The first people on the list have had a house move since last year. I write the card, then address it with the unfamiliar street name.
Next, four non-movers, then another new address. This time I don’t know it. I send a message to ask. The card won’t be a surprise but that’s OK, cards aren’t really a surprise.
Three more that are exactly as they were last year – same address, same people – life matching list.
Then one with a new baby. How do they spell her name – with the H at the end or not? I scroll back through text messages to find the birth announcement. With the H. I write the card, and think how surreal it is that a little person who didn’t exist last Christmas is here today, and getting cards. I add her name to the list.
The Christmas card list is older than my kids, older than my marriage. I’ve been adding babies and editing addresses and saving new versions every year since 2001. And every year, it serves not only as a list of addresses for cards, but as a record of what has changed since the year before. New babies. New houses. New husbands. New surnames. A name added when he moves in with her. And sometimes, when it doesn’t work out, a name removed.
What I wish now is that I had all the lists, or at least the very first one from 2001. But I only have the newest one. There’s no way to look back and see how it grew and changed year on year. A file not saved – a paper-trail extinguished.
I keep going through the list, until I get to Elizabeth Fitzgerald. It catches me. I must have said something out loud, because my daughter who is doing her homework beside me asks what’s wrong. I tell her I’ve just come to my granny’s name on the list, and I’m feeling sad, because there’s no need to send a card this year.
I’ve been sending cards to granny for as long as I can remember – since I first started making homemade cards at school. Bringing them with me when we went to stay with her each Christmas – when I was the lucky one who got to stay on for an extra week after everyone else went home. Melted-butter one-sided toast and a real fire and books and toys and blankets and warmth and love. I saw her a lot less in recent years, but she was always there, the way people are. And now she’s not. It’s not the sadness that comes with real grief – not the kind that comes when someone dies too young, or too suddenly. It’s a moment of realisation, a jolt. For the first time ever, there’s no need to send her a card.
My daughter looks at me with her big grey eyes and says nothing at first. Then she has an idea. “Why don’t you write a card anyway mum,” she says, “And don’t post it, but just put it away somewhere special?” It’s perfect.
And I go on through the list, and see that there are two new names to add. Two great-grand-daughters to Elizabeth Fitzgerald, two nieces to me. Life-changing babies to all of us who know them. New to the list and new to the world. Oblivious to Christmas, but for those of us around them, making it complete.