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Letters reveal our hidden lives

Mon., Dec. 27, 2004

This just in from the Burgard family of 2516 S. Pines Road:

Sister Katie is gallivanting around Europe. Sister Jill is heading back to college in Minnesota.

Brothers Mark and Scott are now in the same Scout troop and Dan’s paternal mettle has proven sound after taking a week off work to master Scout knots while bunking with a troop of “burping” teenage boys.

Everyone cried at Grandpa George’s funeral in Alaska.

Everyone missed mother, Karen Burgard, as she stayed behind to move Grandma Merle into assisted living after Grandpa George was gone.

Merry Christmas 2004 and Happy New Year from the Burgard family. Peace out.

Nothing toasts the normal life of Middle America like the Christmas letter. It is the news that never reaches the daily newspaper, but matters to us more than any headline item. It is, but for the characters in its passages, too much information. But what would we do without these annual reports?

Several Spokane Valley families submitted their letters to Exit 289 this year.

“I think, in these busy times when it’s really hard to get in touch with people, (a letter is) at least that one thread of contact you can have with loved ones at least once a year,” said Kim Hadley of the 60-some letters she mails out annually.

Sometimes it’s hard to come to grips with how ordinary we are, the Liberty Lake mother said, but there’s really nothing wrong with that.

Hadley gave her letter a twist this year. Struggling to keep pace with her sons Ben, 2, and Riley, 4, she used the letters of family names to begin lines in her messages and mailed them to everyone in her large circle of friends. The kids’ names worked the best.

“Beds are made for jumping.

“Every day, always a smile.

“Never walk, always run.”

“Right thumb, insert in mouth.

“I super don’t want to go to Wal-Mart.

“Loves his new bunk bed.

“Edward, Percy & Thomas trains.

“Y is that man so fat? Riley said loudly as he contemplated the size of the McDonald’s employee taking our order.”

Frank Beattie, of Liberty Lake, composed his holiday family letter during a long ferry ride between Hollis and Ketchikan, Alaska. A Presbyterian, Beattie was moderator of the synod this year, a role that took him across Washington state and filled the first page of his holiday letter. Paragraphs of every family member’s doings filled the next two before Beattie likened life’s journey to the Hollis-Ketchikan ferry.

“In a way, a year with the Beatties is somewhat like that ride,” Beattie concludes, after documenting academic successes of his and wife Jeanne’s children, along with the death of his brother in-law. “Some calm, some rough times, but always beautiful scenery.”

The best way to tell tales of the year, said Grace Libby of Greenacres, is through poetry.

Thirty-five years ago, Libby realized her annual holiday inventory might be easier read in poem. Already a poet with some recognition, she began putting her life with her husband, Wallis, to rhyme.

“Fee Fie Foe Fum. I smell the scent of cinnamon. And that means Christmas is soon to come. Time to make my cinnamon buns,” Libby’s letter begins. “But first I’ll clue you in on the happenings of this year. I’ll try not to bore you, if that’s what you fear.”

In the privacy of her home, Libby pulls out a scrapbook with a copy of every holiday poem she’s written since 1969. So many weddings, so many births. So many loved ones gone since American astronauts walked on the moon and four computers hundreds of miles apart formed the first Internet. What mattered most made Libby’s scrapbook. The rest only made television.


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