Holiday notes: an intimate pick-me-up

Hanukkah started for me this year with a holiday letter from my old friend Tom. That’s what I’ve always called him, although for many years as a Protestant minister, he’s been more properly referred to as “Reverend.” We met when both of us were teenage delegates to the Midcentury White House Conference on Children and Youth.
The above was a once-in-a-decade event originated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1909; it continued until 1970, with the last during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Somehow or other, Pennsylvania chose us in 1950 — probably recognizing Tom’s work with youth in his church and mine with groups at my local Jewish center. And so, off we went to Washington.
What did we know, in our solidly middle-class homes, about the problems of America’s youth? We dutifully attended meetings and workshops, took copious notes, later made required reports of our scanty learning to the leaders of our sponsoring entities. But Tom and I have agreed, over these many years, about how futile it was to include “youngsters,” which as high schoolers we very much were, in discussions of policy recommendations.
We traveled by train, were housed in a hotel with other young delegates from across the country — under careful chaperonage, of course — and what I’m sure was remembered best by all of us was shaking the hand of President Harry Truman!
Tom was two years ahead of me in his high school, a fair distance from mine on the other side of Pittsburgh. But I went to his graduation and he came to mine when he was already in seminary, preparing for his lifelong calling. Each year since, we’ve had annual “reunions” through our exchange of holiday letters.
This year’s information was more poignant than usual because of two losses: my sister, and Tom’s wife Lois, his organist throughout their decades at the Orthodox Presbyterian church in Rhode Island which called Tom to minister after his ordination. When they retired several years ago from full-time work, they frequently filled in for ministers and organists at other New England churches, also finding new delight in volunteer ushering for concerts and theaters in venues close to their home.
But eventually the time came for “real retirement,” and at the urging of family — mostly children and grandchildren who had somehow wound up in Minnesota — they migrated to a suburb of Minneapolis, enjoying a relaxed lifestyle in the senior-care Christian home that met all their needs, including most especially the religious ones.
But the old saying rings true: “All good things must come to an end,” as did the life of my friend’s dear wife. However, although Tom is saddened, he managed a bit of wit in this year’s letter, saying how he especially misses Lois now because they had always written previous messages together. Then he proudly pointed out how his family order has continued: His father was the first Tom, so my friend became Tom, Jr.; in the years since, Tom III and Tom IV have been born; most recently, there was the arrival of Tom V, the first — but surely not to be the last — great-grandchild.
I’ve just read an article in Good Housekeeping in which a woman details her many reasons for no longer sending Christmas letters or even cards with brief notes: They cost too much to buy, duplicate, and stamp for mailing when so many faster, easier, cheaper and kinder-to-the-environment (think the loss of trees) means for holiday communication are now universally available. She even rails against family photos, since they can be exchanged easily and often by cellphone. And she is absolutely right! However, I will continue to cherish the old-fashioned way, writing with a pen the personal messages I send to many whom I care about — especially those I can count on to send the same kind of personal messages, some even with pictures enclosed, to me.
May Tom and I live on — apart but still together — through our holiday letters!

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