When I take down the Christmas trappings and chuck the cards in to the recycle bin, I hold one back. This one I store with the tree decorations. That way, next December I will have it to hand when I set about composing my reply. My correspondent was the sweet and gentle suitor of a wonderful elderly neighbour. She died 7 years ago and this is a remanent of our friendship I suppose. Joan was quite disabled when she passed away age 84. Practically blind but loathe to admit it, she served me tea in china cups with red lipstick stains. We talked about her life as a single gal in London in the 50s’,60s’ etc and she was always eager to hear me read anything I had written or prose I had stumbled across. Her son went to drama college. How proud he made her taking the lead roles in Shakespeare productions. She couldn’t mask her disappointment when she recounted the steps that led him to leave the profession to get a ‘real job’ selling double glazing windows. When I left the street and moved in with my boyfriend I maintained the visits and calls but they were not so frequent and soon I had the distractions of a young family. My first ever letter from Geoff, her boyfriend of 50 years, was notice of her death and details of the service should I like to come along. There were 18 of us at the crematorium and I felt privileged to be in that intimate grouping. I was shocked to discover Joan’s age from the Eulogy – about 10 years older than I had reckoned. Geoff painted a wonderful picture of a wonderful woman. Her 16-year-old grand-daughter sang a haunting rendition of Over The Rainbow. In Geoff’s christmas card from 2009 he told me that Jessica had landed the role of Sophie in the West End production of Mama Mia.
Joan’s bequests included a wish for a bench in Kew and occasionally I get an update on its progress. Throughout the year on our outings to the Botanical gardens I find myself checking out the memorial plaques for Joan’s… Geoff tells me I could be waiting some time. It’s not as easy to realise as you might think.
So the way the card works – Geoff will wait until after he has received and read mine to send his to me. Then I sit on his greeting for almost a year before picking up the threads in the Christmas card I post back.
Christmas is full of traditions and this is one of mine.