If it's Christmas, then as sure as that fruit cake or jelly you got from your neighbor was re-gifted, you've received at least one newsletter.
My mother was the Erma Bombeck of Christmas newsletters. At the age of 87, she is still writing her annual missive, with help from me in the printing and stamping department. When I was a kid, the newsletter was a huge production that took weeks to finish. I can still see her sitting on the couch with her clipboard on her lap, and her little metal file box containing the names and addresses of those fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of her prosaic efforts. Each name and address was printed on a 3 X 5 index card. On the back of each card, Mom kept track of that person's incoming cards and letters, jotting down each year a card was received. I don't know what her personal cut-off point was, but if too many years went by with no contact, the recipient was no longer considered "active" and his/her index card was relegated to the back of the file box with the other miscreants. I believe at one point, Mom was sending close to 300 letters each December. These days, in the autumn of her life, she sends about 60 letters, and every year, death or Alzheimer's or just the frailties of old age will claim a card or two for the back of the file.
The newsletters were typed on her old Royal manual typewriter, a relic that my grandparents bought second-hand when their daughter went off to college. Even after I was gifted with a brand-new electric typewriter in high school, complete with a nifty erasing function, she still continued to bang out her newsletters, and every other bit of important family correspondence, on the old Royal.
Mom's newsletters were so popular that people would crib whole paragraphs for use in their own newsletters, sometimes adding a small note of apology for the theft in the margin. I would have been peeved at such blatant plagiarism, but she chose to take the high road. To her mind, imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.
I learned from my mother that writing a good newsletter is a balancing act. To whit:
1. Never, ever, ever send more than one page, or to paraphrase the New York Times: "All the news that fits." You can fudge on this by narrowing your margins, using a smaller font, and/or using legal-sized paper. The old Royal didn't give my mother much wiggle room, which is why she nearly always sent a legal-sized missive. I used to joke that when she sent a regular letter-sized page, it must have been a slow news year.
2. Humor is essential. Appreciate the absurdities in life.
3. It's okay to brag, it's even expected, but don't overdo it. When tooting your own horn, offset that with something self-deprecating.
4. Even if everything went wrong and nothing went right and it was a complete stinker of a year, don't be a Debbie Downer.
5. Explicit details are for instruction manuals and porn, not newsletters. (My mother didn't actually say this.)
6. Say something inspirational.
7. Reread rule #2.
Most folks overdo it with excruciating details: "We had a very nice Thanksgiving at my daughter's ranch. We had 25 attending. I made mashed potatoes and the rest of the crowd brought sweet potatoes, salad, squash casserole, string bean casserole, ribs, turkey, dressing, sausage balls, cheese ball and two dips. Of course, we had scads of desserts, pumpkin pies, pecan pie, apple pie, cupcakes, cookies and more." I wondered if the two dips mentioned were the edible kind, or if someone brought a couple of idiots to dinner.
Another gave a blow-by-blow account of several weeks visiting across the pond. Here's an excerpt: "It was our first time traveling to Europe and we loved it, of course. We stayed in a quaint hotel next to the Saint Severin, a beautiful Gothic cathedral. From our window, we could look directly onto the church's roof line and see all its spires and gargoyles - fabulous! In the distance we could just make out the Eiffel Tower, including its light shows at night. The hotel was in a great location too, on the left bank near the Notre Dame Cathedral, also magnificent. I've always loved Gothic cathedrals with their vaulted ceilings and spires. We went to a perfect little jewel of a cathedral as well, the Sainte Chapelle, with spectacular stained glass windows." This is the newsletter version of sitting through 639 slides, most of them upside down, of someone's trip and trying to act like you give a crap, while fighting the temptation to nod off.
And don't you love the ones that fall into the category of "We Spent a Butt-Load of Money, But We're Far Too Polite to Tell You How Much." We received one of these a few years ago. The butt-load of money was a massive home remodel. I remarked to my husband that it would have been easier and faster if the writer had just itemized their expenses in one neat column. It would have saved us the tedium of reading about how they agonized over giving up their old high-flow toilets for the low-flow kind.
Here's a Debbie Downer for you. It wasn't a newsletter, but a short hand-written note inside a Christmas card sent to my mother. The sender is deeply religious: "May the wonder of that first Christmas, the joy of the Father's abundant blessings, and the peace of His Son's presence be with you today and throughout the New Year. P. S. Oliver is still doing very poorly." Wait...what!? (Update: we found out later that this lady died shortly after New Year's from injuries sustained in an automobile accident on Christmas Eve. There goes another card to the back of the file.)
