Not quite Hallmark but not Woolworth’s

Standing in line at the supermarket I glanced over at the cover of a magazine which proclaimed, “Have the very merriest Christmas ever” with a picture of a lovely family sitting down to dinner while a fireplace roared in the background and the opened gifts lay neatly around the Christmas tree. There was dad in his red sport coat and mom wearing pearls and the kids all smiling just like at our house when I was a kid except we didn’t have a fireplace and Dad didn’t have a red sport coat and Mom didn’t wear pearls and the gifts were all over the living room.
That idyllic picture made me think about our Christmases which included special family traditions that wouldn’t quite fit into the “Have the very merriest Christmas ever” picture. It made me think of the classic short story by O. Henry with the ironic ending, “The Gift of the Magi”.
Each year at our house a large cardboard box would come down from the attic with the tree stand, the lights, a wreath, two boxes of glass ornaments and a bag with the Christmas cards my mother had received from friends the previous year.
She would sit there at the dining room table and go through the cards to determine who would receive one of our cards this year. I remember the smile on her face as she said that eliminating the Murphy’s and the Cook’s and the McMahon’s and a few others because they didn’t send us a card last year meant that she had exactly enough cards for this year. Sort of culling the card herd, I guess.
And then there came the sound of the mailman making his deposit in the mailbox, which included a card from the McMahon’s, (Art, Lucille and Morty), followed by a groan from my mother.
“You’re going to have to go to the store for more cards” she said and so off my dad went.
“All they had left were these cards and my mother gasped at the price on a box of twelve not quite Hallmark but not Woolworth’s cards.
“Well, as long as I’m going to send the McMahon’s a card I might as well send cards to the Murphy’s, and the Cook’s and the Duncan’s” and so she did and three days later when the mailman filled up the mailbox there were cards (the good ones, not quite Hallmark but not Woolworth’s) from the Murphy’s (Dick and Dorothy), the Cook’s (Ed and Marge) and the Duncan’s (Pete and Joan).
And so the friends who weren’t quite good enough friends to get a card from my mother ended up receiving the nicest cards of all from her. Is that an O. Henry story or what?


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