Back before Christmas, my mother-in-law Ms. Larda started getting weird text messages.

The first one was from her friend Patsy Dematteo. “Who’s dead?” it said. 

Ms.. Larda just assumed Patsy’s been going heavy on the eggnog again. 

Then she gets a text from Awlette Bruni, “Hugs to you too!”  Hmph. Ms.. Larda never hugged Awlette in her life. 

Norma Noonan leaves a phone message. “You’re welcome for whatever it was. Was it a cat? I’m missing a cat, but I thought a coyote got him.” 

I got to explain.

Ms. Larda still writes out individual Christmas cards – none of that “Merry Christmas Everybody!”  business posted on Facebook on Christmas morning. Nope. 

She sends religious ones to the Keep-Christ-in-Christmas-types like herself, and Happy Holidays for everybody else. Plus a couple of Festivus cards for people like my gentleman friend Lust, who just get cranky about the whole thing.

She signs them all in Palmer Script (She got a “A” in handwriting back at Celibacy Academy) and usually includes a note. 

But this year she made the mistake of giving them to her sons Lurch and Leech to mail at the post office.

Naturally, they forget. They leave them on the bar at the Sloth Lounge that night, and the next morning, they’re gone. Duffy, the morning bartender, has no idea where they went. Maybe out with the trash. 

What to do? Lurch rushes to Walmart and buys a box of cards, and then he sneaks Ms. Larda’s address book out of her desk drawer. 

It’s easy to figure who she sends Christmas cards to because she stuck little Santa Claus stickers by their names.

She also stuck little crosses by the members of her altar society, little fleur-de-lis by fellow Saints fans, and little skulls by people who kicked the bucket.

He and Leech sit down and address and sign them all. They learned to speed-write Ms. Larda’s signature back in school, whenever they had to forge permission slips and excuses for being absent and stuff. (Most kids learn to be forgers at an early age. That’s one thing school teaches them.)

Neither of them look at the printed messages on the cards. So they didn’t realize when Lurch had reached into the sale bin, he grabbed, not Christmas cards, but all-occasion cards. 

Which means Ms. Larda is congratulating random friends on their new baby, or their retirement, or offering sympathy for their loss, or informing them that they need a hug. Stuff like that. 

Luckily, most of her friends don’t actually read them – just stick them in their pile of Christmas cards. Other people think it’s some kind of political statement. And, like I said, a few ask her about it, but lots of her friends are kind of crazy, so she don’t pay them no mind.

Meanwhile – about the cards she actually wrote. 

Duffy the morning bartender really hadn’t seen them. That’s because Bitsie, the evening bartender, had found them. Quite a few of the regulars get their mail at the Sloth Lounge, so the mail carrier stops in every day. She puts the cards in a safe place (on top of the ice machine) to give to him when he comes in. But then she tests positive for COVID and has to be out for two weeks – even though she don’t get very sick at all – so it’s a while before they wind up at the post office.

So now it’s January, and my gentleman friend Lust (who owns the Sloth Lounge) and I are having Irish coffee and King Cake there when the mail comes. Lo and behold, we each got a Christmas card from Ms. Larda. 

Strange. I walk back to my apartment and shuffle through my pile of Christmas cards (which I ain’t thrown out yet.) Sure enough, there’s one from Ms. Larda. “Thank you for adding to the joy of our wedding with your gift.” 

Lust remembers his: “Happy kindergarten graduation!” He thought it was sarcastic. 

Finally Bitsie spills the beans to Lust, and that evening Lurch and Leech admit it. 

How to tell Ms. Larda?

We all decide she don’t need to know. 

Even if some people are still wondering who’s dead.