Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An unusual tradition

I'm getting an early start with Christmas cards this year. They are bought, labels are printed and the boxes neatly stacked, ready to be addressed.

Every other Christmas, however, there is one very special card that must be prepared. A very simple message, usually only one sentence, is pondered for days and then carefully written in the tiny space left on the 8 3/4x3 3/4 card. It's in remarkably good condition, considering its history, but its time is finite, since available white space is shrinking with each year.

Back in 1982, when my partner at the newspaper and I first sent the card, we got a laugh out of it because it suggested the recipient save it and then send it back to us the following year. Who could have known that 2010 will mark the 29th year this bright red card with a silly cartoon on the front has been sent back to my dear friend, Mike DeNardo. Mike will store it somewhere and next year, it will make its 30th journey to help brighten my Christmas holiday.

Mike was just a kid in 1982. He'd graduated from high school in 1979 and gone on to Temple University where he studied broadcasting and put in some free hours helping us at The Journal, doing some writing about local high school sports. I still have a photo of our staff from that year, taken at Christmas when we gathered for a party in the beautiful old office on the White Horse Pike in Berlin.

I stayed with the paper until 1994 and Mike had long been gone to bigger and better things... a stellar career with KYW Newsradio, where he reports to this day. I still smile when I hear his "broadcasting" voice on my car radio.

But no matter where each of us went through the years, that little Christmas card made its faithful journey from me to Mike and then Mike to me, carrying a little message just to keep the connection open, to keep us mindful of our friendship.

In 1985, Mike wrote "Is this a tradition yet?" I responded in 1986, "Sure is." "It's cheap, too!" came from Mike in 1987 and in 1990, I wrote "Long live tradition!" In 1991, Mike asked, "Remember when cards used to cost 75 cents?" And the following year, I wrote "Remember when life was simple and fun?" As if only hours had passed since he received my query, he responded in 1993, "Sure do... it was just last Thursday, as I recall. Merry Christmas!" In 1995, noting the passage of time in his own inimitable way, Mike remarked "Hey... where'd all this gray hair come from?! Have a blessed Christmas!" In 1999, noting the timely story of the day, he remarked, "This card is so old that it HAS to be fully Y2K compliant! Merry Christmas!" In 2004, we began to keep track of the number of years the card had changed hands. I wrote, "This card has survived 23 Christmases and so have we!" To which Mike replied, "Christmas wouldn't be the same without it!" I replied, in 2006, "It's the 25th anniversary of this card, my dear. Funny how we're not any older!" "You can't get old if you continue to think young! Happy year 26!" responded Mike, to which, in 2008, I said, "The mind is willing but the body isn't. Hope you are well." Undaunted, Mike responded just last Christmas, "Let the mind and heart lead... the body will follow."

There are only about two and a half inches left of white space on this precious message-carrier, so we'll have to get creative in a few years and find a way to continue the tradition. Certainly it will continue... something as unique as this tradition must find a way to go on.

For now, I have to sit and ponder my message for 2010. This is much more fun than affixing labels to envelopes!

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