Poems & Essays

23 Jun

Creating a Mother Lode of Memories

General/Column No Response

Every year, amidst the busyness of buying and wrapping presents, decorating the house, and baking cookies, I pursue the elusive 25th hour to write, and I create our annual Christmas missive. In her book Gift of a Letter, Alexandra Stoddard says, “A letter is a gift we give ourselves.” It took me thirty consecutive years of writing and sending glad tidings to fully understand and appreciate that gift.

Each year at Christmas, I eagerly check the mailbox, anxious to catch up through the yearly communications with our friends and family in faraway places, rejoicing in receiving correspondence that is not junk mail or another bill. I look forward to reading about what has transpired in the lives of our friends as well as sharing the news of our family. Perhaps Stoddard is right in her assertion that, “We yearn to be part of our fellow travelers’ journey.”

Over the past thirty years, the glad tidings that I recounted in our letters spoke of our family’s journey, such as a child on the way (that happened six times); a new puppy (that happened twice); a move to a new duty station; a child playing soccer or baseball, ice skating, riding a horse, doing gymnastics, dancing, or making music with a flute, piccolo, saxophone, violin, or piano; excursions to Summer Haven Lake in Nebraska; a child graduating from high school or college (thankfully that happened many times); and most recently, one of our five daughters getting engaged. Our letters, which we always kept to one page despite the size of our family, told of that year’s “great accumulation of cheerful recollections,” a term that Charles Dickens used in one of his Christmas letters. In time, those recollections became a mother lode of memories.

They were magical memories recorded by me, the mother of six, who was always too busy living to consistently record life on a daily basis. Novelist and essayist Anna Quindlen is often asked by students if she keeps a journal, and she responds, “I am always a little abashed to admit that I never have.” Stumbling across her confession in her book Loud and Clear alleviates my unfounded fear that writers who don’t journal regularly don’t publish.

I realize now that I do journal regularly, through these Christmas letters. Each epistle has a theme, a quote and a wish for the reader. Originally I wrote just to share the news of our large and growing family. But, as time passed, the purpose of the letter changed. The correspondence became a way to renew cherished friendships and affirm the affection that we do experience in our lives.

Perhaps that is the main reason I write Christmas letters. It personally and lovingly reconnects family and friends who are often separated by time and distance. Email, Facebook and Twitter have made communicating fast, easy and efficient but they lack the personal touch. There is something special about going to the mailbox in December and finding Christmas cards and letters. The writer of the glad tidings has made it clear that friendship and kinship are to be valued, remembered and celebrated. It is an old-fashioned and personal connection that fast-paced technology cannot emulate.

Stoddard contends that “a letter is magical.” While the letter lovingly and creatively written connects us with our friends and relatives, it also unites our immediate family in a magical way. The holidays bring the children home. The letter brings them to the table.

Now, as the children come home from college or their own homes, I invite them to join me in the writing and editing the Christmas letter. Upon completion and final proofreading by everyone, we gather around the table to “publish” the letter. The large dining room table, bereft of its usual tablecloth and showing well-worn stains of paint, markers and glue from bygone days of crafting with the kids, is an old familiar work place that resurfaces for another purpose in the days of December.

Neatly stacked on the table are 130 Christmas cards and envelopes, the equivalent number of letters printed out on beautifully decorated holiday paper that matches the theme of the missive, family photos, mailing labels and stamps. Each child takes responsibility for one part of the process and in assembly-line fashion, the Christmas card and letters are compiled and prepared for mailing. As we sit together, our family reunited around the table where we have shared so many meals, I enjoy the gift of being with the ones I love at a special time of year.

As Stoddard says, “A letter is a gift we give ourselves.” Looking at the “great “accumulation of cheerful recollections” over the past thirty years, I see a tangible gift that I could not have imagined three decades ago. I now have a multitude of individual Christmas letters in my hand but they are no longer just holiday greetings. Together, they are the pages of our past, the book of our lives that records our family’s journey from one child to six, from new parents to empty nesters, from chaotic days of making memories, to more tranquil days of reminiscing. I did not know it then, but thirty years ago, when I first sat down to write a letter about our family’s journey, I began a heartfelt tradition that brought years of glad tidings back to me, to the woman who was too busy living to consistently keep a journal. But now I have my own unique journal of Christmases past—a mother lode of memories that is indeed magical.

 

Columnist Lori Drake is the mother of six children and the founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, which was the only girls’ school in eastern North Carolina. Her writing has appeared in Mothers Always Write, San Diego Woman, Daily Nebraskan, Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland, and the Daily Reflector and the Farmville Enterprise in North Carolina. The recipient of three Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest National Competition, Lori is currently writing a book about her innovative school.

 

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