Red hat in gray-suit world

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist

“By the way, I’m not doing Christmas cards. If you want them sent, you’ll have to do it.”

According to Sam Gardner in Philip Gulley’s delightful “Harmony” series, it was the same “fight” every year. Sam, pastor of the Harmony Friends’ Meeting (Quaker church) would buy four boxes of Christmas cards at Kivett’s Five and Dime and lay them on the dining room table with the address book nearby.

On this particular year, nothing happened. So he moved the cards into the bedroom, placing them near his wife Barbara’s side of the bed. A day later, he found them relocated to his side with a note on top: “I wasn’t kidding.”

Sam’s a smart guy. I’m surprised he hadn’t figured out years ago that the only “safe” way to send Christmas cards to his parishioners was to put one in the newsletter so as to be utterly democratic about Yuletide best wishes. Any other approach is fraught with danger.

The Gardner’s Christmas card list was growing at an alarming rate. The main category comprised of the church membership list was especially large. It was easy to get in the directory. Even the repairman who had come to fix the church freezer just before the church ladies’ annual chicken noodle dinner fundraiser for Brother Norman’s Shoe Ministry to the Choctaw Indians was rewarded with honorary membership. (Not a single noodle was lost.)

Once you were in the directory, well, there you were. To ever be removed took something very serious, something like a death certificate signed in triplicate. Non-attendance and non-giving would not do it. If you drove past the church once a month and smiled, you were on the list, like it or not.

All of which meant that the Gardner’s Christmas card list was beginning to look like the IRS roll and likely included a few folks long since deceased.

But the handwriting was on the wall, not yet on the cards, and so Sam got to work. And Barbara, after a compromise, helped. Sam would write the inside, she’d address the outside, and he’d do the stamps.

It was going well until Barbara read the one to the freezer repairman.

“‘We love you’? You wrote that on every card? Isn’t that a bit over the top? What’s wrong with ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Thinking of You’? The freezer guy will get a confusing message, Mr. Loverboy, and feel like he and his wife need to invite us over, and then we’ll have to invite them over-me, cooking-and . . .”

“If you remember, you told me to write the cards.”

It’s a sweet annual argument, Sam says. His wife, modest and traditional, argues for just a bit of reserve while he maintains that God, instead of sending a lawyer to ‘define the limits of love,’ sent his Son.

After all, Sam tells his good wife, “Christmas is not the time to hold back. It is the bold stroke, the song in the silence, the red hat in a gray-suit world.”

And so it is. Indeed, it is.