we come home to a mailbox straight from central casting – all holiday flyers and cheer, so full that the top is flipped open and the envelopes dusted with snow. i drag and pull and one letter sticks, too wide for the narrow passage meant only, apparently, for business-sized communications.

a Christmas card.

we did not send any this year, a fact about which i feel apologetically unapologetic. i am trying to learn boundaries, trying to lay fewer implicit shoulds on this shoulders of this small, sometimes overwhelmed family. matched socks and Christmas cards bit the dust this fall. bill-paying also snuck out the side door for a vacation before i dragged its pesky hide back in by the ear.  breaking one’s internal narratives of pressure is handy only if the habits one lets go of aren’t your bulwark against foreclosure and internet shutdown. body and mind need a home.

still, i like to get Christmas cards. i flip the envelope over, excited.

it is not for us.

yet i recognize the sender’s name.

every Christmas for the past four years, a Christmas card has shown up at our house for the former owners. the first year, there were a few, and i dug up the family’s new phone number early in the new year to let them know.

the next year, frayed by lack of sleep and the bleary joy of baby’s first Christmas, i didn’t quite make the phone call to the old owners when this one stray Christmas card arrived.  it sat, for a day or two, on my counter, and then got recycled. the next year, it came again. and so on.

the sender of this card is elderly. her name is Evelyn.

she is a widow, i know, because she addresses the card to Mr. and Mrs. John S_______, though her own return sticker reads Mrs. Evelyn F_______.  i grew up around widows; i am fluent in the old paternalisms of proper address.

the years have not been kind to Evelyn. her handwriting, five Christmases ago, was perfect MacLean script, straight out of the primers childen once copied from like faithful automatons, careful not to introduce any stray personality into their machinations. this year, our address meanders across the envelope, each letter painstaking yet random in its final formation. my heart wobbles, noticing. i remember how my grandmother’s handwriting slowly disappeared on her, the birthday card that arrived unrecognized until i saw her name on the return stamp.

i do not know Evelyn, nor she me. she is only a name, a script that announces the human frailty of old age.  but i know she is steady, unwavering in her yearly mailout of her cards, always on time. i wonder if she drives to the post office, or has a neighbourhood mailbox she can still walk to. i wonder, as i turn the card quietly in my hand, how much work goes into getting this card into the mail each year, especially in December. i wonder if she has anyone to help her.

the networks of old ladies are visible in their Christmas card lists just as ours are visible in blogrolls and twitter followers. our change more frequently. theirs usually only dwindle. i picture Evelyn’s stamps, lined up for the job against a list of names; the people to whom she sends these yearly salutations. i wonder how many she gets in return.

i assume she does not know the family that once lived here especially well. if they were family, news of the move should’ve gotten back to her somehow, five years on. perhaps they were acquaintances, one of them a child of someone who was once a friend of Evelyn’s.  they must not send her anything, or she’d have updated the address.

perhaps they, like me, gave up Christmas cards for being all too much one year and just never got back to it.

i have never opened one of Evelyn’s cards. they are not for me.  beyond being some kind of federal offense, it would be…an invasion, somehow.

but this year, i don’t want to just stick the card back in the mailbox, either, or turf it unacknowledged on the recycling pile.

i am tempted to write to Evelyn. just one Christmas card, the only one i send.

i’d say,

Hello, Mrs. F__________.

You don’t know me, but I live in the house where the John S______ family, John & Debbie, used to live.  I’m sorry, I don’t have their new address to send on to you.

I’m writing because I didn’t want the card you sent to them to go entirely unanswered. I hope you’ll forgive my presumption.

My grandmother sent Christmas cards every year when I was a little girl. I used to count the stamps for her, and lick them, and separate her cards into “PEI” and “off-Island” addresses, for the separate mailboxes we have here for local and exotic destinations.

Ten years ago was my grandmother’s last Christmas. she lived a wonderful life, nearly saw ninety-six. I loved her more than I can say. I miss her very much this time of year.

She never met my children. Their names are Oscar & Josephine. I enclose a picture of them here…silly, I know, but in hopes that maybe, as I have randomly received your card in lieu of the S__________ family, maybe you will be kind enough to receive this greeting for me? It would please me, strange though it sounds.

I want to thank you, for reminding me what a pleasure Christmas cards can be.

I hope you are well.  I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Yours sincerely,

B. Stewart
Summer Street, Charlottetown, PE

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i might send it. i just might. it is the closest i can come to fulfilling the
heart of those implicit shoulds i’ve tried to turn my back on. and perhaps it would be a random act of kindness, on both sides, hers and mine.

it is the closest i will come to being a believer in the Christmas miracle.