Greetings From Our House to Yours

And other traumatic traditions of the holiday season.

My mom never had a Facebook account, but it’s obvious that she knew the power of sharing photos with friends.  

From the early 1950s through the mid-1970s, she always sent photo Christmas cards of us kids to family, friends and some of my dad’s business associates—all of whom came to expect a yearly snapshot. I recall the shooting of these pictures as annual traumas, usually on Thanksgiving or the day after. 

None of us ever really wanted to pose, and we usually had to bathe and put on clean clothes. I think there was always someone in tears before the end of each photo session—although looking back on cards now, we seem to be happy siblings on our best behavior in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Images can lie.

The earliest examples I could find feature my brother Skip and me. He was Skipper then, and I was Ricky. When I was 5, my sister Denise (aka Nisey) showed up, and then another brother, PK (for Paul Kevin), five years after that. Sometimes our dogs joined us in the shot, and there’s one year (1970) when my foreign exchange “brother,” Roberto from Guatemala, stood with us in the yard. The fonts and graphics are classic, the messages simple: “Greetings from Our House To Yours.” 

Of course, we laugh about the cards now, but they’re a wonderful historic collection, like lines drawn on a doorframe to mark our growth progress. Sometimes the hairdos are hilarious. I regret having facial hair and one terrible Prince Valiant coif. My sister says, “Don’t show anyone the one where we’re standing by the front door and my eyes are bugging out.” We miss Skip, who passed away in 1998.

We’ve been looking at these mementos because Mom died this past April, and we’re cleaning out her house. Recently, my sister discovered an unlabeled gray folder that held special treasures in a file cabinet: papers my mother had written for her classes at Carlow when she went there in the 1980s to finish the undergraduate degree she’d started back in the 1940s at Carnegie Tech. One of the papers is a short autobiography, full of candor and unheard stories.

“We were a typical suburban family,” she wrote about herself and my dad in Bethel Park in the 1950s. “We set down traditions as a family, and this was so much more family than I had known as a child: Our children had 10 first cousins and two uncles, as well as two aunts, three maternal great-aunts and eight paternal great aunts.” 

She doesn’t elaborate on all our traditions, but there’s no question: She knew the power of family and how to make things happen in the best ways possible. 

We haven’t sent photo cards in many years, but people still remember them and sometimes return them in a stack—and we’re grateful. I know I love to get this kind of card myself from other families; it’s so good to see how the kids are growing! Things change, but this is still the time for families and traditions, for friends and for joyous Greetings from Our House to Yours. 

Categories: Rick Sebak