Phone Rings: Me: ‘Hello? Yes. Oh, it’s you. No, I am still alive. I didn’t send you a Christmas card to you this year because I haven’t heard from you in person for six years, not since the family funeral. I sent emails and then I phoned, remember, but you said you were too busy to speak to me, and didn’t call back. You have really upset me so, for both our sakes, I’ve finally decided to stop this silly card business.’
That is one conversation I will never have. Not brave enough, strong enough, or clear enough about what greeting cards are for to do it. The Xmas card from the person I want to say all that to and make a final goodbye, is here on my desk. I haven’t sent her one this year, yet, but now she has sent me one, I feel I will have to. Every year the same, and birthdays too. I send and receive cards from people who have hurt my feelings, snubbed and ignored me, or perhaps we never had anything in common to begin with. The insoluble conundrum for me is; if I don’t send them back, the last fragile link with this person will be snapped, but isn’t it broken anyway, what will change? Ending that attachment to those who once at least seemed to be very close, even part of my family, is very difficult.
Then there is the, Shall I send or not to people who were good friends, but years ago. From some of them I get ‘Round robins’ compared to which my own robin is more of an oblate sphere. I never see them but I have to rejoice about their foreign holidays, marital bliss and thriving, obviously gifted children. One even boasted that a grandchild was, ‘Enjoying the opportunities opening after her decision to ‘Join the Autism community.’ No one has yet written that they are celebrating a daughter’s anorexia, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
There are also the people I saw as good friends who disappeared from my life but then turned up on Facebook. For many that counts for real and enduring friendship now and they often favour electronic cards. A friend in Italy I met in the 1980s on a trip to Nepal, told me that ‘No one’ posts Christmas cards anymore. Like sending post-cards, it’s an extinct ritual. I hadn’t heard anything from her this year, no reply to emails or banter about experiences in the current health crisis, and knowing how she feels about cards I didn’t send one to her this year. Her’s arrived early, so I rushed one back.
Then there are those who I’ve quietly dropped myself. Cutting people off the Xmas card list has always been a pointed middle-class weapon. It flags the end of all contact. I don’t normally cancel anyone but this year two have joined cults, one after years of being an Evangelical Christian on US lines, has accused me of being ‘Godless,’ and my views are, ‘Offensive to God.’ She obviously knows him better than I do and may be right, as I am practising Anglican. It’s not just the Woke hogwash she objects to but the ‘Romish practices.’ Her group particularly hates Catholics and homosexuals. She also doesn’t like my belief in evolution rather than Adam and Eve. The other has joined the anti-vaxxers who see people like me who welcome the intervention of medical science and big pharma, as dupes to a world conspiracy orchestrated by Bill Gates.
Soon the problem may solve itself; many of the Christmas missives I issue are to my mother’s old friends. Joan, now 103, whom she met during the war in the ATS, keeps in regular touch by email. She was on BBC Radio 4 this week in The Army Girls, and a book has come out including her experiences. It has become a healthy relationship, a regular enjoyable exchange. I didn’t know she was in Germany in 1945, able to smell bodies under the rubble. My mother never mentioned any of that, yet another reason to be annoyed with her, if only she were still contactable. People I knew in my home village are mostly gone. I kept sending a card and a Pantone to someone there before I was told she’d been dead for several years. Who got the Italian pudding I shall never know? As the address book and life shrinks and localises there are advantages; soon I will be left with just cards to give out by hand to near neighbours, people I see regularly, know and genuinely like – a perfect solution just round the corner called mortality.