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Santa Claus is still on the job
This week Jim Pickett, of Sequim, mailed a Christmas card to his cousin Bill Reeves, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Nothing unusual about that, of course. The cousins have been posting a Christmas greeting to each other since the early 1960s.
What makes this event unusual — what makes it a first-rate Christmas story — is this was the 77th time in 78 years the exact same card has been exchanged.
In 1933, before the cousins were born, Pickett’s father, Earl Pickett, received a Christmas card from his brother-in-law David Truitt Reeves, who was stationed in Philadelphia with the U.S. Marines. Reeves chose one that is admittedly in moderately poor taste, showing Santa seated in an outhouse.
As he recently showed the card to a reporter, Pickett said with a laugh, “Exactly the kind of thing I would expect a Marine to send to my father.”
The next year Pickett’s dad sent it back with a note typed along the edge of the card: “No sense waisting (sic) a good card. But don’t you think since the depression is over and it is your last Xmas as a Marine that Santa should pull up his pants, reach for some paper and a pencil and write me a letter?”
The answer, clearly, was no.
And so the tradition began, with each taking a turn: write a little note on the card and post it back the following year. When room ran out on the original card they started adding small sheets of paper.
By the 1950s, the tradition had taken on a life of its own and the two decided it should continue even after they shuffled off this mortal coil.
Toward that end, the card contains a “First Will and Testament,” dated 12/11/53:
“Whichever goes on first, the other is to pass Santa on to Willie and Jimmie for a continuation of Santa’s travels. E.P.”
“To which I add my endorsement. D.R. 12/16/54.”
The boys did as they were instructed, beginning in 1960. There only has been one exception: “I missed,” Pickett said.
Reeves marvels at the tradition’s resilience. “I was a little kid and I would see that card,” he said. “It was strange that I knew it would be coming to me at some time. But now it does.”
“We’ve done it longer than them now,” Pickett said.
“It’s a great card,” Reeves said. “Same old crap,” he laughed. “That says it all for every year.”
Bill Reeves is now 71, Jim Pickett, 73.
“I’ve seen him just twice in the last 20 years,” Pickett said. But this week, once again, he jotted down a brief note to his cousin, placed the card in an envelope and entrusted it to the U.S. Post Office.
“The phenomenal part is the Post Office hasn’t lost it,” Pickett said. “We don’t send it registered — just first class.”
The card contains some fascinating glimpses into history through the brief notes the brothers-in-law and later the cousins wrote to each other each year.
Here’s a sampling:
• 1942: What with fuel shortages, wintery blasts, and Santa’s pants still down, I thought he might like to go south for the winter, which ain’t a bad idea. Which I wish I could do, which if this damn war is ever over maybe I can. Which maybe if you, Santa and I all join the Army it’ll be over by Xmas. I hope. D.R.
• 1953: Another Armistice, but still no peace. Hope McCarthy doesn’t find out about Santa or he will be investigating why he sits so long in the same place. E.P.
• 1959: Over 1/4 century of history has passed since Santa sat down. Even John L. Lewis will retire before he gets up. E.P.
• 1961: After 28 years of comfort, now Santa has to worry about fall-out. Jimmy
• 2000: Another century, same card. Had a great year — spent the summer in the West, worked the Oly trials in Sacramento — then did a 4-week drive from Arizona to Montana. ‘Canes are #1. Bill
• 2011: US troops are coming home from Iraq, soon perhaps from Afghanistan. Repubs trying to find a good candidate.
Cherie hiked in Spain while I stayed home. I think this is Santa’s 77th trip. (I missed.) Merry Christmas. Jim
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.