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Christmas News Letters Example 02

My grandparents die. We visit Los Angeles.

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[Ed. Note: This the Christmas news letter I wrote the year my grandparents died. Sometimes you have to write about sad things, but you don't have to dwell on the painful parts.]

An old Norwegian legend tells of a poor couple who invited a stranger into their house for dinner; as they were eating they discovered their pot never ran out of stew and their raw young wine tasted like it had been aged in oak for 10 years. Their visitor turned out to be Thor, chief god in the Norse pantheon. In gratitude for their kindness he gave them three gifts, the magic stew pot, the magic wine bottle, and a promise: they should live to ripe old ages and die within a week of each other, so that neither would have to be lonely, and their spirits would be together in the oak tree which grew outside their door.

The third gift seemed like a clinker when I was younger, but it seems more reasonable today. My maternal grandparents, Emanuel and Alberta Wilken, died this year, within four weeks of each other and a month short of their respective birthdays, her 95th and his 89th. Our local newspaper still prints obituaries for everyone who dies, but has shortened the form considerably as its coverage area has grown more populous. It noted he was a retired farmer and roofer, and she a retired Registered nurse; they had both lived in Modesto for over 50 years. It left out a lot. "Born in Kansas", it said for her, Nebraska for my Grandfather.

They both grew up in the Midwest, when automobiles were still a novelty and over half of the country made its living from farming, with horses. Company dinner meant a white cloth on the table and fried chicken, likely as not, with mashed potatoes and gravy, a plate in the middle of the table for bones and, in the summer, salt cellars at each place to dip radishes and green onions.

Grandmother had graduated from the University of Kansas in a time when not many women finished high school, then trained as a nurse at Vassar as a part of the World War I effort; the war ended before she could go overseas. Among the places she worked when she came to California was a hospital run primarily by and for Japanese people, back when the melting pot was still pretty lumpy. She told us she always remembered how good the rice was on the Japanese side of the cafeteria, served piping hot and fluffy from a huge wooden vessel, and how the staff had a unisex bathroom; the Japanese doctors would hold a stall door open for her and bow if she happened to come in as one of them was leaving.

She worked over 20 years at the county hospital here in Modesto; she had tales of the adventures on the charity wards and among the ordinary patients. Grandfather worked as a roofer, truck driver, gold miner, farmer; he even spent some time managing a card room, which put him in a different social circle than we normally traveled. I can remember him taking my brother Tom and I along with him downtown to pay bills, then stopping by the card room so he could show us off; he was always proud of his grandchildren. He introduced us to "Wingie", a fellow who'd lost an arm by sleeping too close to the railroad tracks. I always wondered how he tied his shoes. This was exciting for boys of seven; my father did all of his business on the good side of town, and none of the people he worked with at the bank drank too much, swore at length, or ended up spending the night out under the stars or a bridge.

On another occasion (they didn't tell us about this one until we were older) grandfather stopped a scuffle in the card room, and the fellow who started it ended up in the hospital with a broken jaw - on grandmother's ward. "My God, Wilk", one of his friends remarked, "first you break the poor SOB's jaw, then your wife ends up having to take care of him."

He didn't have a lot of formal education, but he was proud of those in his family who did. After my first quarter at Berkeley I came home for Christmas, he met me at the bus station and spent an hour showing me off to people he knew who worked downtown. He wasn't one for deep philosophy, but he had a lot of practical one-liners; "only a fool would steal a shovel" sticks in my mind. Grandmother, on the other hand, had some advice I've always admired. A couple of times I told her she had done me a favor I could never repay. "Probably not", she would say, "but maybe you can do something nice for someone else some day."

My best bird sighting this year was at very close range. I was at the vet's office, picking up a cat, when a couple stopped by with a rough-legged hawk they had found injured on the road and put into a shopping bag. They were just passing through and didn't have time to do anything. I volunteered to take it to the Raptor Rescue Center.

As we took it out of the bag to put it in a cardboard carrier it looked me right in the eye and hissed, telling us it was wounded, outnumbered 3:1 and outweighed 400:1, but if we let go of it, we'd know we had been in a fight.

Linda was in Rochester with both kids; I took the hawk home and put it in a warm, dark, quiet bedroom until the morning. Spending the night with an animal that wild and that alien was a strange experience; even separated by two doors I could sense it, brooding in its box.

The next morning I took it in to the RRC, where they told me they handle them as little as possible and get them back into the wild as fast as they can, a feeling I heartily endorse. Its wing healed and they released it in the fall; I hope it has a nest somewhere now, 40 feet high in the crown of a cottonwood tree, and that it will stay away from roads.

We went to Los Angeles this spring, to do Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo's Animal Park; Heather got to see Mickey Mouse, so she was happy. I returned with a firm resolve not to take kids to places where they had to stand in line until they get old enough to enjoy reading paperback detective novels and big enough to carry their own supply.

What impressed me the most about LA was the radio, oddly enough. Linda's car radio has a "seek" button. On one stretch of Highway 1 in Big Sur it would cycle through the whole band without finding a signal strong enough to select. In Los Angeles it would stop at every increment -- 89.1, 89.3, 89.5 etc on the FM, 560, 570, 580 and up on the AM.

We tend to listen to the lower third of the FM band, I having a fondness for NPR. One program we passed over had a fellow reviewing Chaucer, slipping back and forth between Middle English and modern as easily as some announcers do between English and Spanish. The next station had a program of theater organ music from the 1940's. I remember the host telling a listener, who had requested "Granada" done by a specific person that he had lost that copy, but the listener had a choice of four other pieces - two versions of "Granada" by other people, two selections by the performer that were not "Granada".

This is one page of over four dozen devoted to Christmas news letters. The main Christmas News Letters page has links to more examples, plus some general guidelines and specific suggestions for writing Christmas news letters. If you have an example, either good or bad, that you'd like to share with the rest of the world, send it to me and I'll add it to these pages.

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This page updated: June 21, 2014