The View from Mary's Farm for December 2006
January 1, 1970Dear friends,
It is the season. It seems to come around so fast and then in a flash it’s gone. The year 2006 is almost gone. And, to boot, the beginning of this winter is acting a lot like the winter of last year, a prelude to a strangely mild winter. I am uncomfortable when the seasons don’t act as they should, so a warm winter, from my point of view, is a weird winter. Living without snow makes it easier to get around and not so hard on the wallet, in terms of heating bills and snowplowing expenses, but nonetheless, I’m left with an empty feeling. Hopefully, our winter will rev up soon and provide us with snow and storms and the strong finish of mud, all the drama I have come to love in the hard seasons.
In the meantime, I am sending you the December essay, featured this month in Yankee magazine, as I have been doing for the past few years. (Scroll down to find it!) What will change next month is that Yankee will only be putting out six issues a year, which means only six essays a year will be featured in the magazine. Not enough for me. I’m hoping to send you more, as the spirit moves me to write more. Yankee will be doubling up the months, combining January/February, March/April and so on, which makes it hard to write to. What is right for March is not necessarily right for April, for instance. Additionally, I warn you that they have taken my essay off the last page and put it into the front somewhere. So, if you still subscribe to the magazine, be aware it will not be so easy to find the essay as it has been in the past. I, of course, have no input into these matters and try to stay at a distance if I can.
And so, as has happened in the past, as Yankee changes, so will I, but not necessarily in the same direction. I have no idea where all this will lead but I do want to wish all of you a happy new year and many blessings of the holiday season. It is a time to think of those less fortunate and this year, with all the horrid turmoil around the world, we have no shortage of sad situations on which we may dwell. But I do hope that, within your own tight circle of family and friends, you will find love and understanding and that you keep reading in your life. What an odd thing to say! But, I realize with more and more alarm, that the pleasures of reading are not necessarily an integral part of everyone’s life and for young people, it’s only one option among many. I can’t imagine life in its fullness without the escape of the printed word, so full of information, emotion and the rich details of other lives, other worlds. Of course, there is the motion picture, which we take in in the form of television, movies and video entertainment. But watching pictures is passive. I have always maintained that reading is active, in that we actively imagine what the words are creating for us. A big difference as we, through the printed word, can shape our own realities, prompted by the descriptions that we read. This is the genius of the written word and may it remain an active, enriching part of our lives always.
In spite of the trend, let’s hope for more, not fewer, words in 2007.
I send my best to all of you.
(P.S. I trust you would let me know if you would like to be taken off the subscriber list!)
Read on for the essay....
With Lots of Love
My mother’s favorite part of the Christmas season was the exchange of cards. “It’s the one time of year I get to hear the news,” she would explain. She did not live far from where she was born and raised but many of her friends, following the end of World War II, had settled in far away places.
Sometime in November, she would set up the card table in her bedroom, organize the cards and envelopes around her and begin. Like a scholar bent over an important work, she spent days crafting her cards, writing each one individually. In her round, open script, she shared what mattered to each of these farflung friends. A small tower of plump, sealed envelopes rose beside her. Once, in the 1950s, a cousin of hers began the tradition of sending out typed newsletters, not even signed personally. My mother felt cheated by this mass production of the yearly greeting.
She always tried to get her cards into the mail by the first week of December. She sent them off as if on the wings of carrier pigeons. She expected something in return.
And her wish was always granted. Waiting for the mail truck to ease away from the mailbox, she pulled on her coat, wrapped her head in woolen scarf, and tucked her feet into her fleece-lined boots for the walk up the driveway, often through new-fallen snow. She returned, clutching the thick, square envelopes, sometimes red or green, like prizes. “There’s one from Claire!” she would exclaim. Claire, her next-door neighbor growing up, was by then living in Florida, the wife of an Army captain, and she always wrote the long messages for which my mother hungered. And there was June, who lived in Massachusetts. And Marguerite who haled from Georgia but who now lived in England with her husband, a teacher, and her children. My mother served in the Marines with Marguerite, a fact which both of them found amusing and perhaps the highlight of their lives. Neither of them were over five feet tall or 100 pounds and they both loved to laugh, which perhaps kept them on an even keel throughout the war. My father, too, received cards with long messages from his old friends who served with him in the African desert and on the island of Corsica. I believe it was through these Christmas cards, with their unmistakable warmth, that I discovered much about my parents’ past.
She didn’t open the cards right away but left them unopened on the hall table. When my father came home from work, they opened them together and sometimes read them out loud. My sister and I sat with them and heard about friends like Claire, whom we had never met, but about whom we knew a great deal.
Some of my friends have abandoned sending cards. Too expensive, they explain. Too time consuming. But, like my mother, I never want to lose touch. Without Christmas cards, I would never know that the little boys I once babysat for are now men, with interesting jobs and children about to go away to college. How can it be, I wonder to myself. Another friend is in remission from her cancer. Another is getting divorced, yet another married. All that life has to offer seems to unfold on this little Christmas stage, which, for my mother, began at a card table.
And so, beginning in November, I settle at the kitchen table and begin to write. My mother would be disheartened to know that most of us, by now, have adopted the method of her forward-thinking cousin, recounting the major events of our year in newsletter style. For the rest, the part that counts, I sometimes stay up till midnight, scribbling personal notes, watching snow fall, and, in the morning, mail them off with lots of love and the strong hope of a return.