When I was a child, my parents weren't particularly social people. They had a small troupe of friends, sure, but weren't involved in many activities outside of our own little family.
They didn't go to PTA meetings, church or neighborhood get-togethers.
Yet, when Christmas came, our halls were decked from one side to the other with beautiful holiday cards. They were gold, silver, embossed, cut-outs and some with pop-up St. Nicks. There were cards of Nativity scenes, merry Santas, smiling snowmen, holly wreaths, old-time carolers and families gathered around the Christmas tree.
When my sister and I were very young, my grandmother sent cards that doubled as ornaments or pictures to color. Her cards also included cash, one dollar for each year of our age. I still can see her ornate signature from long ago -- "Grampa and Gram."
I was especially enamored with the twinkly winter-wonderland-style cards with evergreens, houses and country churches covered in puffy, glittery snow. Or the ones with a real picture of Santa Claus, not a cartoon characterization.
The cards began arriving shortly after Thanksgiving, and by mid-December, numbered in the dozens. My mother neatly taped the cards first around the living room doorway, then up around the recessed gun cabinet and into the kitchen. If something wasn't moving, my mother hung an ornament on it or taped a greeting to it.
Cards from family usually included school photos of the cousins we saw but once a year. That was in the era before photo greeting cards and e-mail. Even the cards from our baker man, gas man and insurance agent were personally signed by everyone in the office.
I miss those cards.
It's probably been 20 years since I got more than a half dozen cards during the holidays. But, I admit, I don't send them either.
I could blame it on the cost of postage. First Class stamps were six cents when I was a youngster, 38 cents less than now, and more than that to send one of those big, thick cards.
It isn't just the price of stamps, however. It seems most folks, me included, don't send cards or write letters like they used to.
While sorting through an old box of sewing patterns for my mother the other day, I came across a letter I'd written to her in 1989. I had gone into great detail about the weather (which was actually quite fascinating) and how I'd just finished canning 15 quarts of really good dill pickles. I wrote out the recipe for her.
I told her how I grew an 80-pound pumpkin that made eight pies, divided evenly between our freezer and the church fall festival, and another dozen or so quarts of canned pumpkin. Two teenage neighbor girls came over to learn how to prepare and can the pumpkin. I took a picture of my kids, then 9-months, two and three years old, sitting atop the huge pumpkin, to send along with the letter.
My note brought back memories that weren't in the letter. For instance, I ended up dumping out all the quarts of pumpkin I canned, as I didn't have the jars in the canner long enough and the pumpkin spoiled. Also, when showing the girls how to mix pumpkin pie filling for the first pie, I accidently spooned in chili powder instead of cloves. Oops.
My letter was four pages long and packed with information. But the thing that stood out to me is that I drafted that letter between taking care of a baby, two toddlers, picking cucumbers, brewing up pickles, making pumpkin pies, entertaining teenagers and sewing wise men and angel costumes for the church's Christmas program.
I suppose that's why my mother kept the letter.
E-mail, text messaging, Facebook and perfectly typed, computer-generated correspondence isn't anyway near the same as a note penned in one's own hand.
I have kept few mementos through my years of traveling and moving, but I do still have a box of letters from friends, my dad, grandparents and others that date to my high school years.
This Christmas, I am going to write some letters. Really. If I hurry, I might even get a card or two back from some long-lost friends and cousins.
I hope so.