Holiday Cards

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Tis the season for holiday cards. Which makes tis the season of great entertainment.

I love holiday cards, more than I love holidays. And, damn, I love holidays. But holiday cards are awesome. They’re telling. They’re revealing. They’re fun. They’re curious. Granted, they’re not as personal as they once were—I vaguely recall people actually picking up a pen and (gasp!) writing messages inside the cards. But that’s OK, because now we get pictures of kids. Smiling. Hugging. Laughing. Dancing.


But here’s the issue: When does a family stop the cards? Back when my kids were tiny, the holiday cards looked great. One can’t go wrong with a baby and a 3-year-old blonde girl in a princess dress. But the years pass, and pass, and pass. Now my son is 8, my daughter 11. They don’t look like Munchkins, they look like … people. And while people can be cute, they’re not as cute as Munchkins. Not even close.

We receive some cards that features teenagers. And teenagers aren’t attractive. They’re gawky and uncomfortable, and lord knows they have no desire to pose for a photo. So should the tradition continue? Should the cards still be sent?

I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know: Holiday cards are meaningless on the surface, yet reaffirming below the skin. They say, even subtly, “I care” or, at least, “I care enough to spend 50 cents on getting you this card.” They remind us of the people in our lives, and that relationships matter.

For me, the favorite card is always the one I receive from Warren Thompson, a man I haven’t seen in nearly 20 years.

Warren is the widower of Lynn Thompson, a wonderful women who allowed me to profile her way back in 1995—when she was dying of cancer. At the time I was 23 and painfully immature. I was working as a features writer for The Tennessean, young and dumb and unwilling to take advice from everyone. The local alternative weekly, The Nashville Scene, rightly wrote “If there’s one cow-pie in the field, The Tennessean’s Jeff Pearlman will manage to step in it.” I screwed up and screwed up and screwed up, and had my bosses wondering whether I’d ever figure things out.

Then, one day, my editor asked whether I’d like to write a piece about a sick woman and her loving husband and their garden. Which I did. Lynn Thompson was marvelous. Wonderful. Strong. Courageous. I knew nothing about life, and she explained it best she could. Dying, she told me, wasn’t as scary as you’d think—it was more the idea of all the events she’d miss. Her children growing up, getting married, having kids. She regretted her inevitable absence and, I think, felt burdened by how it would impact her daughter, Kate, and sons Nick and Brendan. Warren, meanwhile, was the husband I aspired to one day be. When his wife was at her lowest, he was there, caring, supporting, reassuring. He promised to maintain her garden, which led to the headline atop my piece: Lynn’s Garden.

Lynn passed shortly after the story ran, and for the ensuing two decades Warren has religiously kept me on the ol’ holiday card list. What I love are the family shots—his kids with spouses; his kids with grandkids; his family expanding. That Lynn isn’t here to enjoy those things still breaks my heart. It’s not fair, and never will be fair. But I have little doubt that, in her heart, this is what she wanted—happiness and joy for her loved ones.

So, while I’m prone to mock certain holiday cards, the goodness far outweighs anything else.

Merry Kwanza.