Life As We Know It: December 23, 2013

       They’re almost as ubiquitous, and sometimes as annoying, as cell phones. Thank goodness, like fruitcakes and bad eggnog, they are only seasonal.

        The holiday letters. You know the ones. The mass-produced messages of self-congratulation from friends and relatives that remind you how wonderful and busy and fulfilled they and their kids are, compared to you and yours, of course.

        Let me say first that I understand the appeal of drafting a letter once and sending it out to everybody on the Christmas list. A mass-produced update is better than no update at all.

        But not every family has a son who plays classical piano AND linebacker at Ohio State. Not every family has a granddaughter who can recite the Gettysburg address at 14 months, or a middle-school whiz kid who’s already pondering scholarship offers from Stanford and MIT, or a spouse whose promotion as head of pathology at Johns Hopkins means early retirement in two years, or a sister who was named president of Bryn Mawr and hit the Power Ball lottery on the same day.

        What about the families for whom no such good fortune accrues? Or at least the ones unwilling to give their lives a somewhat misleading spin?

        What would a letter look like that played it absolutely straight, no matter what the news? Maybe it would read like this:

        Dear Friends,

        Well, I can hardly believe this year is nearly over. Harvey and I don’t know about you, but we are ready to kiss this one good-bye. And maybe each other, come to think of it. Harvey found himself a girlfriend back in March. And although his dalliance with Muriel put a bounce in his step, I’m no longer amused.

        I’m still working two jobs so I can make restitution to the neighbor for the lawnmower Harvey borrowed and then wrecked in the front yard when it hit a long forgotten and nearly buried front bumper from Uncle Ned’s old Chevy pickup. Harvey’s new metal hip continues to give him nothing but grief. Yesterday he got stuck to the refrigerator.

        As for the kids, they are something else.

        Mack, our oldest, decided we weren’t good enough for him and ran off to Texas with the office manager from his bait shop. He calls every now and then, though not to chat. He always reverses the charges, which we refuse. It’s his way of letting us know he’s OK, and our way of letting him know we care.

        Lucy, who used to be cute as a button before she got, um, heavy, turned 32 this year. We’re sorry to report that the makeover didn’t take. But she’s a trooper, and she’s determined, or so she says, to move out and try life on her own as soon as the last of the bandages come off. We’ll believe it when we see it.

        We do have one piece of good news to share. Spike, our baby, goes before the parole board in February. Keep your fingers crossed. The kid can’t catch a break. He spray-painted the security camera BEFORE he put on his ski mask. DUH!

        I don’t know why Harvey and I stay together. You certainly can’t say it’s for the kids.

        And don’t get me started on Roland. That’s Harvey’s brother. He moved his 1974 Minnie Winnie RV into our driveway in September and apparently has no intention of leaving. We’d have called the sheriff by now but Roland’s companion, Robert, is such a nice fellow we just can’t do it.

        I guess I shouldn’t complain. At least we have a roof over our heads. Except for the rear bedroom. Back in July, the tornado caught that corner of the house. You never heard such a racket. We can’t get it fixed, but it’s okay. Lucy says she likes it that way.

        Oh, and the tornado took Edgar, the pit bull, to his reward. But we are truly blessed in one sense: it didn’t touch Spike’s boa constrictor, which we are keeping until his return from prison. Spike didn’t care for the dog anyway, but that snake is his life.

        That’s about it.

        From our house, or what’s left of it, to yours,