I was telling a neighbor that my friend Alice was helping me label and stuff my holiday cards.
“You still send Christmas cards?” the neighbor asked.
“Yes,” I answered, “I’ve sent cards as long as I remember. My father sent cards, so I just followed the family tradition.”
Frankly, I like receiving holiday cards, too, especially the ones that are creative or feature photos and news of the families involved. Yes, I know comedians like to make fun of long family letters where every family member is an achiever, but the letters I get are generally quite newsy, sometimes funny and I love reading them.
My father always had fun with his holiday cards – he’d write poems and take cute pictures. Here’s one of my favorite cards sent by my father (and mother) to friends and family in 1955 and featuring young brother Roger.
As for me, I started my Christmas card tradition in the 1960s with short essays that eventually talked about the season. In more recent years I have turned to humor, lots of husband and dog photos and a bit of news. Malia is one of my essays, written in the late 1960s following my first (and only) trip to Europe.
The road is not paved – nor are there lights and signs to guide your way. As you walk down the road, you must dodge ruts and rocks, but you proceed. To your right and to your left are olive trees and banana trees and windmills. The windmills turn slowly and pump water to earthen troughs which eventually feed hundreds of irrigation ditches in the land.
In the fields you see women in black, laboring and at the same time watching a youngster still too small to help. You pass a mustached little old man with dark, weathered skin, He is with his best friend – a donkey – and he is going … somewhere. He smiles as he passes.
You see manicured fields and smell wild smells. The air is clean and suddenly you realize that breathing is a miracle. You pass a house and see a cart, being loaded with products from the field. The family loading the cart looks at you because you are strange – your skin is not weathered; your hands are soft and your dress is not black.
As you near the end of the road you can sense and smell the sea, but you are stopped. On your right is a fence and through the slats you can see, inside, a small chapel and a graveyard. The caskets are above ground, painted white. There are no tombstones or memorial statues – just white crosses on each casket. The chapel too is carefully white. You cannot open the gate, so you just look at the simple whitewashed yard.
Then you walk to the sea. The waves are not high – but are rhythmic and they wash up shells and plants from the sea. Tangles and nets of seaweed are strewn on the deserted beach. It’s quiet by the sea – and warm. You can swim here, and you do. You are choked by the beauty and peace of this place.
I am asked now where I would like to spend Christmas. I would go to the island of Crete, near the city of Malia. I would once again walk down that road — to the sea.
And now, the dogs