For the most part, the tone of the Christmas letters we now receive has changed. All braggadocio is gone. Tender words expressing a grandparent’s state of “ga-ga” over grandchildren share space with ruminations about retirement. Some, of course, send an extensive travelogue (without, alas, a single “Wish you were here”), as if Life were now measured in miles traveled or continents trekked. And others, a litany of medical complaints because their lives are, I guess, measured in doctors’ appointments. From the dearest of friends whose paths we crossed ages and stages ago, with whom we keep in touch primarily via this annual letter at Christmastime, we do receive genuine news, some genuinely disturbing -- a stroke, an affair -- some genuinely moving -- a marriage challenged and enriched by a cross-country move -- and some political, and eagerly awaited, as in “I wonder what \_____ will have to say about *that* this year!”
The best letters of 2010, however, came to my 88 year-old father. One guy, an old fishing buddy whose wife died two years ago, wrote that he was waiting for Santa to decorate his house, just like he (obviously) decorated all his neighbors’. And then he told of a cruise he took, accompanied by two (!) widowed companions, which is, he said, the only way to go. “We did not, however, share a tent,” he added. My father giggled.
Another friend from my father’s home town wrote that he and his wife had recently moved into a new retirement home in Arizona “with 700 other old farts.” They exercise daily, he reported, and swim several times a week, “in order to live to 90,” which is “ludicrous,” he then added, because “at $10,000 a month, we really can’t afford to live that long.” Again, he made my father laugh, and then ask, hours later, “$10,000 a month?” as if, maybe, the fees he pays aren’t so out of line after all.
A third tome came from an old neighbor. It was a long, lewd story about golf, a joke the wife said her husband told her to send to Bill because he thought he would enjoy it. Never one for obscene jokes, what my father enjoyed was his daughters’ embarrassment and disgust while we were reading it aloud to him, and then all of our laughter as we wondered what had prompted these really very benign, rather dull neighbors to send it to Dad.
Every card Dad got this year was a gift of remembrance; these letters were just particularly priceless. Clearly a few of the mind’s governors that keep our public ruminations in check have worn out in some of these guys. (I’ll make a note of that and file it away, hoping it will remind me to have my Christmas letters edited every year.) But really, so what? What’s a holiday without a little raucous laughter, a bit of joy?
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