Among the plethora of greeting cards taking temporary residence in our mailbox this time of year, there remains one particular Christmas missive most anticipated and a nonnegotiable must-read!
Rest assured, no year-end seasonal communique goes unscanned in our household, and all cards and letters are promptly pinned, taped, mounted, stacked or, on rare occasions, magnetically attached to the refrigerator door or to some other kitchen appliance.
As all would know, prolific writers abound this time of year, inspiring thoughtful narratives recounting some of the previous year’s highlights, and if needed, low-lights. Who doesn’t appreciate the recitation of recent travels, weddings, births, graduations and accomplishments, not to mention that invaluable change of addresses?
Nevertheless, as the final 2018 postal deliveries arrive, we quickly review each return address to find that one most hoped-for and coveted offering, nearing its 40th revised edition. Were this correspondence limited in length to only one side of a colorful and festive piece of Christmas stationery, it would qualify as “suitable for framing.” Given the author’s compositional creativity, he could spin the most mundane moment into a comedic regurgitation that would leave my wife and I rolling on the kitchen floor, clutching our stomachs and laughing until our eyes watered. My good friend could even make the retelling of watching grass grow seem funny.
His seasoned abilities dancing atop a typewriter or keyboard come naturally, as he was an English major in college who then thoroughly embraced a career dedicated to the newspaper business. Moving along the ranks of reporter, page designer, copy editor, assistant sports editor to a managing editor, one could say he bleeds “black and white.” Both a gratifying and tough vocation, he and his family have led a rather itinerant life, with more several inevitable relocations, bringing them finally to a small burg in east-central Alabama named Dadeville.
Some know him best by his given name, Rick. Others call him respectfully, “The Duke.” The younger generations identify him as “The Duck,” given his uncanny mastery of “Donald Duck-speak.”
This December, perhaps more than any other, I couldn’t wait to see his letter arrive in our mailbox one more time. To be honest, however, I wasn’t sure it would even be written, let alone addressed and mailed. Such a literal void in my life seemed almost unbearable. My only solution was to circumvent the process and remove the uncertainty.
In other words, earlier this month I decided to head up to Detroit, fly to Atlanta and rent a car to drive the remaining 120 miles to his home in Dadeville for a couple days to get it “straight from the horse’s mouth!”
Most all would consider that nonsensical, overboard or even imprudent. On the contrary, from my vantage point, it was “just what the doctor ordered.” The doctor of whom I speak I know best as “The Great Physician!”
Rick, at the youthful age of 65, is in the midst of enduring his third bought with cancer that first reared an ugly head three years ago. For a “grand finale,” the disease has now taken irreversible residence in multiple organs of his body, beginning with the liver. The full extent of the medical profession has been utilized, and unfortunately no treatment options remain, save mitigating the pain as the cancer runs its inevitable course.
My two days of intermittent brief visits, as much as he was physically able to tolerate at one time, brought forth a cherished array of stories, laughter, tears, inspiration, confession, prayers and hugs, all of which would never be forgotten, permanently inscribed in my heart.
As his strength fails and his body succumbs, Rick evidences a deep and enduring Christian faith that rises to the surface! I was privileged to receive such a “handwritten” letter as I turned to leave that last day. It was less a “goodbye” and more of a “see you later!”
I left out the front door, but above the back door of their cozy wooden home read a plaque Rick, and his wife, Cheryl, have lived by. It is one that, in due time, Rick will also die by. And so it reads simply, “Fear Not Tomorrow - God Is Already There!”
Safely home, and a week later, a Christmas letter arrived, and it originated from Dadeville. I could only laugh as I read it, and with it I cried.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org