Wednesday, December 19, 2012

handing it down

Whether it is a vintage patchwork quilt made by Aunt Bess, or a handcrafted ornament made by Papaw Austin, or Inez's Christmas cookie recipe - handing things down from generation to generation is an essential part of being a family.  And not just tangible items, also ideals, stories, and traditions.  Family traditions help to build a sense of identity and closeness and security.

Growing up an Army brat and moving around a lot, family traditions were important to me.  No matter where we lived, we always found a live Christmas tree, my dad would fashion a tree stand out of some wood, and my mom would carefully unpack the ornaments that she moved from year to year to decorate the tree, with the final touch always lots of those silver 'icicles' (you know the kind that would end up all over the house and could be found months later).  And also every year my mom would get out her address book to send Christmas cards.  Being in the military, my folks made friends everywhere they went and kept in touch with a lot of them.  And of course there were lots of family names on the list.  As I looked through the address book, I would be excited when I recognized someone.  Mother Hanie, Aunt Allene, Wilbur and Jessilee, then there were names I didn't recognize - Byron Austin ? who is that, mom?   She would say, "Oh an uncle - we call him Rat, he is the blacksheep of the family…"

Most of the people's names I did not recognize, probably had never even met some of them.  Did my folks really have this many friends?   Wow!  It is like today on Facebook - your friend list may be long, but how many of these people do you really see or even know? 

But back to the annual Christmas cards.  When I was a little girl, I would watch my mom address the letters by hand and sign the cards and lick the stamps.  I wanted to help!  As the years passed and my penmanship improved, she would let me do a little more each year.  I started out just stuffing the envelopes, then graduated to writing the return address, and finally writing the main address, very carefully and in cursive of course!  She would write a note to most folks, a little summary of where we were living at the time and how we were doing. 

The annual tradition continues at our house - but an updated version, computer-generated letter and address labels, self-stick stamps, even a database of names and addresses.  It all seems so impersonal, and it would be if not for the enclosed letter (hopefully this personal account of our family happenings will offset all the impersonal).  I guess it depends on where Buddy's head is at the time he writes his annual letter, but no matter how stressed out he is at work, he always manages to come up with a good Christmas Letter.  And if you didn't get one in the mail, here is a free web version of the 23rd annual Christmas Letter.

And the tradition continues... our daughters have both written Christmas letters and sent them out, now our granddaughter Madison (age 15) has taken over the chore/honor and is writing her family's yearly letter.

For us, this annual card is the only form of communication that we have with a lot of the folks on our list, and for the acquaintances we have made over the years, it is probably sufficient.  But for many years now I have let this be the only tie between us and good friends and family, not a good thing.  With the arrival of email and Facebook etc., you have the illusion of staying in touch with everyone, and in some ways it works well, but there are those who fall through the cracks, the aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who are not online, not connected, who are out there, possibly living alone, wishing for a real letter or phone call.

So if you have friends or family out there, stay in touch, you will be glad you did.  Call them or send a card or take them some of your holiday baked goods, or hand something down - like that poinsettia the boss sent… 

1 comment:

Linda J said...

I love Buddy's Christmas letters but I also love following along with YOU throughout the year.

Merry Christmas, Susan and Buddy.