A Christmas Letter from an Old Friend by
(120 Stories)

Prompted By Snail Mail

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Note: This is a revised excerpt from my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real. In the almost five years since I wrote it, we talk annually by phone rather than write these letters. Thus, the demise of snail mail for real communication.

It’s several pages of blue ink on real stationery that’s crammed full of things I want to know: the health of her husband, the latest project she is working on, what her three sons are doing, and cute anecdotes about her grandkids.

I only receive one Christmas letter in recent years, and it generally arrives sometime in January. My friend still hand-writes her annual note (her fingers are not as arthritic as mine, I guess). It’s several pages of blue ink on real stationery that’s crammed full of things I want to know: the health of her husband, the latest project she is working on, what her three sons are doing, and cute anecdotes about her grandkids. I write/type back, remembering how important she was to me and filled with nostalgia for our brief but intense friendship. In our annual letters, we resolve to stay in touch, but we both know that another year will fly by without much communication. Since she moved away from the Chicago area in 1975, we have only seen each other a few times and have spoken by phone and emailed infrequently. And yet, the love we shared has somehow stayed intact.

I used to hate receiving annual Christmas letters from folks who sent them to brag about everything they and their kids had accomplished. Facebook killed those letters. Now people can subtly brag year-round. You know what I mean. The post generally says something like, “What a huge expense taking Caden to Barnes & Noble every week to get a new supply of books. He reads them so quickly (way above grade level!).” In case you skip over these kinds of posts rather than “liking” them, you can see the short version in the “Year in Review” Facebook creates for its users. So, no, I don’t miss this kind of Christmas letter at all. But I start checking the mail in early January, looking for the letter I would miss like crazy if it didn’t arrive by the end of the month. When I see that fat blue envelope with her return address in the corner, my day becomes something special. I read it several times and then rush to my computer to reply. It feels like receiving a love letter, and in a way that’s what it is.

To understand our bond, I have to go back to 1971. We were young new moms staying at home with our infant sons, living a high-rise apartment complex on the old Michael Reese Hospital campus in Chicago. My friend’s husband and mine were medical residents, our incomes were small, and our isolation was considerable. Her mother had died and mine lived out of town. One of her sons was nine months older than mine and she also had a baby. That made her my expert in child rearing. How lucky I was that she was such a calm, sensible mom who could laugh at most anything. Well, maybe not at her younger son pulling a dresser down by climbing up the drawers, but that’s another story.

Every morning at 7:30, my phone rang. Which sandbox should we go to, or did we want to start at the park? Your apartment or mine? By 8:00, we were out and about, snow or rain, frigid or hot weather. I can’t remember what we talked about for all of those hours. Only that we laughed a lot, figured out how to parent our children together, and shared some sadness as well. She was the friend who rescued my one-year-old son when the elevator doors shut before I could take him off, resulting in a ride to the top and back for him and hysteria for me. She was the friend who saved me when my diaper bag became entangled in the escalator we were riding up and down with our little ones to entertain them on a cold winter day. She was the sister I had longed for but never had. Call it karma or fate, but our oldest kids ended up professors in similar fields. They even roomed together for a semester in Cambridge. Was there something about the way we raised them together those first three years?

1975 trip to Disneyland. I still had one more kids to be born.

Well, residencies end and folks move on, ending up all over the country. I stuck close to Chicago. She ended up in Oklahoma. We met for vacations when the kids were small, and then life just happened. Now we are both grandparents. The last time I saw her, we swapped stories about that. As always, we laughed until we cried. Not surprisingly, we were pretty much on the same page.

When I think of her, especially at the beginning of a New Year, I still miss her presence. We were so young when we spent all of that time together. The notion we would be grandparents and turn 70 seemed impossible to imagine. But now here we are, both wondering how so much time had passed since we took our kids on the shuttle bus to downtown Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s), or went on a vacation to Disneyland with four adults and six kids all fitting in a jumbo station wagon with the back seat folded down, or meeting again when our sons shared that apartment, or exchanging wedding and grandkid stories.

