we can enjoy watching the beautiful first snow falls and birds coming to eat at the feeders.”
She replied, “Washing windows makes my hands and shoulders hurt. Also, I’m not as strong as I used to be. Some of the windows stick. What if I can’t put the windows back together after they’re washed?”
These were valid concerns. After a moment of deep thought, I announced, “Start with the easy windows. In the past, you washed every window in the house all in a day’s time. Just do a few windows today. Maybe tomorrow or the day after you can do a couple more. If you are unable to put the windows back together, it isn’t the end of the world. We’ll just wait until someone who can do it for us comes for a visit. Now, get to work!”
He sat in the corner of the living room on the davenport, watching me, his wrinled face glowing from the light of the lamp. I plopped down on the cool gray linoleum and began to roll around acting silly. Mama stepped into the room to scold, “Kathy, stop showing off.”
Who was that man? In my mind he was someone important. The gray fog of forgetfulness fills my mind until the next memory.
I stood in front of the table in our eat-in kitchen. Mama was behind me at the stove preparing our meal. Daddy stood at the entryway door, holding it open as an old man on crutches entered. Suddenly, a crutch slipped on the linoleum and the man fell with a crash.
Something bad had happened. I wasn’t sure what, or even who the man was. The gray fog of forgetfulness fills my mind until the next memory.
Something prompted me to crawl out of the bed I shared with a sister. Wandering into the living room I crawled up onto the davenport. The dark house didn’t scare me. Feeling cold, I felt around for something to crawl under. What I found was thin and not very warm. I looked toward the front door window where the Christmas tree stood. The night sky was pale blue and I saw the shadowy outline of the tree.