Friday, July 15, 2011

The Curse of Annual Family Form Letters


I began today’s column as a personal “form letter” to all those people who send annual letters at Christmas. You know, those that share all the great things happening in their lives during the past year. I decided to write my own. I began it this way:

This is one of those “who in the world cares” letters that usually flood our mailboxes at Christmastime. The kind that is filled with the exploits of kids, grandkids and great-grandkids with whom we have never met; have never corresponded with and have no plans to meet.

Who doesn't love to go to the mailbox and find a newsy letter? The disappointment comes when it is a self-congratulatory opus of someone’s second cousin being promoted at Taco Bell? --- Merry Christmas!

Or to get a long detailed account from this voice out of the dark and distant past detailing that year’s medical record of having survived mind-boggling bouts with gout and hammer toes. – Merry Christmas!

And those family photos included are a mystery. Who is this old couple and the thirty or forty newly acquired descendents standing around?

We are supposed to remember one-time colleagues, co-workers or church and school (even back to grade school) classmates and be enlightened with all the plaudits and fun times they have been blessed with over the previous twelve months.

These form letters do not bother the wife. But I am well into my eighth decade and I have my hands full emptying my mailbox that is stuffed full with fast-food circulars and “save you money” letters trying to con me into buying another credit card, or subscribe to Playboy or the Foreign Affairs Journal.

I have enough trouble remembering the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, much less reading an annual family newsletter about somebody’s remarkable progeny’s promethean feats and unusual accomplishments?

What I wanted to write has been written and published already by Michael Lent, a Hollywood screenwriter. His 2007 Simon and Schuster book “Christmas Letters from Hell: All the News We Hate to love,” says it all. Michael shares a collection of the best collection of do-gooders and go-getters of the past, present and future.

His tales are not so much of the personal nature and more of the weird realm, for example: “What if my Christmas tree were home to killer bees?” or “What if bin Laden had been a high-school exchange student in Minnesota?”

My favorite of his letters was “What if a child’s letter to Santa crossed paths with that of a Nigerian scam artist?”

Here is one more quote from Michael Lent’s book: "I kid you not" about an actual Christmas letter he received reporting "grandma's bladder problem and the family's Winnebago disaster, all within the first two sentences." Which is a great deal more than one wants to know.

Another factor is the cost of mailing a form letter. I would have to dip into my savings for the postage and envelopes if I mailed such a letter to all those who send me their annual form letters.

Although with some polishing of my prose and laying aside some postage money I still might be ready this Christmas to send this sincere review of my years of opening my mail box toward the end of each year.

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