As always, the only visions dancing in my head at this time of year are of cards. Sixteen hundred season's greetings for the people my husband and I have sold vehicles to over the years.
Until these cards are in the mail box, my dreams are more like nightmares. All night long, I stuff cards in envelopes, seal them, affix an address label on each one and then, slap on a return sticker. No matter how fast I work in these nighttime reveries, there is no end in sight. That pretty much describes how the real process proceeds during the day, too.
It all began 36 years ago, long before my husband and I got together. At the end of my first year in the auto business, I signed and hand-addressed cards to everyone who bought a car or truck from me. I imprinted the return address on envelopes using a specially-ordered rubber stamp that I kept refreshing on an ink pad. I licked each envelope and every stamp, too.
As the years went on and I sold more and more cars, I still did everything the old-fashioned way. The office manager would print a list of what I had sold that year and I would add it to the previous lists and start addressing cards right after Thanksgiving. Some years it took so long, I never got my personal cards done.
All that changed when I bought a computer. A program helped me put my customers' names and addresses on a mailing list. I printed labels and used a postage meter to make the job go faster.
When I left the automobile business, I sent a letter to my customers introducing them to my husband. I said he would take good care of them and their automotive needs. Then I merged our customer lists so he could send cards to everyone. He signs them, we both stuff them, and I affix the labels and seal the envelopes.
It used to be that 10 or 15 cards would be returned every holiday season. In the last five years, however, we get a stack of cards returned nearly every day. Many say, "Moved. Address unknown." Some have angry-looking handwriting that says the person doesn't live there anymore. Others say, "Deceased."
Try as I might, it isn't always possible to find the ones who moved. Many people now use cell phones instead of a land line so they can't be found on sites like WhitePages.com. It breaks my heart but every year I delete more and more valued customers.
A friend once asked if these cards have to be sent. I must have complained about the project hanging over my head and the notion I have that until the business cards are done, I can't move on to other holiday things like decorating and wrapping gifts or sending cards to family and friends.
I gave her query some thought and remembered the Saturday afternoon I sold a car to long-time customers, Steve and Marilyn. When the transaction was over, we hugged and said our goodbyes. Steve turned around as they left and said this was the third vehicle they had bought from me. He wondered if I would be sending them three Christmas cards that year.
Steve and Marilyn moved about 10 years ago. They left no forwarding address. Every year at this time, as I affix labels to envelopes, I wonder where they are and what they're driving. I silently wish them a happy holiday season and a new year full of happiness. Wherever they may be.