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Dana Parsons

With the Cards Comes Longing

December 25, 1991|Dana Parsons

Back in the days before nuclear families were dissolved and then blended, like so many banana daiquiris, our clan was the Three Mile Island of families.

My paternal grandparents had four children, each of whom married and had three, two, four, and three kids. All four families lived in the same city and got together every Christmas during the '50s and early '60s, until most of us 12 grandkids had grown up.

At the Christmas gatherings, my slightly eccentric and ahead-of-his-time teen-age cousin would walk around with a tape recorder, getting us to make impromptu remarks or, better yet, to sing. He's particularly proud of catching my uncle, now dead, actually falling backward out of his chair. On the tape, you can hear the chair breaking. On a purely artistic level, however, my rendition of the Daffy Duck song, performed live when I was about 5 or 6, still stands as a singular achievement in the field of barely discernible childhood crooning.

What strikes me now about those gatherings is the closeness of family--how we all knew what each had been doing during the year. We didn't need Christmastime to catch up on each other's lives. Our parents socialized during the year and sometimes even vacationed together; cousins visited each other and sometimes spent weekends together.

But families and friends drift apart. For example, those 12 grandkids now live in eight different cities. That melancholy realization settles in ever more deeply around Christmas while going through the cards from some of my best friends. While thinking of them often during the year, I realize that the cards become a sort of updated report on the year they've just had. And how quickly the time gets away.

One friend from New York wrote: "How does this time of year get so harried? Baby No. 2 is due in March."

Baby No. 2? How could she be six months pregnant and I not have heard about it? Geez, we used to stay in touch fairly regularly.

A friend from Nebraska wrote that his eldest daughter is a drum major for her high school marching band and is starting to consider a choice for college.

College? I remember her birth, for Pete's sake.

A college chum writes on his card: "I achieved three major breakthroughs this year: I climbed Grand Teton, I went to Germany where I had a wonderful reunion with German friends I hadn't seen in over 20 years, and I'm still seeing the same girlfriend as last year. A fourth breakthrough is the rapid intrusion of gray hairs in 1991."

He climbed the Tetons? Why didn't he get on the phone and tell me about that? And seeing the same girlfriend? Surely, that should have warranted a letter. Maybe even a telegram.

Another friend, also pregnant, wrote of a scare: "I've had a couple of ultrasounds and the baby looks fine, so the doc said I could go back to work as long as I took it easy."

She's one of my favorite friends and there was a time when I would have known right away about something that serious. I almost feel cheated that I hadn't heard about it sooner.

One of my cousins sent a card with furry creatures cascading down a hill in a teacup. The letter inside said: "The picture on the card depicts our current state--downhill fast with no control. But we seem to meet each challenge head-on and are surviving the chaos of moving and rearranging our lives at Christmas."

Like lots of people, they learned a lesson about the tenuousness of employment these days. After nearly 20 years with the same company, my cousin had to go job-hunting. Luckily, he found another job quickly, but they had to move. He's 41, but in my mind's eye, he's still the funny cousin who as a kid would only watch "The Rifleman" TV show while wearing a bathrobe over a shirt and one of his father's ties. Don't ask me to explain it; we never did figure it out. I just know I miss him and that once-a-year correspondences between us aren't enough.

So be it resolved, I guess, that I vow to stay in closer touch with friends and relatives alike in 1992. I know we're not living in the nuclear age anymore and that life gets crazy, but my goal for next year is to not be surprised by one thing I read in a Christmas card.

CHRISTMAS CHEER DEPT.: To the readers of this column. Your insightful and/or amusing letters are the best part of the job. They always seem to arrive just when I'm about to call up the doctor with the suicide machine. And for those who disagree with things written here, thanks for your civility. If my mail is any judge, this newspaper has a classy clientele. Please accept a demand that you all have a great holiday season.

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