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    Longing for the Ghost of Christmas Cards Past

    Mandatory Credit: Photo by LISI NIESNER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9295011b) An old farm house glows at dusk as it snows one week ahead of Christmas in the alpine village of Ramsau, Austria, 16 December 2017. Snow in Ramsau, Austria - 16 Dec 2017
    An old farm house glows at dusk in the alpine village of Ramsau, Austria, one week before Christmas.

    Oh, the poignancy of the holiday season.

    The older you get, the more you notice the Christmas cards that don’t come, those missing missives whose absence leaves a hole not just on your mantle but in your heart.

    A year or two ago, my favorite was a scene of a cozy bungalow in a wintry forest glen. One could fairly imagine a close-knit family in a bygone era gathered about the fireplace, singing carols as a talented daughter plinked away on the piano.


    The card was from a local tire-and-auto-services place. The name, like the joy of youth, fades from certain memory now, but we had been tight once, back when my wife had a Prius. They had put the Pri’s snow tires on in the late fall, and taken them off again come spring. However, that energy-efficient-but-oh-so-dull-to-drive vehicle is now providing hybrid transportation for another household. The extra set of tires went with it, so perhaps that family is now receiving those warm tire-and-auto holiday wishes.

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    As for me, I’m left bereft, ghosted by the snow-tirey spirit of Christmases past. Granted, the message — “We are grateful for your business” — was a wee bit generic, but I much preferred the traditional folding format of the card to the photo-of-our-kids rectangles that now arrive like so many city-council-candidate campaign fliers. My usual reaction to seeing a group of hearty young adults is: “Who in Sam Hill are they?”

    Sad to say, my wife’s response — “Oh, those are the Landersnookle kids,” or “It’s Zack and Jillian Glendenhoffer” (with an “oh clueless one” implicitly appended) — usually doesn’t help much. The Landersnookles? The Glendenhoffers?

    Sometimes the pictures are of twenty-somethings I last saw as toddlers, now graduated from college and building bicycles in Bangkok or brewing beer in Boulder. If I live long enough, some decades hence I’ll no doubt get a holiday card of them, gray and golfing in Florida, all because I seem to have seen them once in their infancy. And my (unspoken) question then will be the same one I’d like to ask now: Tell me again, where do we know them from?

    Still, despite the melancholy of the missing cards, Christmas can be a time to use the power of giving to right wrongs. An example, you say? Gladly. This year, I’ve been trying to learn to coax some chords from a yard-sale guitar, an effort inspired by seeing Kris Kristofferson play at the Wilbur, where, despite an occasional croaked vocal, the octogenarian artist held the crowd mesmerized as he played his iconic canon.


    Kris made it seem easy. I’ve discovered it’s not. Nor has my audience been anywhere near as appreciative as his. The second that pick touches string, our two finicky felines leap from their carpeted climbing tower and skitter cellar-ward in search of sonic shelter. The human contingent is even harsher. My chords are muddy, flat, and buzzy, they bark. You can’t learn from the Internet, I’m frowningly told. Lessons are required!

    Myself, I think perspective is what’s truly needed. Thus it was that when I saw kids starter guitars on sale for $33 or so at Target, I knew I’d found the perfect present for my persecutors’ progeny. Why, I envision a holiday music-
    making scene just like the imaginary family that populates the cozy cabin on the tire-and-auto card.

    Sadly, you can’t expect a cheap guitar to stay in tune for long. And yes, it will take loads and loads of practice, and no doubt lots of parental attention, before a couple of grade-schoolers are making music and not just raising a racket. But then, our long, claustrophobic New England winters are made for indoor activities like that.

    And isn’t family togetherness what Christmas is all about?

    Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.