Even as the years pile on, there is a thread that will always connect my life to hers. So, I’m going to keep writing my Christmas letters to my dear old friend. They may not be in the mail until after the New Year. That’s OK. She understands.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Lovely story, Laurie. How lucky you each were to have each other at that critical moment in your lives and wonderful that the friendship has been maintained all these years. Yes, I understand that you may not see one another, but the shared experiences bonded you forever and you can always pick up right where you left off. I love that seeing that blue stationery lifts your day.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. Seems like I’m in a nostalgia phase these days, thinking about old friends. I have to call her soon because I think she’s finding it hard to write actual letters these days, as am I.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Sometimes I think there is nothing better than a good long telephone chat. We may not be able to refer back to it years later, but it’s great to hear the other’s voice and really get caught up immediately with a good back and forth. The only problem for me (with a bored, retired husband at home 100% of the time) is making the time to call.

  2. Marian says:

    Great story, Laurie, and I love your astute observations about Christmas letters. Got me to thinking about the ones I get. Although I like the news, they are all done on the computer and thus aren’t personal. Something has been lost …

    • Laurie Levy says:

      For sure, Marian. I did post a version of one of these on FaceBook many years ago, but it felt (and was) generic. My arthritic hands make hand-written letters challenging for me, but I have composed letters on my computer and emailed them to her. Like many, she rarely looks at her email or FaceBook, so I think the phone is our best option. Another loss…

  3. Suzy says:

    This is a great story, Laurie. How ideal that you met this friend in 1971 when you both had infant sons. And how terrific that you have kept the connection all these years. I agree with you about those bragging holiday letters, I can think of one couple we hear from every year that writes just the way you describe, and it’s very annoying! But your annual letter from this friend was entirely different. Nice that you are still in touch, even if it is now by phone instead of letter. Phone calls are wonderful in a different way – you can’t save them, but you can interact in real time, which is also special.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      So true, Suzy. It was amazing that our little boys ended up at Harvard and MIT and that they roomed together that one summer. Then, they went their separate ways. I guess a guy’s besties from when he was 3 don’t mean much all of those years later. At least it didn’t make a huge impression on our sons, who were headed in different directions back then. Connie and I, on the other hand, were delighted they reconnected, even though it was for a brief time.

  4. This story brought tears to my eyes, Laurie! What a beautiful, tender friendship! I especially love those 7:30 a.m. calls . . .when circumstances were such that you didn’t have to pencil in dates weeks or months in advance to see a friend. And I know what you mean about those Christmas brag letters. It’s funny . . .even with Facebook (which I rarely use these days), I find myself not wanting to say much about where I am or how much fun I’m having because I don’t want someone who’s not getting out or not having fun to feel bad.

    Someone said, “Old friends are the best friends,” and on some level I have to agree. Although there’s nothing wrong with new friends! Cheers!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Barbara. That was a special time in our lives. We taught ourselves how to parent our kids and made the time so much less lonely than it could have been. I hated where we lived (all of the wives did because we were confined to these five high rises surrounded by dicey neighborhoods), but I treasure the friendships from back then. Sisterhood is powerful!

      In recent years, I don’t even get those brag letters, and I avoid FB posts that are essentially the same. Even the cards folks send featuring the most happy photos for their kids/grandkids can feel like bragging. I stopped doing them because I have a ton of grandkids but many of my friends don’t have any.

  5. Laurie,
    you’re so right about those bragging annual letters from friends, they always makes me feel I’ve done nothing and travelled no where in the past year!

    And I lovingly remember being a young mom sharing the day with a friend and her kid in tow. And I do remember once sitting on a bench watching my son playing in the sand box, and thinking “I have another year before my maternity leave ends, before he outgrows this playground, and before this precious time flees, treasure it.”

    And indeed it fled, and where oh where did the years go?

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