Mommy Mondays: Black Felt-Tip Pen

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Because I am a writer by trade and by brain, I have chosen Monday as the day that I will take a short break from reviewing subscription boxes and talking parties and stuff to write a bit about life as a mom, toddlerhood, family stuff, life stuff, basically anything I feel like doing a little babbling about. If you just want box reviews, feel free to keep scrolling, they are down there!

For as long as I can remember, my dad has always sent hundreds of Christmas cards. Every single year. This year, he and my stepmom combined will send 700.  You read that right. Seven zero zero.  These aren’t the kind of cards we are all now used to. The pre-printed ones that are made by companies far away with the main effort on the part of the sender being uploading some digital photos and a cute note. And possibly, if you didn’t opt for the address automation, then you might spend an evening drinking wine and writing a hundred or so addresses with your husband after the baby is asleep. Almost like a date night. I am so familiar with this process because that is how I have done my cards for the past few years. I still do a little writing, but I do it in the online form, and everyone receives the same message of hope and cheer right next to a photo of Mike and I snorkeling in Thailand or clutching a squirming newborn. But that is not how my dad does it.

He starts his “card project”, as he often refers to it, in late October, though I am pretty sure he is thinking about it in August. Or July. Or always. In the past, he has taken his own family photo or enlisted a friend to do so, a front yard attempt at getting everyone to smile and have a good attitude at the same time. Or if there happened to be a big family gathering that year, like a wedding or something where everyone was in the same room, then that is a jackpot to him. Photoshoot done. However, like most mixed families, we are in a couple of states, and unlike most families, we siblings are not close, and so it is rare to find the entire gang together. So my dad adopted the policy of letting us each submit a picture of our respective families. He then takes those photos to a camera shop, where they charge him way too much to meld all of the photos together into a single collage with mini captions under each shot. This is something that I could do for him on my Mac in about eight minutes for free, but he likes to do it his way. He then uses some sort of adhesive to attach the photo to the inside panel of a traditional Christmas card. On the back he also does some adhering, this time with his selected bible verse of the year.

What he does next is baffling.  He writes individual messages inside each one. A message to each family with personal anecdotes and congratulations on that year’s happy happenings. Meaningful condolences to those who have lost loved ones. Genuine concerns about health and wellness.

He does this seven hundred times.  In pen. Black felt-tip pen.

When we were younger, it was part of our job to help him. We would all be required to pen a few hundred addresses and stick a bunch of stamps while he toiled away on his personal messages, and those days have become some of my fondest Christmas memories. The holiday music playing, quiet, quality time with my dad, who during the week was a dedicated career man, and a feeling of warmth and happiness that can only come from knowing that you are about to send a big pile of love out into the world, care of the United States Postal Service.

My sisters and I joked over the years about how my dad sends a card to the entire population of my hometown, in addition to hitting all fifty states at least twice each.  When I was 20, dutifully helping my dad fill in envelopes, I wrote what was probably my hundredth address in my nicest penmanship only to look down in shock at what I’d done. “Dad! Why are you sending a card to my gynecologist?!?” I held up the card accusingly, ready to tear it into pieces.

My dad, used to the the drama that comes with having three daughters, looked up calmly to read the address. “Oh,” he said, “His wife used to work for me”

Not missing a beat, my older sister deadpanned, “He probably won’t recognize your face anyway”

Throughout the year, my dad is the meticulous keeper of an address book, now online, but just as important. I finally helped him input all of his addresses into his computer and taught him how to update it a couple years ago. It prints out the address labels each year so that he can stick them on instead of writing them out, a marvel of modern technology that still thrills him.

I have explained to him several times that I could automate his process. I could add his bible verse and collage of photos to a card of his choice online. I could help him with captions and a nice note that would be appropriate for everyone. But he refuses. The last time I offered, he told me it would be great, but then he would just have to write a note to everyone explaining why he had sent them this newfangled type of card, so it would basically be the same amount of work. And what about his elderly friends who were alone, he wondered. Sometimes his note was the only one they would receive.  He needed to write it in pen. Black felt-tip pen.

And so, my dad, who at 76 is considered elderly himself, is currently, as we speak, most certainly holed up in “the craft room” with his stacks of cards and treasured pens and his stamps and photos and bible verses, armed with his system that no one else might ever be able to understand. That is where he sits for hours on end, for days at a time, writing sweet notes to everyone who has ever had the great luck to become his friend.

I sent about 200 cards this year, the generic, computer-generated kind with a photo of our son staring out at each recipient from the front and a heartfelt note to our friends and family on the back. It gives me abject pleasure to do this each year, and sitting down and writing out addresses, though my weapon of choice is a red, Ultra-Fine Point Sharpie, is by far my favorite part of the holidays. My other favorite part is receiving cards in return. It’s a great way to see photos and updates from everyone we care about, even those that time and distance keep us from really getting to catch up with anymore. It’s a window into the lives of friends from our past and present and a connection that I hold near and dear. Though the new cards are amazing, and there are so many cool things you can do with computers these days, my favorite card to receive is still my dad’s. Though I am not a religious person, his card with its stuck-on photo and bible verse is the one that makes me tear up because I know how much work and thought and love he put into mine and 699 others. That card is the one that gets hung front and center, because it is the one that is a piece of home, written in black felt-tip pen.

One thought on “Mommy Mondays: Black Felt-Tip Pen

  1. Thanks Cara, appreciate you, and your article! This becomes another special reason to keep my almost 50 year tradition going for another 10 or 20. I’ll take your alternate system advice as a good shortcut at some time after that! Love you ,Dad

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