“Who is that glamorous couple?” I asked Bill the Printer one long ago snowy day in Ohio. He'd just run off a stack of holiday cards featuring a gorgeously lit photo of a handsome couple in evening dress. “Are they actors? Millionaire philanthropists?”
Bill laughed. “That’s what they want you to think. They’re Joan and Darren Silverman, just ordinary folks. But every year they dress up, produce a flashy holiday card, and send it out to celebrities, hoping for a card in return. And since celebrities can’t always remember who they’ve met during the year, sometimes it works. By now they’re on quite a few high-end mailing lists.” He named some TV personalities, minor film stars, and rising politicos.
“Ingenious,” I said. Then inspiration struck. “I know, I’ll do the same thing to them!” Bill thought this was hilarious and — small towns being relaxed about such things — had no qualms about providing me with their address. I was in his shop picking up my own cards, and I went right home and wrote one to them. “Joan and Darren, you’re the best! Continued success in the year ahead.” It was in the mail by nightfall. Bill phoned a few days later. “They’re completely flummoxed,” he said. “They told me they can’t figure out who you guys are!”
We exchanged holiday cards with the Silvermans for years, and every time theirs arrived, Rich and I roared with laughter and considered it a highlight of the season. A timely reminder that the holidays aren’t about being perfect or feeling sentimental or finding the meaning of life. They’re about staggering to the end of the year as best we can, arriving disheveled and exhausted, with just enough creative energy left to think up a few last bits of fun to round out the season.
Take our Thanksgiving feast, for instance. This being 2020, we knew it would be madness to gather with friends or relatives, so I suggested to Rich that we populate our table with various non-human members of the household: Two life-sized skeletons from Mexico, one of which I’d given to Rich during our courtship, the other I’d presented to him as a wedding gift. A Mayan head wearing a Thai headdress and 3-D sunglasses. A Buddhist monk. And Lucille, who once modeled fashion accessories in a shop and now serves as Rich’s hat rack.
“This isn’t creepy, right?” I asked Rich. “It’s just for company, like Tom Hanks and his friend Wilson the Volleyball in Castaway.”
“Are you kidding? It’s Thanksgiving with the Addams family.”
I sent a photo of our Thanksgiving table companions to European friends in Seville, with the subject line “This isn’t too weird, is it?”
They promptly wrote back saying the very fact we could even ask that question was deeply worrying. “This is how we imagine your feast,” they added, sending us a link to the classic comedy skit of the butler who drinks all the wine poured out for absent friends.
We may not have a butler, but we did our best to create a vivid atmosphere. Particularly sharp-eyed readers may have noticed in the photo at the start of this post that we used the gratitude quilt as our tablecloth. The quilt project has exceeded my wildest expectations. Many thanks to all the readers, friends, and relatives who told me what they’re grateful for this year. Your comments were wonderful: funny, profound, quirky, and so very, very you. I had to condense the wording considerably, to make the lettering legible while writing with a fat, felt-tipped marker on the rough quilted surface, but I did my best to capture the spirit of every remark.
The quilt is now permanently enshrined as our holiday tablecloth, for as long as it lasts. We have agreed wine stains and grease spots will only add to its character. I still have some comments to add, but there's plenty of room for more, so if you haven’t contributed yet, please use the comments section below to let me know what you’re thankful for this year. Even 2020 had its bright spots. (Yes, it did!)
What am I thankful for? The Covid-19 vaccine. With our national numbers climbing to dizzying heights — 13.8 million cases and 271,000 deaths at last count — recent announcements that scientists have come up with effective immunizations sparked widespread rejoicing. But the fizzy mood of unity falls flat the moment talk turns to the distribution plan.
Because there is no plan. There won’t be nearly enough to go around, at least at first. Pfizer and Moderna combined are expected to produce and distribute enough vaccines for 45 million people by the end of January, leaving 283 million Americans still unprotected. The current administration has refused to take on the task of organizing the distribution, leaving it up to the governor of each state to decide who gets first dibs on the two-part vaccine. Everyone agrees healthcare workers are the top priority, but donnybrooks of Biblical proportions have erupted over who comes next in each state. Non-medical essential workers, older adults, obese adults with compromised immune systems, meat packers, ski instructors living in shared housing … the lists go on and on.
Rich remains optimistic about our chances. “Luckily, we’re living in Marin County, the epicenter of the anti-vaccination movement. That means a lot less demand from our neighbors. We’re older adults, so after healthcare workers, we’re practically at the head of the line.”
The powers that be continue to duke it out, and I suspect not much will happen until the new administration takes over on January 20. Whatever the timeline, I’m holding on to the idea that the vaccine might be coming my way by the spring, paving the way for our return to Seville. Spain’s numbers are falling now, another hopeful sign, although more spikes are likely everywhere due to super-spreader family togetherness this month.
In the meantime, I’m sending messages of holiday cheer to my amigos around the world. The few I have street addresses for will be getting real, paper holiday cards, something I haven’t sent out since I moved to Seville. Sadly, I can no longer find the address I once had for the Silvermans. Which by the way, is not their real name; I didn’t want to reveal their identity and risk spoiling their game, should they still be at it. And I hope they are. In fact, I imagine them sitting by a fireplace writing out their bogus cards again this year, trying for Tom Hanks, Betty White, and Dr. Fauci. I picture one turning to the other and remarking, “Remember those total strangers who used to send us holiday cards? The McCanns? Boy, those guys were really weird.” I like to think in our own small way we helped make their holidays truly special.
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This post is part of my ongoing series of articles on surviving the pandemic while holding on to some shreds of our sanity and sense of humor, however weird things get.
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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