No. 6 is not easy for me. I am not a religious person, so including a religious message similar to the one above would border on hypocrisy and insincerity. Instead, I usually end with a little homily like this one, from 2011: "When you are caught in the holiday rush, it is easy to lose sight of things that matter: good health, self respect, being happy with what you have, the joy of friends, the love of family, compassion for others, and the ability to laugh at yourself. As you strike those “to do’s” off your list, take the time to count your blessings."
And that's as good a place as any to stop.
We all have those moments when we wish the earth would split open and swallow us up. There are situations that happened decades ago that still make me cringe when I think of them. Like Scarlett O'Hara, I used to be pretty good at throwing those thoughts off whenever they surfaced: "I can't think about that right now." But for some reason I seem to have lost the knack and will repeatedly kick myself over some silly mistake. Maybe it has something to do with the perception that as we age, we are supposed to become more dignified, not less so.
My latest awkward moment happened at the last tailgate of the 2012 Aggie football season. A young couple that is a part of our crowd was soon to be married, and I mistook a man who tailgates with us occasionally for the bride's father. In my defense, this man has the same first name as the bride's father, David. Both men look a bit alike. Also, the bride's uncle had just finished telling me a rather convoluted story involving his brother --- you guessed it --- the bride's father. So when I saw this familiar-looking man, my brain, awash in images of the bride's father due to the aforementioned story, said, "There's David." Unfortunately, my brain failed to take that identification one step further to add, "And before you go and make a complete ass of yourself, this is the groom's boss David, not the bride's father David." Stupid brain.
Anyways, I went over to this man who I believed to be the bride's father, and in front of his wife, real daughter, daughter's boyfriend, and several other people I hope to never see again, complimented him on his lovely daughter, the bride-to-be, and how impressed I was that she was so prompt with her thank you notes. Almost as soon as the words came out, I realized I had boo-boo'ed big time, but there was just no fixing this. Wrong David babbled something in return, I have no idea what because my brain had vapor-locked from embarrassment. Squelching the urge to run, I removed myself from the group in as dignified a manner as possible, and for the remainder of the tailgate, until it was time to leave for the game, I stayed as far away from Wrong David and his family as I could without actually mingling with the crowd the next tent over.
Now, I realize that in the scope of awkward moments, this one barely rates a 3 on a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being so supremely awkward that leaving town permanently and starting over someplace far, far away is the only possible recourse. But instead of pushing that small blunder away from me, I just wouldn't let it go. And I think the reason for that was because I knew I would be seeing these people again at the wedding the following week.
The afternoon of the wedding, we were invited to relax over drinks with the bride's family. This time, the REAL David, the bride's father, was there.
BRAIN: Here's the real David.
ME: I don't trust you.
BRAIN: I promise, this is the REAL David.
ME: Still don't trust you.
BRAIN: Would I lie to you?
The sad thing is I knew this was not going to be another case of mistaken identity, that I was safe here. But I was so scarred from the experience of a week ago, that I didn't trust myself to say anything beyond a very generic "hello". Richard sat next to me, charming and chatty, while I huddled like a bump on a log, afraid to open my mouth for fear I'd humiliate myself all over again.
On the upside, the wife of Wrong David hailed me as I walked by during the cocktail hour preceding the reception. We chatted briefly and I managed not to insert my foot in my mouth, despite being on my second glass of wine. Just the fact that I was able to show her that I am not always an amiable fathead made me feel better.
The wedding, by the way, was a gorgeous affair, as was the reception. And there's an idea for another blog. Stay tuned!
Facepalm meme: http://danawesome.netau.net/images/Female%20Blonde.html
Johnny Manziel, popularly known as Johnny Football, became the first freshman to ever be awarded the Heisman Trophy. This electric young man, known for his plays on the offensive side of the field, proved in the game against Louisiana Tech that he's just as fearsome on the defensive side, too. This is my favorite of all the Johnny Football moments I was privileged to watch this season.
Congratulations to the entire Aggie team for a season that will be talked about as long as there is an Aggie alive to remember it. I just wish that my dad, the ultimate A&M football fan, had been able to see it.
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