My mother needed her Christmas card list updated because — well there’s no gentle way to put it — her friends keep dying. Since I was the one who volunteered to print the address labels for her Christmas cards the year after my dad died, the maintenance of her Christmas card list is now my permanent job.
I knew she had multiple changes, so to make things easier I printed up a paper version of the labels and mailed them to her. I figured she could make her corrections and then mail it back to me.
But no, she insisted we had to do it by phone. As I held my copy of the printed labels while my mother held hers, we proceeded to discuss each and every one of the 45 names, whether they needed changing or not.
Mother: Mrs. John Bonham, yes that’s right because John died two years ago so that’s correct that it’s just her. And yes, Mrs. Richard Burke, that’s good, that’s still correct. Mrs. Jill Carlin, yes that’s fine.
Me: Mother, what if you only tell me the ones that aren’t correct? Perhaps that would make things go quicker?
Mother: Oh, okay, you prefer to do it that way?
Me: Yes, Yes I would.
Mother: Okay. Oh, Susie Callahan moved. Didn’t I tell you? I swear I remember telling you that. You see she felt like the house was just too big for her after Jim died, so she moved into a smaller place that’s closer to her daughter, Jennifer. Jennifer is so helpful the way she comes over to Susie’s house each week and cleans and pays her bills for her and takes her to all her doctor appointments. . .”
Me: Yes, yes, Jennifer is a wonderful daughter. I’m glad things are working out for them. But can you please give me Susie’s new address?
Mother: Oh, sure, sure. Didn’t I give it to you already? I have to find that somewhere. But wait, before I forget, take off Karen Russell.
Me: Why? Did she die?
Mother: No, no. But she never sends me a card so take her off. And take off Evelyn Stoner, she stopped sending me cards too. Well she sent a couple, so I put her back on the list, but then a few years passed and she stopped again. So let’s take her off. And take off Corinne Johnson — she’s been dead for months. And Marilyn Stanich too.
Me: Wait, I thought you said Marilyn had Alzheimer’s? Did she die?
Mother: Oh no, she’s still alive. But, she has gotten quite a bit worse lately. She probably doesn’t remember who I am, and even if she did, she’d forget to send me a card in return, so let’s take her off the list.
Me: Wait, just because she has Alzheimer’s? Really? Don’t you think she’d enjoy a nice card even if she doesn’t know who it’s from? She might enjoy it more than other people because she might think it’s a new card each day.
Mother: All right, fine, keep her on the list then. It just seems like a waste of money if she doesn’t have any idea who I am or where the card came from. But, that’s fine, let’s send her a card.
But do take off Evelyn Wagoner. She finally did die. She had been battling Parkinson’s for years, you know. Her daughter Noreen had her move in to her house so she could take care of her. But of course she has quite a large house down in Newport and her three children were all grown, not like yours . . .
And oh good, you have the Mosengs from Norway on there, I see. The address is 5332 Tveeterassvien, Bergen . . .
Me: Mother, we are looking at the very same list. It’s a photocopy. If you’re reading the address off the list, then it’s a safe bet that I have it correct too.
Mother: Well, you don’t need to be sarcastic.
Me: I’m sorry. Okay, is that it? No one else died? No one else to punish for getting sick or failing to send you a card? Cause I could make these changes and get them in the mail later today.
Mother: Oh, no need to rush. I don’t ever send cards this early. Although I do need to send the international ones right away. Why don’t you send those 5 labels to me now?
Me: Mother, they’re all on the same sheets of labels. They print at one time. I’ll send them today.
Mother: Thank you. Do you need me to reimburse you? I’m happy to pay for them.
Me: No, Mother that’s fine. Consider these two sheets of labels an early Christmas gift from me.
Mother: Well, thank you. Are you sure? Because I could write you a check.
** Is That The Shirt You’re Wearing? a collection of other comic essays by Kristen Hansen Brakeman, is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.