This is the time of year my mother would get out the wooden box that held index cards. Every card held a name, address, and sometimes a phone number. Each card represented a relative, a family, a friend. Some of the relationships went back a couple of generations (some of my grandmother's card-playing friends, for instance). Some cards covered a history of moves and changes. If we'd taken the time to put all the cards on the table, we could have built an amazing picture of the relationships between layers of family with accents of places lived. I don't remember ever doing that. The task was to go through all the cards and double-check them against last year's Christmas cards.
Who had a new baby? Who moved? Who was grown up and on their own? Had anyone died? In the mid-sixties, we didn't have to mark the divorces. That would come later, in the seventies. Going through the cards was a serious accounting of the status of The List.
I don't know what happened to that wooden box. I grew up, moved away from home, filled up an address book, moved around often enough to confuse someone on my list almost every year. These days, I check FaceBook to keep up with family and friends, but I do like sending out cards. So tonight I was digging through a box, trying to find my address book once again.
And then I got a phone call. "Could you use some nice Christmas cards? Most of them are Catholic or religious." I could. The caller was a Carmelite nun whose monastery gets batches of cards from various charities, but since the monastery sends out their own cards, these needed another home. The Christmas cards are coming to jail.
Over the next few weeks, we'll get dozens of requests for Christmas cards, and after we've weeded out the ones that say, "I love you" (can't hand those out in jail. Go figure.) we'll send all sorts of silent nights, yon virgins, and Santa kneeling before a babe in the manger. Each of the offenders will only send out a few cards. Not too many addresses committed to memory, you know. All the important information is stored on the cell phone which is sitting in the Property Room if it hasn't been lost altogether. There may not be enough money on the books to send out as many cards as someone might wish.
But lists will be made. Mental index cards will be shuffled. Connections will be remembered. All of us will begin the slow journey to Christmas.
Some of the cards won't go out at all. They'll be inspiration for penciled artwork or for stories about favorite meals or unexpected gifts. They will be a catalyst for conversations that start with, "What if?"
I'll go to the monastery after Thanksgiving to pick up the cards, thankful again for cloistered sisters who pray for us and share what they have. They're on my list.
ps. Joseph, if you're reading this, I'm only 17 minutes late.