Years of receiving Christmas cards led me to a recent moment when I saw Mosey Covington's perfect penmanship on the white board in the teacher's lounge. Mosey teaches fourth grade at Mark Twain, the school where I teach. As I read the note, my eyes must have dialed up three Santa heads in a row ... I was Mosey's jackpot.
Once home, I dug into the closet under the stairs. Pushing aside puffy jackets and diving in between a plush kangaroo costume and a wizard's cape, I spied it - a white business box with thick, black marker letters.
There are two Christmas boxes I keep in the house for preservation from summer heat and the winter frost. One is my box of Christmas CDs and movies (VHS, still!). The other is my Christmas card box. This box contains a file of every holiday letter I've ever written, Christmas stickers (what a strange affection I've never outgrown), boxes of Christmas cards bought in previous years at rock-bottom prices (but then didn't use because they didn't fit my new holiday "mood") and a huge Zip-loc bag of received Christmas cards.
I don't know why I save the cards. I just can't bear to throw them away once Christmas is over. After the decorations are put away, I look at them one more time - admire the sparkly Santa beard, gold-foil-embossed ornaments, delicate Mary loving her swaddled babe or intricate etched holly along the border. I reread the sentiment, study the signature, and then bag them.
The note on the white board spoke to me. I had something someone else wanted. This excited me and gave the cards purpose. Fourth-graders needed them.
I made a cup of hot tea and sat down to look through a stack of cards thicker than a yule log. I couldn't let them go without checking them out one more time. I was surprised by how old some of them were - one dated 1990. Even the cards without dates identified a specific time by their greeting. "To Robert, Tracy, Andrew and Baby Girl." The signatures equally held time stamps. I saw Great-Grandma Kirk's distinctive scrawl marred by an ink imprint from a crisp $5 bill. One card held my dad's small signature, with its twisted uppercase "d." Grandma Kaye and Grandpa Ed. Susan's tight cursive.
I didn't hold back tears on seeing handwritten names of people I love and miss. Then there were names that no longer go together. Folks, whose relationships like mine, changed. And added names. One by one, year after year. How funny to see a card from the Anderson family with just Shawn, LaVon and Jaklyn's names on it - they are now a family of six.
I saved any card I couldn't give away ... like the ones my children Emily or Andrew created with their big, sloppy, loving letters. I placed all of the "used" cards in a shoebox and secured it with a rubber band.
The next morning, I walked into Mosey's class carrying my donation. She looked at me and knew what I had. Effusively, she thanked me and showed me the project the fourth-graders planned to make with my cards: a double-sided ornament, cut down from Christmas cards, hole-punched, and threaded with yarn. A ribbon embellished the craft and allowed it to hang.
"Once they master making one, they want to make a hundred," she beamed.
I love Christmas cards. What a sweet tradition to personally connect with the people in our lives we care for. Cards take time to buy, address and mail. In this day of e-mail and e-cards, it's special to receive something of heft in the mail, something to hold and read at the end of a hustle-bustle December day.
I just thought you all should know. I finally gave away the cards you've sent. But think about it - your card may be proudly hanging on a gift, or dangling off a pine branch. It's been manipulated by a child's hand and now, instead of being stored in darkness, it reflects that child's light.
Letting go, letting good. I'm learning. Merry Christmas.
n Tracy Schmid is a first-grade teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School.