Why I’m Sending Real Old-Timey Christmas Cards This Year

They're just an excuse to look through my tattered address book — and relive my life.



I bought three boxes of Christmas cards over the weekend. I don’t always get around to sending cards — they take such a long time to write and address, and then somebody has to go buy stamps, not to mention find a mailbox — but I like to.

I know it’s old-fashioned — a dying practice, really. I could just send one giant group e-card and have it done with. But I like the way the cards look, waiting for me in their neat little boxes. I like the way they look when they’re ready to be mailed, lined up like soldiers, bedizened with my best cursive writing that I never ever use anymore. And I like the excuse they offer to go through my well-worn address book and think about old friends.

I’ve had this address book for — who knows? Fifteen years now? It was a Christmas present from my daughter Marcy when she was nine or 10, the addresses and phone numbers from my previous address book neatly copied down in her best grade-school penmanship — printing, not cursive, which they didn’t really still teach even then. It was an act of love for her to fill the tabbed pages so diligently, even if she did mangle a few of the names and numbers. Somewhere in this house, I still have the address book she copied them from. You never know. Why risk throwing anything away?

One of the downsides of her surprising me by doing the copying is that she carried everybody over from the old book to the new one, not performing any of the pruning I’d have done. So there are people in there I haven’t seen or heard from in decades — her old South Philly babysitters, for example, including the one who quit the job to become a snowflake in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s Nutcracker corps. I wonder, Kathleen — are you still dancing? You’d be 38 now, or 39. There are moms from our old playgroup, editors and agents from another lifetime, Girl Scout Cookie Moms from those days. There are utter mysteries, like “Helen Massa” in the middle of the M’s: Who the hell is Helen Massa? There’s my dad’s old cleaning woman, who took him for thousands of dollars — hi, Lisa! Hope you’re rotting in hell! There’s the cryptic “Johnny Father — Joe.” There’s the vet who put the dog to sleep five years ago.

Speaking of my dad, way too many of the entries nowadays are like his — a succession of crossed-out addresses of living spaces that got smaller and smaller, full-scale family houses to retirement apartments to rooms in nursing homes. Some of the names went into my old book when I invited Dad’s friends to my wedding. I saw some of those people at his funeral but haven’t seen them since, and likely won’t ever again, though I still eat with silverware they bought me. There are listings of couples, now divorced, where I’ve chosen sides, and crossed one name out. There are a few places where one spouse died and got crossed out, and then was followed by the other. There are two suicides.

But I don’t find going through my book gloomy, exactly. There are additions, too: Under my cousin Jim’s listing, I once noted the names of his three girls. Now all three have their own listings. (Granted, I had to cross out two old babysitters and “Sam Gibson: Brickwork” to fit them in.) Young people I work with get married and have their spouses added, then their kids’ names. I have new friends, too, but not so many — a few from Wednesday-night volleyball, one from Sunday pickleball.

Then there are the folks I like to have in there just because seeing their names reminds me that I never have to deal with them again, like the kids’ orthodontist, or that crazy couple who lived across the alley from me in my first apartment.

And there are others who make me smile when I see them, like my husband’s old friend Richard and his wife Maria, where I crossed Maria out after they got divorced and, when they remarried, wrote her in again.

No doubt there’s an app that could make all this a lot more up-to-date and organized, so that writing out my Christmas cards wouldn’t take so long. But I’d sacrifice seeing Marcy’s occasional editorial comments (“Louise Simon, ear candling LOL!”), not to mention the reminders of loved (and not-so-loved) ones now gone. There’s a reason they call it “Memory Lane” instead of “Memory Freeway.” LOL.