30 November 2008

Our 2008 Christmas card

Kathleen and I aren't very good at sending Christmas cards. As a matter of fact, I'm trying to recall whether we EVER have managed to send out any during the nearly 19 years we've been married. Oh, we've bought some nice ones during that time and we've had good intentions in that regard, but well, somehow it always got to be January or February by the time we were ready to ACT on those intentions. So we'd always say, "Okay, next year then."

This year may actually turn out to be a little different. It's still November (barely), and while we haven't bought any Christmas cards, we nevertheless have one ready to go. It's not store-bought, though, it's a reproduction – or maybe "adaptation" is a better word – I made of a Christmas card from 1943.

Let me back up a bit and explain.

Over the past 8 or 9 years, I've written up a small handful of stories for my kids – time travel stories that feature the older two girls. I started when Emmy came home one day from second grade and was sitting in a chair crying. She told me the reason was because she'd finished all the "Magic Treehouse" books and there were no more to read.

What could I do? I read a couple of them to see how they were put together, then wrote the first two "Time Scouts" books with Emmy and Rosie having their own adventures in the past. It wasn't entirely altruistic--I also saw an opportunity to teach them some history, something I've really grown to love as I've gotten older.

Anyhow, the first one took them back to the day during the age of dinosaurs when the asteroid hit the Yucatan. That took me a day to write. The second had them spend Good Friday 1865 with Tad Lincoln, and because I wanted to do some research first, it took me a week to finish. I started a third one, that has them and a couple of neighbor boys from Indiana in New York City on Sept. 30, 1927, but after a month or so of writing and researching, I put that one on hold because I was having problems finding some of the info I needed to finish it. So I started the fourth one, the one I've been working on and researching for something like five years now, where they travel back to the homefornt during WWII at Christmastime in 1943 and meet their grandmother when she was their age.

I think my problem is that I like doing the research as much (or maybe more) than I do the actual writing. I have the whole story mapped out, I have a cardboard box and numerous digital folders full of research, but I also have a bunch of eBay notifications set up that let me know every day if certain kinds of popular culture artifacts from Christmas 1943 turn up for auction. Mostly, I copy the images and have built a pretty extensive library of them to give me some idea what the world and the things in it looked like back then. But occasionally I'll also bid on something that strikes my fancy.

I did that a couple of months back when I saw an auction for a lot that contained a small pile of Christmas cards dating from 1943. I won them for a ridiculously low price – I think the shipping cost more than the cards – and when they arrived, one in particular really jumped out at me.

When we moved out here, we rented a house (until we can sell ours up in Michigan) that has an oasis-like back yard, with a kidney-shaped pool, palm and citrus trees and beautiful landscaping. The Realtor had a great photo of it posted on the Web as part of the listing when we were first looking. And one of those 1943 Christmas cards had a picture on the front that could have been a drawing of that same view! The only problem was, it said, "A Merry Christmas from California" and we're here in Arizona.

I've been reading a little about the history of Arizona, and many of the writers compare what's been going on here over the the last few decades to the growth boom in California back in the 1940s. Some even refer to the Phoenix area as "L.A. II," and with all of the palm trees, the desert setting and endless freeways, one can see the similarities.

Anyway, that card inspired me. I tossed it on the scanner, cleaned it up a bit and changed "California" to "Arizona." It was a simple matter to find some appropriate ivory-colored paper and envelopes at Staples to give my new card a slightly aged appearance. Right now I'm contemplating whether to scan a sheet of 1943 Christmas Seals I bought in another eBay auction and include a reproduction of one on my envelopes as well, for the full retro-Christmas experience.

So if I have your mailing address, watch your mailbox. If I don't, send me a note and I'll try to get one of these out to you this year. And if I fail at that – remember, we've never really been good at mailing out Christmas cards – remind me and I'll e-mail you a PDF.

However this turns out, it's been a fun exercise and an opportunity for me to wish all of our friends and family a Merry Christmas or a Happy Channukah or just offer the Season's Greetings and our best wishes for the New Year.