After the Fact: Coal in your stocking


Dr. Mr. and Dr. Mrs. Tealeaf both taught at a university in Northern Colorado. They were not among my mother’s favorite cousins, but every year, we’d get a Christmas letter account of the magnificence of their lives for the entire year and my mom would dutifully return a Hallmark card signed simply, “The Morgans.”

From about Thanksgiving on, all in our family would breathlessly anticipate the arrival of their letter and the after-dinner reading. It was sort of like sharing the “Humor in Uniform” or “Life in These United States” jokes in Readers’ Digest.

The Tealeafs had no children and they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about pets which explained, to me, at least, the absence of Santa and the eight tiny reindeer in their outdoor Christmas decor. The letter told one and all about the hundreds, nay, thousands of people from all corners of the world who drove past their home to see the otherwise glorious display. Looking back, I believe most of the movie, “The Griswold’s Family Christmas” was written after someone read the Tealeaf’s holiday version. We never had occasion to drive by so I can’t testify to the veracity of the narrative but I did see, once, a very small, very foggy, yellowed Kodak photo. I wasn’t impressed.

Dr. Mr. had taken flying lessons at some point, and they purchased a small craft in which they criss-crossed the country during school vacations, commenting in the letter about the weather and food and 99-star restaurants with an occasional aside about former students they’d visited for a day. They never went to CA to visit his brother nor did they go to NM to see my mother. If Dr. Mrs. had relatives on this continent, they never mentioned them, either.

As mom read, we’d make up things we thought would be an appropriate response for our own message of Christmas cheer.

“We didn’t have money for electricity this year, so the Morgan family had their usual outdoor Christmas display of paper bags filled with sand and candles. We had to send Steve out with his trusty musket to hunt for the turkey we’ll have for dinner.” And we’d go on making up “poor, pitiful” stories that, of course, were never written but we laughed a lot. We figured they’d never seen real farolitos and Dr. Mr. would shoot his own foot if he had gun with which to bring down a turkey. 

Other relatives and friends write notes in their cards, some send those photo cards and a very few send out the holiday letter, none as pretentious as those written by the Tealeafs and a whole lot more welcome. I really like the photo cards that show “a slice of life,” as my brother Steve’s parade of dogs or Cousin Phil’s letter with pictures of the year’s highlights. Richard and Sheri Leger from Sapello, NM have been sending photos of their three boys since they had only one chubby toddler. This year, I got the photo graduation announcement from that son who is now the tall, gorgeous cowboy your daughter, or granddaughter would go all dreamy over.

With the cost of postage ever-rising and another proposed increase in the works, Christmas cards and letters will become a memory and the only thing in your mailbox will be the electric bill for all of your outdoor Christmas lights that only the people in your neighborhood will admire. Unless it’s really, really ostentatious. I loved a display I saw a few years ago in Las Vegas, NM. The trees in the yard had the traditional decorations highlighting a smallish Santa in a smallish sleigh pulled by eight great yard flamingos wearing Santa caps. Chayne Boutillette would love it! So, if you’re looking for a new home for your lawn flamingos, leave them on her front lawn on 2nd Street. Put Santa caps on them if you have ‘em. Merry Christmas to all!

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