Not that long ago I was cleaning out a file drawer that hadn’t seen daylight in years. I found a treasure trove of paper, including our Christmas letters from the nineties. Better yet, there were letters from our friends with their Christmas news. What a joy to read through some of those old letters, partially renewing friendships that have long since faded.
When we first got a computer in the house, in the early eighties, one of the first tasks I gave the machine was an address book application, primarily to keep track of our Christmas card list. We sent and received dozens and dozens of cards each year. We spent hours fretting over what to put into the letter, much as I do today writing these blog entries.
Differences in Christmas letter style were obvious then, and stark today. Far too many were the stereotypical good news missives. Some letters were all about how their award-winning son was traveling through Europe this semester, with news of their intelligent daughter giving a concert for the fund-raising gala. Reading them now gives me a chuckle, they apparently felt the need to upgrade their status. Other letters were replete with whining. Daddy had a stroke, daughter broke her arm, grandma had surgery. They needed sympathy more than the average Joe, maybe more than we had to share.
My job was writing the Christmas letters, with the direction that I neither brag nor complain. As Joe Friday used to say: “Just the facts, ma’am.” It was a tough balance, but we had both joys and challenges to fill our lives, just like today, and just like the families who highlighted the good news or wallowed in their sorrows.
The attached letter is from 1995, just twenty years ago. On one hand, I am shocked at the amount of change in our lives since then; although I shouldn’t be, it’s been twenty years, for God’s sake! You be the judge on how well I did avoiding the stereotype good and sad versions of Christmas letters.
We quit sending letters about ten years ago; one year it was just more than I wanted to handle, then it just wasn’t important. Sending a hundred cards today would cost a couple of hundred dollars, significant but not beyond our ability. I don’t think it was the money. Perhaps more important it would take me a couple of dozen hours to write the letter, sort the cards, and finish all the administrative details. I don’t want to take that much time.
In the nineties we tried to keep in touch with people, but there was a lot more friction in the process then than now. Writing letters took a long time compared to an email or text message today. Making a phone call thirty years ago was expensive and usually ended in failure, because the intended wasn’t home that evening. Today there’s no cost for stamps, no rummaging in the desk for an envelope, and the message is delivered instantly. Email and texts become more of a conversation. By the time the holidays come around again there is much less need for the glowing summary of the years highlights.
As I dug through the folders of letters from long-lost friends I realize that there is a longer term benefit to the Christmas letters. They are our history. Text messages, emails, and phone conversations are ephemeral. In 2050 nobody is going to dig into a musty file cabinet and find my Christmas letter from 2015. We didn’t write one. How will they know what our life was like in the early twenty-first century? They won’t even be able to look.
We knew a lot of people who exchanged Christmas letters with us for years. Bess. Bruce. Alan. So many more. All I have are memories and the yellowing letters. My kids won’t have my memories, only what I’ve written for them.
Hello to all of you in 2050.
Christmas letter from the Havelicks in 1995
We hope this letter finds you well and happy with 1995. We definitely had a great year. Best wishes for the new year.
Now you can say we’re all wet. At the end of summer we dug a hole in the back yard, lined it with plastic and filled it with water and fish. This has been a long time dream, to have a pond. Today there is thick ice on the surface, a small hole where the bubbles keep some water open, and the occasional fish peeks out the hole. Birds and squirrels love the open water so we always have entertainment.
The whole family took two vacations in 1995. We stayed at the lake for a week. Lon’s girlfriend and her daughter came for a few days, Mara’s friend Jessica from Fargo visited, and Jim was there for a few days. For the umpteenth year in a row it was cold and cloudy. The rest of the summer was hot and muggy, but not our week.
The Havelick brood all got together in Custer, South Dakota for a week of relaxing and tourist traps. This is the first time the boys and their families vacationed together. We loved it.
Mara Hits the Ropes!
Without a doubt, the highlight of Mara’s year was the trip to the Forest Resources Center in Lanesboro. She and her friend Erin finished the High Ropes Confidence Course. There are a dozen different configurations of ropes tied between trees thirty feet off the ground. What a challenge! She did it perfectly.
Mara traveled alone to Denver this year to visit her cousins Erin, Kevin and Danny. She got to see them again when we were in the Black Hills.
The other big news is that she turned 15 on the 15th of November. Fifteen is the magic year when drivers training and drivers permit happens.
Lon Moves Out!
1995 was a banner year for Lon. Certainly the highlight was graduating from high school. He celebrated with an open house party in the back yard.
He bought a car just in time for the lake vacation, so he was much more mobile this year. He loves his car.
Lon is now living in an apartment with one of his high school buddies. They both drive for delivery operations. He learned a lot about life since moving out. We are all very happy with the arrangement.
Judy: Miss October
Judy’s manager played a trick on her this year. Thinking she was going to meet a local celebrity, Judy was enticed to a store meeting where she was presented with the well-deserved title of Employee of the Month. Her picture will be proudly displayed in the store for a year. (There were also monetary rewards!)
Judy spent three days in the hospital as a guinea pig for diabetes research. Mayo Clinic paid her, but she paid much more, if you know what I mean.
Guy still has a job!
Guy had the unique opportunity to publicly say good-bye to Pastor Tom Renquist this year. Tom left Good Shepherd Church to begin a mission church in Colorado after fifteen years. It was quite an honor to give the keynote “eulogy” at the farewell party.
This was another tough year at IBM. Resource Reductions are still going on, but Guy still has a job. These are difficult times to manage in IBM.