Less Red More Blue

Okay, hold it right there… this is NOT a political post! I am not suddenly espousing the increase in the number of Democrats in office and a reduction in the Republican numbers. I did read an article just the other day, though, about the need to really get a better handle on the titles we use for articles and such. That article claimed that some titles beg you NOT to read any further just by the way it is written. The author called it the “Cookie Sale Planned” type of titles versus the “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar” headline. The latter screams at you to read it (assuming a headless body can scream). The former, not so much. So, if my “Less Red More Blue” got your blood pumping then, good; it did that for which it was contrived.

When I actually do get around to explaining what the title means, I do not want you to think that I have gotten really hard pressed to find a topic upon which to spill some ink. The only thing that prevents me from spilling gallons of ink on articles, that may or may not ever be read, is the amount of time I have for writing undistracted. Right now, it is the wee hours of the morning; the house is quiet and I should be asleep; but my back, knees and hips have allied themselves with my brain in a conspiracy to keep me from ever falling asleep or sleeping for more than sixty minutes at one stretch. When the pain levels are high, my brain goes into overdrive. For example,  just now; while penning this article, I came to realize why they call it the “Wee Hours of the Morning”… because that is when people my age have to get up out of bed to… you know… go wee!  But, I digress.

All of my growing up years, each year around Thanksgiving I would see my Mom begin the ritual of preparing to send Christmas Cards. She had a small semi-formally bound ledge that carried the names of all those to whom she would be sending cards All of the names were carefully recorded in blue ink and there was a place for a series of checks, ‘card sent/card received’. It was a tit for tat ledger. A no card received one year could maybe not get a card sent the next; but, I don’t think my mother ever succumbed to the pettiness that would direct such a reprisal. The book was meticulously kept year after year and when the spaces for checking off sent and received was full, an identical ledger was purchased to continue the tradition for another half decade or so.

There was a second part to this strange tally keeping but, before I divulge it; it behooves me to advise the reader that, so enamored was the world of the 1960’s with such a tradition that. when I met and married my wife she was already indoctrinated in this ritual. She, however, grew up hundreds of miles from where I was in the rural Ohio-transplanted Appalachian world.  In point of fact, even as a product of the counter-culture of the 50’s and 60’s that found its niche in the suburban Washington D.C. area, which was then a solaced area for the intelligentsia, their ledger books were identical to ours in the heartland! Sadly, where my wife grew up is no longer the neighborhoods of the Cleavers or Fred McMurray and his three sons. Now it is all just one more blip on the hydra-snakes of the Washington Metro.

At this point, I must take a very quick sidestep, because I just re-read the first sentence of the last paragraph. I didn’t realize the bees had hooves… I’ll have to think about that one for a bit. (A bit?… no, I won’t go there, bees have enough trouble keeping the Queen happy, I won’t degrade them further by continuing to horse around with this idea.)

The small tan book that was such a focal point of the pre and post holiday season could arguably be considered the 1950’s and 1960’s version of FB ‘Likes’ or to use the 21st Century vernacular, also for those who are ‘Unfriended.’

Amazingly, I must report that my wife and I carried this tradition on in our own home until computers made the little book obsolete. Though I dare say it has probably been secretly kept up just because some things don’t ever end… Like a Lucille Ball/Desi Arnez rerun.

I know it may not seem like it, at this juncture; but, this article does have a point to it that is somewhat serious. The second part of the tradition that my mother and my wife have kept, as well as my wife’s mother and countless others; was to put a red line through those who had deceased. Now, I must go back and correct a misconception I may have given you. Only the name of the person was ever in blue ink; because people were moving regularly in past decades and by writing the address in pencil you could maintain a neat and orderly appearing ledger. For those reading this who were born after 9-11, a pencil is a slender wooden device that has at its core an even more slender piece of lead which is visible through one end of the instrument where the wood has been whittled or shaved down to a point; often homes and certainly classrooms would have a hand cranked device for shaving these pencils down to a point so they were useful for writing. Later, electrical sharpeners became popular which ate pencils at an alarming rate. The opposite end of the device had a small piece of a rubbery, gummy type substance that when rubbed with sufficient pressure against the word or letters written in pencil it would make them invisible. Think of it as a manual ‘delete’ button. However, caution was necessary, for too rapid a rubbing or too strong the pressure used to delete the writing would actually tear a hole in the paper. More than one of my math worksheets looked like Swiss cheese more than like a homework paper. In their earlier form these devices were almost always yellow and had a No. 2 emblazoned on the side. When the world had circumnavigated the sun enough times that school children were now taking tests by shading in small little circles; it was so highly sophisticated that the directions were very specific, “Only a No. 2 Pencil Could be Used.” But, now, allow us to return to our part blue ink, part lead pencil and occasionally a part red ink ledger.

I began to notice that my parents’ ledger was gaining much more red and rather rapidly it seemed. That was not truly the troubling part, because, certainly they were aging and it was expected that many of their compatriots were also aging and eventually dying. What I found troubling was that there was almost no blue entries being added any more. In fact, it seemed that a plateau had somehow been reached and there was no longer any interest, by my parents, for seeking out new blues. It was as if they had filled their blue quota and so, they stopped. Maybe, once in a great while someone would join their church or a new neighbor that actually would reach out and talk to them over the garden wall; even though we did not have a garden nor a wall would be added to the book. Still, there was a barrier there and new neighbors dare not cross. Why was there an aversion to new blues? Certainly, old friends are to be cherished but aren’t new friends an opportunity for growth and life? I’m not advocating for a city block hug-fest or becoming close enough to share one another’s socks; but maybe to get to know someone well enough to send them a Christmas card once a year. (I found that sending Christmas cards twice a year was off-putting to some folks, so I’m looking for a summer holiday that involves snowmen, candy canes and a Jolly Old Elf. I haven’t found one just yet and I have a LOT of cards already made up ready to send!

I don’t know what, in the cyber-world will replace the little tan ledger book with the blue and red ink (and the penciled in addresses); likely it will be some form that auto-fills in all the spaces and immediately corrects to a new address because there is a hyper link to the U.S. Postal Service to update the addresses whenever you click on the name. It may have an automated e-send for a holiday greeting of your choice so you don’t even have to sign the card, lick all those envelopes and put on those stamps with the snowmen and candy canes and elves. It will probably also include an instant family photo update from the year previous! Perhaps, too , with a link to the U.S. Census database, it can auto-redline for you all those that you didn’t even realize had died that year because you never saw them in a text message or an FB post. But, one thing it cannot do, no matter what… regardless of the number of LIKES you get on FB, is add in the real blue inked names. In the FB world, I suppose even the names would be in pencil because they can be written off with the click of a mouse. But in the real world, the world that matters…. blue ink is for friends that last a lifetime.

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