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Another Day in the Country

Cards that come in the mail

© Another Day in the Country

I got my first Christmas card BEFORE Thanksgiving.

It was from my pen pal friend Jimmy, who has lived most of his life in San Quentin prison. I think he was worried about the impact of COVID-19 in the Midwest, where mask-wearing seemed to be up for grabs. Maybe he was worried I wouldn’t make it to December, so he’d get his card to me early.

The Christmas cards started dribbling in once December came up on the calendar. Jimmy sent a second card, wanting to make sure my little mailbox by the road had something more than magazines and bills inside.

There were notes from cousins checking in, inquiring about our safety. There were newsletters from California and news from Windsor, Kansas — more cousins. In between taking batches of cookies out of the oven, I started writing our “newsletter” that we’d include with the cookies, when it was possible. 

“What do you say?” we asked each other, since Jess and I share the newsletter. “What was exciting about 2020?” we wondered — besides the election (a subject we don’t broach outside the house) and political high jinks (which we won’t mention) and COVID-19 (which we are trying to steer clear of).

We picked up the mail at the post office box where the business mail usually arrives, and there was an old familiar postcard.

It came from a longtime friend who taught at a college in Singapore years and years ago.

It was 1992, and he called and said, “Pat, we’ve got an art project that is in need of an artist/writer and I can only think of you! As usual, we have no budget to speak of; but would you consider coming to Singapore if we pay your way, give you a stipend and you can live with us?”

I said yes before he even finished the sentence. Turned out they needed a college bulletin written and a promotional campaign.

“Let’s also include a postcard,” I suggested to them. “A miniature of the poster we’re sending out, in black and white.”

It was this postcard, 30 years later, which came in the mail. But it was the message on the card that made my whole Christmas season spectacular.

“Knowing you made me a better man — and probably a better husband,” he wrote. “Thank you for the memories, the richness you contributed to my life.”

Aaaahhhh! That was such a nice card to receive and the fact that he’d kept one of those postcards all these years — I’m sure I have a couple of those stashed on a bookshelf inside the college bulletin that was so much fun to put together. I sent one back to him!

I began reminiscing about my time in Singapore as Jess and I drove to exercise in Abilene. I ended up staying for three months and going on spring break to Bali — a place I could only have dreamed of visiting in my imagination — and here I was walking in the rice paddies, my camera clicking!

“So how did knowing Gary and Norma change your life?” my sister asked. 

“For starters, I’d gotten to travel half way around the world because of them,” I said. “I was in my early 20s when I first met them — it was before Gary went to college. And suddenly my black and white world went Technicolor.” 

“You’ve had such an interesting life,” Jess commented. “It’s been like this great adventure!”

She laughed. “By contrast, my life has been like this sordid romance novel.”

This got us talking about the lives of different people we knew. What would the story of their life be like and what would be the title of the book?

“ ‘Save the World and Preach the Gospel,’ is the story of Dad’s life,” I said to Jess. “And Mom would have written one of those big gardening books, ‘Dinner Plate Dahlias’ or ‘Compost Gardening for Beginners.’ ”

We chuckled at the thought. 

We were on a roll, and decided Aunt Gertie’s book would be called, “This and That! How to Save Everything.”

Aunt Anna’s book would be “Here I Stand, a Lutheran Devotional.”

The conversation was getting interesting, so I texted friends and family.

Jana said that her book would be either “A Force of Nature!” or “The Girl that Could.”

She’s holding her breath that the state of California won’t order all exercise facilities, like the spa she manages, to shut down again.

LeeRoy says his book will be called, “Making Loose Ends Meet in the Middle.”

That sounds like a great book — he’d better write it. I wanna read it! 

My friend Pete said, “Oh this may sound too Christmassy — how about “It’s Been A Wonderful Life.”

I’m feeling Christmassy as we share this moment together. We’ve made it through the year 2020, by carefully surviving, laughing, loving, and just hangin’ in there on another day in the country.

Last modified Dec. 31, 2020

 

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