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Commentary & Opinion

Ralph Gardner Jr: Our Holiday Newsletter

Ralph's Christmas tree and dog
Ralph Gardner, Jr.
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My wife asked me to write this year’s holiday newsletter. Why me I’m not sure except that I suppose I am the alleged writer in the family. But I rarely read other people’s missives when they include them in their holiday cards. I frankly don’t care that Johnny graduated Michigan State cum laude. That friends have welcomed a beautiful new grandchild named Liam into the family. Or that Susan mastered the paddleboard in her fifties.

Besides, we’ve never enclosed a newsletter with our card before. We prefer to let the card do the talking. This year’s features our Christmas tree and dog Wallie, her head dropped onto the coffee table as if she can’t bear the weight of current events. At least that was my initial interpretation. A condolence card might seem more appropriate than a greeting card. Sometimes that starts, “Words cannot express…”

However, Debbie preferred the more hopeful and traditional “All is calm”. I suppose that’s why a newsletter might feel more appreciated than in years past. It’s proof that you’re still around, hopefully healthy and hunkered down.

Composing it also presents more of a challenge than in previous holiday seasons. If you’ve been behaving responsibility there’s not much to write about except for extolling the view outside your window, saluting our first responders and, if you happen to be a Democrat, sharing an audible sigh of relief.

But I suppose one can always write about the dog since, at least to all outward appearances, the pandemic has done nothing to crimp Wallie’s lifestyle. At six-years-old her appetite remains muscular and squirrels her mortal enemy, even if she prefers to sleep in more often than she once did.

But when she musters the energy to pursue the rodents I make a big fuss and reward her with a biscuit. She seems more interested in chasing than catching them. But that’s fine with me because my goal is to give the critters pause when considering whether to raid my bird feeders. Nothing does that as effectively as a large, barking hound dog that runs faster than you do.

Our daughter Lucy continues to work for Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit that manages the park, remotely though harder than ever. Prospect Park has served as a magnet throughout the pandemic for Brooklynites who want to play, exercise and party at a safe distance. She’s also helped gather garbage there since the park’s unprecedented popularity has strained both resources and trash receptacles.

Lucy’s husband Malcolm continues to teach eighth graders, remotely during the spring, in person this fall, his pedagogic gifts challenged by the imperfect attention spans of middle schoolers, especially when they’re reporting from home.

Our younger daughter Gracie’s return after nine months stranded out west constitutes our best Christmas present. In March, she and her boyfriend Henry drove across Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver, moments before the pandemic shut down the planet. They weren’t sightseeing. After working as cooks at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester for the last several years, they were on their way to the San Juan Islands in Washington State to help start a new restaurant.

Needless to say, the restaurant’s opening has been delayed, though progress has been made and there are worse ways to wait out a pandemic than on an island in the Pacific Northwest where your neighbors include bald eagles, whales and sea otters.

Debbie and I have been sequestered at our place in Columbia County, venturing out mostly for groceries and the occasional Covid test. If there’s been any bright spots in this dismal year it’s the discreet charms of Zoom gatherings – Debbie heads off to the living room and early morning yoga classes every day -- and the therapeutic benefits of nature. Against all odds, we’ve even managed to maintain some semblance of a social life thanks to face masks, intrepid friends, social distancing and, come this fall, our shiny new outdoor patio heater as well as a fire pit.

But we haven’t been idle. I’ve been working on a family memoir based on the voluminous diaries as well as the photographs and huge boxes of correspondence my uncommon mother left behind when she passed away in 2019. Debbie has demonstrated a latent organizational genius, purging both the basement and the garage to the occasional stupefaction of the officials at the town dump.

Our gratitude goes to them, as well as to all the doctors, nurses and other essential workers who put their health on the line every day so the rest of us can stay safe. A special shout out to our postal employees and UPS and FedEx drivers, at least those who can locate our driveway.

My hunch is that there will be more to write about in 2021 and less incentive to do so. Once vaccinated there will probably be so much pent up energy to connect, to travel and see friends and places that there won’t be enough time to record it all.

January 1st will signify more than an event on the calendar this year. Our annual New Year’s Eve party is on hiatus. But the immediate family will undoubtedly gather outdoors, even if we don’t wait until midnight, pop a cork, and offer thanks to the enveloping stars.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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