I wrote this passage below after I got it. It might go in my book, who knows! It was hard to read the card, but nice to feel close to my mom. I will tuck this card into my Christmas decorations box and find it new again each year. Thank you to my friend Missy for such a perfect idea.
The handwriting was in blue ink, by a pen that was spotty and uncooperative. But her mother had written through the fading in and out of it, two sides worth. Lainey liked that, the optimism it implied, that she would carry on her conversation with the pen and the page regardless of what either thought of it.
The Christmas card was seven years old, sent to her by her mother’s friend Barb who had come across it in an old drawer. Lainey did the math. It would have been the last Christmas card her mother had written to her. Lainey’s stomach turned at the thought. That her mother had written a long, cheerful note, and not a word of it about how her body was betraying her. How this card sounded like any other year, any of the countless years her mother sent out cards. It was a small, envelope-sized picture of her mother’s strength. Maybe, Lainey thought, at the end, you go back to the things that comfort, the things that work. The growing kids and the new snowmobiles and the neighbor’s dog.
Her mother wrote of Lainey and her sisters, her husband and her neighbors. And then she wrote of her two grandsons and Lainey stopped reading to touch the words on the page, shocked and comforted by this, this concrete evidence that her mother and sons had lived in the same lifetime.
Some days Lainey worried that she couldn’t remember a single word her mother had said to her children, or they to her. But there had been thousands. Thousands of words and kisses and hugs and minutes. Her mother had lived to see Kendall reach 4 and Nelson 2. Had Nelson spoken much at that age? Lainey was pressed to remember something specific. How would her boys remember if she couldn’t? But here, the card said it was so. Her mother had been here with them, it was as simple as that. She took that feeling and held on to it, thinking of her boys in her mother's kitchen, underfoot, laughing, her mother pulling them on her lap while she rocked in the living room, kissing their soft hair.
Lainey closed the Christmas card and recognized the cover design, having signed fifty of them for her mother, their writing then nearly identical. She had signed card after card, a simple “Judy and Barry” while she sat on one side of the kitchen table, and her mother sat, sick, on the other, insisting that she write some cards with personal notes. Lainey had forgotten about this, the last round of cards sent as a team effort. And it caught her breath to think that she could have easily opened this old card to find her own writing.
But she hadn’t. It was her mother’s, the writing so pretty and consistent that it would be a font a designer might use. Lainey’s handwriting was nothing like it anymore, sharp and hesitant from years of little use. The writing was like her mother, soft and warm and unassuming. The kind you read and folded up and saved to revisit again.
Lainey finished reading the card, twice, and then she let the sadness come as she stood in the driveway, her long dirt driveway, and cried. She wondered if her neighbors might come out to see what was wrong and hoped they would, the chance to share her mother’s writing welcome. But she stood alone in the January afternoon, an unseasonably warm breeze in the air, holding her mother’s hand in her own hand, cherishing it.