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Despite ice storms and the peaked economy, several of those 'Christmas Letters' have started arriving here at Storyteller Central. In years past these letters of the season start arriving from readers, relatives, friends and acquaintances from around Maine and around the country. Over the years some people have belittled such epistles because, well, some of their authors have been known to toot their own flutes a tad too much for our tastes here in Maine.
There's nothing wrong with being proud of the actual accomplishments of family members. It's just that some of the claims made by letter writers sound like they came right out of a Downeast story - where lying is not only allowed - it's expected!
Here at Storyteller Central we like to compare letters from the folksy people we know who live modestly in the country and our more opulent, cosmopolitan friends who make their homes in big cities.
Friends from small towns here in Maine will send folksy letters with lots of family news about the little accomplishments achieved during the year just ending. Lines like: "Well our tread-challenged snow tires and the spare tire around our vital organs have made it through another year without too much aggravation," are common in such unpretentious letters. "No one in the family was sued so far this year - knock on wood - and none of the kids is any longer in custody," read another country letter. It continued: "Oh, there were those few minor incidents last summer involving the police, which is to be expected in a family as active as ours, but not one weapon was fired and not a one penny was spent on bail," the proud letter concluded.
Another country letter optimistically announced: "Somehow Daddy's chain saw made it through another firewood season and for the first time in memory no PVC pipes burst or even froze, so we're pretty thankful here this Christmas."
On the other side of the ledger are those letters "from away" that tend to flaunt a family's good fortune and boast a tad too much.
For example we got this letter from a family we knew when we lived in the city back in the 80s. "Despite the weak economy it's been another FABULOUS year for the Hartwell Family. Chad had to stop working in May and just clip his stock coupons because his accountant informed him that was literally making more money than we could ever figure out what to do with.
So, we decided to fly to Paris with a dozen friends and rent a few suites at the Ritz. While there we figured we'd hop over to Rome for a day or two.
"As you might expect we're quite pleased with ourselves this year and are planning to spend New Year's in Egypt, cruising the Nile while recuperating from our exhausting adventures."
Contrast that letter - which tends to brag a bit - with the unassuming letter we received from friends in Phillips who just had to tell about their trip to Millinocket: "Harold and I took a few vacation days from the toothpick factory this fall and went to visit friends up north. As usual we planned it so we could stop for the luncheon special at Dysart's Truck Stop on the interstate in Hampden, which is always a treat. We also got some wonderful pictures of Mount Katadin at that scenic pullover on I-95 just this side of Millinocket.
It was quite a time and I don't mind saying Harold and I are still recovering from all the excitement." She and Harold went on in their letter to tell about their town's centennial celebration that took place this past summer: "The Centennial Show at the Grange Hall was some impressive. Some said they hadn't seen the Grange Hall that packed since the 1950s. There was an outstanding juggler who, for his finale, juggled six double-edged axes while doing an wood-carving of a moose at the same time. The audience was so engrossed in his spectacular finale that when the Emergency Medical Technicians arrived by ambulance to handle injuries to the unfortunate people in the front row, the rest of the audience just thought it was part of his big finish." No series of Christmas
No Christmas Letter would be complete without some mention of where the kids will be going to college next year. Even on this topic our letters showed some sharp contrasts. Friends from up-country wrote to say: "Well, Junior finally finished high school, 'Praise the Lord,' and had enough money saved to apply to about a dozen post-secondary institutions. We're proud to say he's been accepted (on academic probation) at Bowdoinham College there in Bowdoinham – not to be confused with that other place in Brunswick.
Another Christmas Letter we received from people we know in Massachusetts had this to say on the subject of their kid's schooling
"You would not believe how the Brown, Harvard and Princeton people are fighting over Trevor, our oldest. All three schools are determined to enroll him with full scholarship for next fall's semester. Please don't be jealous of us because our kids are so much smarter than yours. We only mentioned it to let you know that our phone has been ringing off the hook with annoying calls from various deans, so just be thankful your kids are below average and this kind of thing will never happen to your family." After all that's quoted above we don't dare say a thing about how we've been doing in 2008.
I'll just end by wishing all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and as prosperous a New Year as you can safely manage.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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