By Mark Lehman
For generations, a holiday tradition in my family was to string a wire across the fireplace mantel to display much-anticipated Christmas cards. The cards would fill the mailbox in the days leading up to Christmas as loved one’s touched base with friends and family. Almost all the cards came with a written correspondence of annual family updates. I remember my parents sitting down each evening to read the cards as a rite of the holidays.
The notes were usually hand-written and sincere. With one exception. Our beloved Aunt Beth always typed out a long letter highlighting her families “too-good-to-be-true” annual accomplishments. She would mimeograph (a lost term for a bad copy job) the letter in mass to send out to all us less fortunate souls. It was amusing to read about how her husband was getting yet another promotion, her son continued to be at the top of his class, her daughter was once again voted most popular in school, and Beth stayed busy going to meetings and decorating the new house. (I think every family has an Aunt Beth.)
As I continue to trace my family history through my own shoebox files, and in letters other family members have forwarded to me, I am so glad that many of these cards were saved and passed down through generations. (Even some of Aunt Beth’s letters survived.)
This year at our annual Christmas Eve gathering several cousins shared some of their family’s old cards that had survived through the years. In reading these cards we all learned so much about our family legacy. We also mused at a letter from Aunt Beth’s sister where she spilled the beans that the rosy picture her sister painted of her ‘wonderful life’ may have been a bit exaggerated. Or at least lacking information which included the daughters “shot-gun” wedding and an embezzlement conviction by her philandering husband. We were not laughing at Aunt Beth and her woes – just celebrating more family trials, triumphs, and rich histories.
The wire across the mantel for holiday cards is a long-gone tradition as most modern Christmas cards are glossy postcards with a pre-printed message, or an impersonal post on Facebook. This is not all bad because, thanks to social media, we don’t have to wait for an annual card to get important family updates. The problem is today’s cards are easily trashed as “insignificant” or discarded with a touch of a “delete” button.
While Christmas messaging may no longer be the answer, the need to look for ways to preserve our family heritage through the written word remains paramount.
In my own small box of family mementos stuffed between Boy Scout merit badges and baseball participation trophies is a letter written to me and my brother from our mother dated January 1, 1990. She wanted to mark the end of a decade with some personal thoughts and memories. While her dedication to family and faith were unquestioned, she went on to list other important items in her life over the previous 10 years. The list included: her favorite rescue dog, her favorite book and movie, and noteworthy milestones and personal accomplishments. Looking forward she was optimistic about all the fast-paced opportunities my brother and I would enjoy in comings years. She concluded her letter with some spiritual advice encouraging us to seeking God’s will in all ways.
That letter turns 30-years old this week as we celebrate the end of another decade. This type of milestone is an excellent way to reach out to family members with a written correspondence that may just end up in someone’s family treasures that inspires and educates future generations.
Mark Lehman recently retired from the Vice President of Governmental Affairs as the Texas Association of REALTORS®. In this position, he is responsible for coordinating all legislative and political activities related to the Texas Real Estate Political Action Committee (TREPAC) and the 120,000 member association. Lehman’s primary focus is centered on legislation that directly affects the real estate industry and the rights of private-property owners in Texas.
Prior to joining the Texas Association of REALTORS®, Lehman served as campaign director for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s successful campaign for Texas attorney general. He has served as chief-of-staff for a Texas State Senator and worked for 3 U.S. Congressmen in Washington, D.C. He is a veteran of more than a dozen political campaigns and has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News.