Averyell A. Kessler
During my last year on Laurel Street, I decided to celebrate Christmas in a new and innovative way. I sent my parents a Christmas card. How sweet, you may think. What a thoughtful and loving thing for a young child to do. Unfortunately, it was just the opposite. But I’d been taught well by our family trickster, my grandfather WG.
Sending Christmas cards was an important and mandatory custom in Jackson. Mama continuingly reviewed her list so that no old friend was forgotten and no new one overlooked. Rigid Christmas card rules fell into place and any unexpected cards must be reciprocal. Our Christmas card mandate began in October when the Hallmark lady came to call. I remember her lumbering up our front steps with bulky albums of sample cards and specialized envelopes. We all sat together on the living room sofa while Mama inspected each one. I always went for glitter; Mama vetoed that immediately and selected a card that wouldn’t shed tinsel but still look good on anyone’s mantle. When the cards arrived, she began. It was a formal event requiring good penmanship, a careful inventory of recipients, and utmost care. I remember my mother sitting at a desk in the living room, opening a bottle of blue black Shaeffer’s ink and filling a long, silver fountain pen. I was not allowed within three feet of this critical enterprise. Suddenly, Puck whispered in my ear and an idea formed. I crashed through the backyard hedge and asked for help from my best friend Martha. She was enthusiastic.
We found a box of old cards in her garage storage room and set to work. It took two days. The card was a classic, picturing a snow-covered tree dotted with ribbons and bright red bows. Disguising our handwriting was difficult, as was finding a stamp, but we handed it to the postman two weeks before Christmas. It included a traditional Merry Christmas greeting, a New Year’s wish and was signed by Frank and Eugenia. We had no idea who Frank and Eugenia were, but we liked the names. There was no return address. On Saturday morning, the card arrived in my parent’s mailbox.
I was dipping into a bag of potato chips when I heard Mama call out, “Howard, do you know anybody named Frank or Eugenia.”
“No,” he answered. “Why?”
“We just got a Christmas card from them.”
“Frank and Eugenia who?” he asked. His TV football game was heating up, and he wasn’t paying attention.
“I don’t know,” Mama answered. “There’s no return address.”
“Let me think about it,” Daddy said. “Maybe I’ll remember.”
Before I knew it, Frank and Eugenia had taken on a life of their own. I pictured Frank as an austere man in a houndstooth jacket and smoking a briar pipe; Eugenia, a raven-haired gypsy, with smoldering eyes and gold hoop earrings, a happy mismatched couple living an imaginary life in Jackson. Mama pictured them casting mournful glances at their empty mailbox and waiting for our Christmas card to arrive.
At first, Martha and I giggled a lot. Our trick had worked. Mama searched our church directory, her luncheon club handbooks, and the Power School Cookbook. She found many Franks, but Eugenia was illusive. What to do? The search widened. College yearbooks appeared, Mama’s from Northwestern in Chicago, Daddy’s from Capitol University in Columbus, Ohio. Again, many Franks, no Eugenia. All weekend, the mystery card remained on our mantle cloaked in unpleasant anonymity. The mote in my mother’s eye was rapidly growing into a beam of immense proportions. I stopped giggling and began to worry.
The next day, Daddy came home from work waving a business card. “I found Frank,” he declared, handing my mother the card. “Frank’s an insurance guy who came by my office a few weeks ago.”
“Are you sure?” Mama asked.
“Yes. See here. Frank Davis, Great Peril Insurance Company. It’s business, you don’t need to answer.”
“I’ll send them one anyway,” Mama said. “Just to be nice.”
A wave of relief passed through my pre-teen brain. I’d created a big snarly mess, but redemption was possible. Mama might stop searching and my make-believe couple would quietly fade into the walls. I crossed my fingers and hoped. All was well until the following Saturday when Martha and her mother Hattie knocked on our front door with a plate of Christmas cookies.
“Come in,” Mama said. “We’ll have Cokes and share the cookies.”
“Love to,” Hattie replied. A prickle of heat swept up the back of my neck. Martha’s eyes were saucers. The counterfeit Christmas card was still on our mantel.
“Good,” Mama said. “Something really strange happened a few days ago.”
“What?” Hattie asked.
“A couple we don’t know sent us a Christmas card. There it is, on the mantle.”
Hattie’s face clouded as she picked up the card. “This looks like the card I sent last year.”
“Really?” Mama said. “That’s odd.” Martha and I hid behind the sofa and tried to look small.
“Was there a return address?”
“That’s odd too, but the handwriting seems familiar,” Hattie said. “It looks like……….”
Our mothers turned and spoke simultaneously. “Girls, do you know anything about this?”
“Kinda,” Martha said softly. Our faces flushed red as our imaginary bubble exploded into a whirl of embarrassment. We waited, sure of swift punishment.
Then, wonder of wonders, our mothers laughed, covering their mouths as they struggled for breath.”
“I can’t believe it,” My mother gasped, chuckling so hard that her eyes watered. “How did you come up with Eugenia?”
“Comic book,” I whispered.
“Well, you get a hundred points for originality,” Mama said. “You had me fooled.”
It was an especially joyous and fun filled Christmas as my parents told the story again and again. In the end, nothing bad happened, except Daddy received a barrage of calls from the insurance guy. So, I like to join Frank and Eugenia in wishing you a very Merry Christmas. Happy New Year too.