She got the first card when she was only five years old. She still has it. She has them all. Thirty four Christmases…thirty four Cards. All of them identical on the outside: a small snowgirl is holding stick hands with a small snowboy- a big charcoal smile on both their faces. She has a pink scarf around her neck and a lovely summer hat with a rose on the side of it on her head. He has a top hat that is a shiny barrel shape and a very dark grey scarf tied in a lovely loose knot around his neck.
On their stick hands - she has a lovely pair of mittens. He has on his stick hands a pair of rather elegant old leather driving gloves. Their eyes are made of pieces of very shiny charcoal: very dark, very pretty. With an Artist’s touch, or the imagination of a child, both snow creatures had eyebrows. Her's were thin and arched, while his were a dusty bushy gray. Her’s were made with pieces of felt, and his were made from dryer lint. It sounds tacky, but on the Card, and the Snow people…it was a beautiful effect.
The front of the card never changed. The gilded edge. The soft flowing snow. The two figures nestled in front of a wild pine decorated with popcorn garlands and tinsel. The two snow people on the front of the card never grew up, or older. On every card they were always in the same position, facing each other, holding stick hands, eyes glistening, and big charcoal smiles on their faces. It made her smile every Christmas to open the envelope and see the Snow boy, and Snow girl, on the cover of the card. Her smile was a big as theirs with glistening shiny eyes to match as she studied the card for a bit before opening it.
While the outside was always the same in its comfortable and comforting unchangingness; the inside was always different. The first card all those years ago had only: “Merry Christmas! I love you.” scrawled in a child’s angled letters. There was a five dollar bill: crisp, new, sharp, placed on the inside too.
When she was fourteen, her father had promised her a bike. He had shown her the one she wanted at Wall-Mart. It was pink with white fenders and purple streamers. It had a small basket on the front and a bell, not a horn, on the handle bars. She thought it was the prettiest bike…EVER. She spent many happy hours in her mind riding that bike around the neighborhood and over to Becky’s house. A month before Christmas her Father died. His death brought the whole family to their knees, and killed her dream bike cold.
Christmas Eve she got her card in the mail. As sad as she was, as dreary as the house had become, the waves of melancholy were swept aside by bittersweet tears she shed as she saw the Snow People on the front of the card. It made her smile awkwardly as grief warred with comfort. She opened the card up. The penmanship had grown from child like scrawls to a very masculine cursive. A cursive that held promise of becoming very legible in the future. A short note was written in that thick cursive lettering. When she held the card to read the writing, a small coupon fell out. It wasn’t a coupon…it was a receipt.
“What in the world?” whispered from her mouth.
She held the receipt in one hand as she read the note (out loud) from the other hand:
“I hope you have a Merry Christmas. I know tragedy has struck your family. Your Dad wanted you to have a Merry Christmas. (Her eyes stung. It took a minute to stop shaking and read on.) He wanted to get you a bike. A pink bike with white fenders, a small basket on the front, purple streamers coming out of the handlebar grips and a bell, not a horn, on the handlebars.
Here is a receipt for Layaway at Wall-Mart. It is paid for. All you have to do is bring the receipt in to Layaway- and they will give you your bike. Oh…and I know it has been hard on your Mother and Sister too. So don’t tell them, but when you pick up the bike, there will be a new washer/dryer for your Mom. Your sister will get that smart watch with the camera on it she thinks is so cool. And don’t worry, the Store will deliver the washer/dryer to your house. Merry Christmas.”
She ran down to show the receipt to her Mother. Her mom wearily packed the two kids into the car. She wasn’t expecting much when they handed the clerk the receipt. When the clerk came back with the very bike her husband (Dave) was going to get for her daughter…she almost broke down. When the clerk told her to wait, and went back and got the Washer/Dryer (still in their cardboard boxes)- then placed the smart watch on the counter…well, she did break down. A small family hug fest followed. Tears of joy, relief, and awe sprinkled the blouses, coats, and floor. It was a miracle. It was a Merry Christmas.
When she was seventeen, a Senior in High School, she got her letter of acceptance into an Ivy League School. It came during Christmas break. It was with sad pride that her, her sister, and her mother read the perfect block letters on expensive paper. She could never afford that school. Not even with the three different partial scholarships she earned. They wouldn’t even make a dent in the tuition, let alone pay for room and board. She tried not to cry in front of her Mom and little sister…but failed. Another hug fest followed. This one, not of joy, but safety.
Two days later she got her Christmas Card. Same snow people on the front. Same delay in looking inside as she spent a few moments with a big smile looking at the snow boy and snow girl holding hands. Some of the gloom and disappointment slipped out from her mood. The card always had a comforting comfortable affect on her.
