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Christmas Cards

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The watery sun codded me. Outside it was a cold December morning and the frost made the opening of the letter box difficult.

The hinged letter-box squeaked as it opened revealing a number of letters of all sorts. I shivered as I removed them and quickly went back indoors; glad to be in the warmth again.

We sat together at the kitchen table and began sorting the post and it was then she said “There it is” pointing at a large red envelope with a very distinctive spidery handwriting in green ink. “That has to be the one from Andy and Betty” my wife confidently predicted, before we even opened the letter. The letter knife keenly opened the envelope and inside was a Christmas card; a Vermeer print of a house scene displaying the colours the artist is famous for.

It was a déjà vu moment. Every year we had received a similar type of card since we moved into this house from people we knew only as Andy and Betty which we had learned from their signatures. We knew nothing else about them except that they posted the letter in Dublin every year on the 8th.of December. We got this information from the legible postmark on the envelope.

The card had no verse but a Gothic script styled “Seasons Greeting” and their spidery first name signatures written on it again in that seasonal green ink. That was our sum total knowledge of the mysterious card senders.

Over the years we had wracked our brains and tried to recall any Andrew or Elizabeth we had ever known and have always drawn a blank. We finally had to admit that we did not know any Andy or Betty and would not even know the card senders if we met them on the street.

But the “who are Andy and Betty” mystery was deeper than that because while the address is correct on the letter the name on the envelope is not our name. Even stranger still it’s not the name of the person we bought the house from ten years ago. We eventually learned it’s the name of the family from whom they bought the house and lived in it for ten years before we bought it from them.

For us this annual card puzzle had become part of our Christmas tradition. Every year we asked ourselves the same questions. Why would someone send cards to people they did not know? Why, we tried to reason, would you send cards to someone who had moved from this address about twenty years ago? And finally, if they did know them why did they not know they had moved twenty years ago? In spite of all our reasoning the motives of our mystery card senders remained unclear.

I know sending cards is increasingly a minority position as the Internet rapidly erodes one of the season’s most charming traditions. But you see along with the rest of the minority I get great pleasure in sending and receiving Christmas cards even though we receive less than half the number we did five years ago. What makes cards special is the time and thought that goes into buying the right card for the person and then posting it including your signature and a short message. A few days later that person opens up an envelope and reads your signature — or better yet, your short note.

What that process says is that friendship or kinship means something and that it’s worth the effort. But, as in the case of Andy and Betty, most importantly the card says that the ties haven’t been broken, that even if you haven’t seen someone in, for example, two decades, that person is still in your heart and thoughts and remains part of your life. And maybe Andy and Betty are right to send those cards because the less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers.

Three years ago, on cue, our card arrived but this time only signed by Betty in a familiar spidery handwriting.

Sadly this year we got no card from Betty. We both prayed she has become a convert to electronic communications.

Michael Slator