The Yuppie mass-mailed Christmas letter has been satirized for years, and justifiably. Long an instrument of self-congratulation and in-group grandstanding, the letters appeared in our mailboxes every year with their news of scholarships won, business promotions achieved, homes decorated, trips taken, social enterprises undertaken. I write ours — yes, we have one; just as we have a Christmas card list — and I try to sound as much like my wife as I can. She’s warmer; I’m the pro.
So maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s seasonal Weltschmertz or something, but I ask you: Haven’t you seen an elegiac or wistful or regretful note start to infuse those yearly letters? We are growing old, after all. At some point, even in the most driven, the life of striving must give way to just plain old life as it is lived, with some goals achieved and some not, and some dreams realized and some forever abandoned.
Some of the news is serious stuff. Everybody gets older. Nearly everybody gets sick. Christmas letters cannot avoid cancers, operations, stays in the hospital, and the like. Among our acquaintances and family, a college age child has been murdered at a stupid party, a middle-aged woman with children has leukemia, and a father needs a quadruple bypass. Can’t make fun of things like that.
But there are other complications perhaps less serious, if no less shocking to the Boomer mindset. Let’s take a look at a few.
“WE SOLD THE HOUSE IN SOUTHAMPTON…” Translation: We found out we weren’t rich after all. We not only sold the house, we auctioned off the contents, we sold two boats, and we dumped the two extra cars we used to keep there. Maybe we can finally get our monthly nut under control.
“JEFF IS DOING HIS JUNIOR YEAR AT STEPHENS ACADEMY…” If Jeff had stayed home another day, his father would have killed him. Stephens is up in the Maine woods 200 miles from anything, so maybe he can stay off drugs long enough to get his head together.
“ANITA IS SPENDING THIS WINTER AT HAMILTON HIGH SCHOOL, GETTING ACQUAINTED WITH ALL HER LOCAL FRIENDS ONCE AGAIN.” She found out she wasn’t going to be the next Steffi Graf after all. She couldn’t manage to stay at the Bollettieri Academy in Florida and we had burned out all the local tennis instructors. She’s got black fingernails now, and she has a ring through her navel.
“WE MOVED TO A SMALLER PLACE NOW THAT STAN HAS SEMI-RETIRED…” Stan finally got sober, and he’s going to seven meetings a week, but I’m so glad he’s not drinking anymore, I don’t care if he’s stopped working.
“BETTY USUALLY WRITES THESE LETTERS, BUT SHE’S ON SABBATICAL THIS YEAR…” Betty denied it for years, but she’s going through menopause and she’s as crazy as a house full of cats. She’s off in the woods someplace. Maybe when she finally comes back to earth, she’ll come back home, too.
“BOB’S SISTER BRENDA STOPPED BY ON HER VOYAGE OF SELF-DISCOVERY…” She’s pregnant. Again. And there’s no sign of the father. Again. She’s in the back bedroom with her cell phone and her journal.
“JEREMY DECIDED TO JOIN HIS SISTER AT STATE…” Remember all that stuff we wrote in years past about the foreign service and studying foreign languages with a dual major in international relations and law? The SATs came back. Never mind.
“DAD FINALLY BOUGHT THAT PORSCHE HE’S ALWAYS BEEN TALKING ABOUT…” Tell me about it. $45,000 for a used car? Don’t even get me started on the taekwondo lessons and the hair transplants.
“CARLA CAME BACK FROM THE SOUTH WITH ALL KINDS OF STORIES TO TELL…” That heroic campaign everybody was talking about? The one where all the idealistic college kids went down to help elect the first Hispanic woman to Congress from that state that always scores last in public education? The indictments have started. We don’t think Carla really knows anything important. At least we hope not.
YOU GET THE IDEA. I’m sure you do, all too well. Time has a way of making fools of us all, and you may as well relax and enjoy it.
Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.