She opened it up. The Cursive handwriting was more sure now. The loops thick and flowing. A boy verging on manhood wrote the note. She was sure of it. She read it out loud. The shriek she gave out at the end brought both her mother and sister flying up the steps to her room. When they burst in her room: out of breath, scared, afraid, and expecting the worse…they saw a scene they could never have imagined.
The Card was on her lap. In one hand she was holding the keys to a reliable brand new Fiat car. In her other hand was a note from the Bursar’s Office of that Ivy League School. It informed her that her tuition, room and board, had been paid- in full, for the entire four years.
This hug fest took place in a pile of feminine forms struggling to keep back tears and giggles as a miracle settled over them.
The Cards came every year. Like clock work. Sometimes with just a beautiful, almost calligraphy capable cursive saying: Merry Christmas, I love you. Other times, like when she went through that brutal divorce over a very short lived marriage, but the longest year of her life…by far, there was something more than a note inside. That year, a year that sapped all the joy out of what should have been a happy building year- the Divorce was final. She had paid too much in emotion, and money…but she didn’t care. It was over. He was out of her life.
She was very close to thinking some very dark thoughts. Thoughts that included removing herself from the pain of living every day, when the Card came. She barely managed to smile as she lifted the card to run her fingers over the gilded edge and kiss lightly the two snow people. She whispered what was almost a prayer:
“You two have made it work for decades. What’s your secret?”
It must have been her imagination. For she swore the two figures smiles got bigger, and the snow boy winked. She shook her head to clear that image, as fleeting as it was, it was all she needed to get her thoughts reined in from that dark trajectory.
The Card had that very masculine cursive writing on it. Whoever it was, he was no longer a little boy. A man wrote this note. A kind, caring, thoughtful man. The kind she thought she had married. He fooled her. The man that wrote this note…wasn’t fooling.
“Merry Christmas. I love you. He…did not. I can’t help with the pain, or the shattered dreams. (She held that sentence up and sniffed it- the perfume of comfort flowed into her senses.) What I can do is on the little card that fell out when you opened the big card. Have fun!”
She picked up the little card that fell on her lap. She studied it for a minute…maybe longer. She pulled out her smartphone and called her Mom and Sister:
“Hey you two, pack a suitcase. We all leave for Bali on Monday!”
And they did.
Now she was almost forty. For thirty four years, she had gotten her beloved card the week of Christmas. Tomorrow was Christmas, and still no card. The Post Office doesn’t deliver on Christmas. She was forty now, and age and time were conspiring to make her feel old. She was single. That one year burned any little princess fantasy of a night in shining armor forever out of her mind…and heart. She had friends. She had her Mom and little sister. (and she was very very glad that her sister did find a good guy.) But she lived alone. Sometimes she lived lonely. This Christmas Eve was a living lonely time. Her card didn’t come. It broke her heart.
She went into the kitchen to make hot chocolate and got down a bag of Oreos. She would dip the Oreos in the hot chocolate - and read through her box of thirty four cards. Maybe that would help. As she dipped her first Oreo, and picked up her first card to read (the one with only a child’s handwriting on it) the doorbell rang.
“Darn. Who the heck rings your doorbell at Midnight on Christmas Eve?”
She peeked through the eye hole. It was a man. He had on a dark gray scarf, a shiny barrel top hat, and bushy eyebrows over twinkling brown eyes. He looked familiar. She studied him some more. He was holding a card in one hand, it was in the same kind of lovely deep Christmas red envelope that all of her cards came in. The card was cradled in a hand covered with an elegant old leather riding glove. The kind they wore in Hollywood movies of the thirties, or the Posh Folks over in England might wear in the winter. The hand reaching to ring her bell again, had a matching glove on it.
She opened the door. Her mind was reeling. Thought after thought barreling down what was left of her sanity, bashing up against reality and pushing it aside. She heard herself screaming inside: “It couldn’t be. It isn’t possible. It…it…it…”
The door opened wide. Not as wide as the smile on the man who was looking at her with what could only be called…Hope. He handed her the card. And for the first time in thirty four years, she heard the voice that matched the handwriting: flowing, soft, masculine.
“Hello! Merry Christmas! I love you. I thought I would bring the card myself this year…and some few items. Do you mind?”
“Mind…MIND…I must be out of my mind. This is crazy. No, I don’t mind. I don’t want this dream to end.”
Her hand reached for his anyway. Not consciously anyway. She didn’t know what surprised her more- how natural it felt when her hand grabbed his, or the fact that she was now wearing mittens. A second surprise came when he straightened her scarf with a satisfied : “There, now that’s perfect.” He turned to let her slip beside him as they headed towards his car. She closed the door behind her. A little gust of wind caught the brim of her summer hat. She smiled as her mittened hand pushed the rose on her hat back to an upright position.
They stood in the snow on her unshoveled sidewalk. The warm light of her tree putting just enough light on the snow to reflect back their shadows as two cold noses and warm lips met.
On the card, as yet unopened, two snow people leaned against each other.