Last Christmas

CardsI keep my Christmas Cards from the year before, and pack them away with the decorations and wrapping and other holiday bits every year. It’s partly because I don’t like throwing them out—it seems sort of sad, no?—but also partly organizational. Nothing helps me keep track of my Christmas Card list like the actual cards from the prior year. It’s helpful.

More than a few years ago, just after the holidays, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I went to the U.K. with his father, to visit his grandmother for the occasion of her ninetieth birthday. Between jet-lag and my usual inability to sleep, I was wide awake long before the sun, and when I quietly crept out of bed one morning to sit and read, I was surprised to see my husband’s Nan up already, also reading.

For ninety, Nan was a bright and present woman. She read voraciously, and did the daily newspaper crossword puzzle (often completing it). She kicked butt at Scrabble, as I was to learn, and took no prisoners. I adored her.

That morning, though, we were still mostly strangers (and, I admit, I was very nervous). I wasn’t sure how she might feel about my presence; would I be seen as an interloper? An unwelcome reminder of something she perhaps didn’t like about her grandson?

The short answer was—of course—absolutely not. Her love for my husband was absolute, and she was a wonderful, charming person to chat with.

That morning, our first chat, we talked about our pasts and where I had grown up (I’m also British), and we laughed about some things I don’t really recall. Then, at one point, she was looking at the series of birthday cards lined up on the mantle, and she said, “There were more last year.” She counted them, then nodded. “Last year I had two more.” Then she paused, and tilted her head, and said. “Oh, of course. They died. That’s all right then.”

It was an odd moment. She said it with a twinkle in her eye, and I think that’s when I realized how sharp she was. We had a small laugh—I admitted I’d gotten less than half her number of birthday cards for my last birthday—and we moved on.

When I pulled out the Christmas Cards this year, I found Nan’s card from two years ago. It’s the last one she would send us before she passed, and her handwriting was somehow both lovely and wobbly all at the same time. Last year, I couldn’t bear to throw it out, and put it up with the rest. This year, I did the same, and it’s not the only card we have like that now.

It’s like an echo, really. Or maybe a visit of my version of the ghost of Christmas Past. But it’s lovely to see her handwriting, and remember that visit, and smile every time I look at the cards.


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