My attitude toward standardized Christmas letters has changed during the passing years. When we were first married, my wife reveled in writing long-hand Christmas letters to everyone on her Christmas card list. She came from a long line of letter-writing correspondents; for years she treasured a letter from her father that parodied “Hiawatha” and faithfully replicated its meter and rhyme scheme.
In those days, whenever we received a printed form letter recounting the activities of the sender’s family for the previous year, she merely shook her head to communicate her displeasure with people too busy to personalize their letters, even once a year. I initially attempted to mirror her practice. When we advanced to computers and laptops, my epistles became less and less personal, although I tried to include at least one paragraph specific to the recipient.
In my declining years it has become much too easy for me to produce a general description of the previous year, print it out, and scribble a personal note on the bottom. The advent of email and the end of my career as a contributor to a formal “print” newspaper has transformed me into a blogger with a modest list of followers. I wish I had the stamina to send each of you a personal card. If I did, the cover would be this sketch; folded inside would be the text that follows it.
My sincere holiday wishes to you and your loved ones. Although 2021 is not a candidate for anyone’s all-time favorite year, it did have a number of memorable experiences for me and my extended family. We will attempt to focus on them.
Actually, the year began on a rough note for me. I spent both Christmas and New Year’s Day in St. Clair Hospital on separate visits. After massive quantities of antibiotics, a procedure on my prostrate, and three months of recuperation at the home of my daughter Elizabeth, I finally returned home and resumed my normal life. I can’t imagine any better care than I received from Elizabeth, Mike, and Rachael.
I am fortunate that they are close by and that we are able to get together frequently. Rachael is in her Senior year at Quaker Valley High School, currently busy making applications for admission to college. It is hard for me to realize how complicated this process has become, probably because there are so many options for gifted students today. When I was her age, we had enough money to afford either Penn State, living on campus; or Pitt, living at home and commuting to school. Easy choice.
Rachael has continued to excel as a violinist and as a pianist. One of the biggest thrills of the year was watching her perform as co-concert master of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony at Heinz Hall, in front of a large audience. Elizabeth weathered another term of remote teaching in the Spring before returning to in-person classes at Pitt in the Fall. Mike balanced his time between flying his Piper Pacer and publishing a book on Anton Chekhov’s life and writings.
John and his family spent most of the year in self-imposed quarantine in California before returning to China late in the year to celebrate the listing of Beigene on the Shanghai stock exchange, making them the only biotechnical firm to be listed on three major exchanges, Hong Kong and NASDAQ being the other two.
Lai An is now eight years old and has been home schooled with the help of remote tutors since the pandemic began. From all accounts this has been successful, although the absence of social contact with children of her age is unfortunate.
Sara has visited twice this year. The first time Ian came with her and we had a grand time together. He is now a Sophomore at the University of Colorado and quite enthusiastic about the various theater/acting courses he is taking. Nora is a Junior at Rocky Mountain High School, splitting her time between the Student Council and playing goalie for a high-performance soccer team. Claire is an eighth-grader still exhibiting the well-balanced personality of a classic third child (like her mother).
A major highlight of the year was a family vacation at Carmel Highlands in a resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean, just south of Monterrey. It was a delight to have all three families together to celebrate my ninetieth birthday. Graduating from being an “octo” to becoming a “nonnie” wasn’t so bad after all.
Included in this trip was a ride on the Roaring Camp Railroad into the Redwoods and a visit to the John Steinbeck Museum in Salinas, both red-letter days. Also very special was being able to spend time with John and to watch Lai An interface with her four cousins. I wish it could happen more often.
I was able to participate, virtually, in Pitt’s Civil Engineering Senior Design program both terms and to share vicariously the students’ experience in it as a mentor. I also enjoyed monthly participation in our Book Club as well as bi-monthly brunches with my high school friends, and lots of daily walks in our woods.
Visiting with each of you once a week via this column is a very important part of my life. I appreciate your support and especially your feedback.
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