Christmas 1972. A photo of myself with my cat Tuffy, sitting on the old chair.
A Christmas Story of 1972
Chapter 2: The Christmas Card
By Richard Mabey Jr.
Christmas of 1972 was unlike any Christmas that I had ever experienced before. The joy, the happiness, the wonder and the charm of the Christmas season was dampened by one single Christmas card that I received. Amazingly, one single Christmas card had a profound effect upon my life.
Right after Thanksgiving, I bought a rather expensive store-bought Christmas card for my dear, sweet girlfriend, Penny. She was now in her freshman year at Rutgers University. I was in my sophomore year at County College. In my Christmas card to Penny, I wrote her that I was looking forward to seeing her Christmas.
Some time in the middle of December, I got a Christmas card from Penny. The message was short and sweet. On the inside of her Christmas box card, Penny wrote a short, cryptic note conveying to me that she wouldn’t have time to see me while she was home on winter break. Oh, did that ever hurt.
In one simple Christmas card, the unspoken message tore into my heart, “it’s over! It’s really over!” I remember during that winter break from college, I did my best to hide my hurt. It wasn’t easy.
Somehow, this may sound very strange. But it was as if my cat, Tuffy, knew my heart was breaking. Whenever I sought the solace of my favorite chair, to try my best to get lost in Thomas Wolfe’s novel, Look Homeward, Angel, I would find Tuffy sitting in the old chair. It was as if he was waiting for me, to meow to me that everything was going to be okay.
I know that this may sound a bit Twilight Zone, but during the Christmas season of 1972, Tuffy and I bonded closer. It’s as if he understood that I was hurting. I would kneel down beside the old chair. Tuffy would reach out one of his front paws and touch my hand. It was as if he was saying, “I know you’re hurting. It’s going to be okay.”
I was able to move on. I did begin to date other girls. Truly, I don’t know if I could have made it through that Christmas season without Tuffy’s helping paw. I am convinced that animals have a sixth sense about the people who love them. And, to whom the animals love in return.
I don’t mean to paint a less than noble picture of Penny. She needed to move on. When I first met her in the early fall of 1970, I was a boy in my senior year of high school. Penny was a girl in her junior year of high school. We grew and matured together. Penny saw me receive my Eagle Scout. She saw me serving as the Youth Mayor, under the tutelage of the great Mayor William Dixon, at a Town Council Meeting. She encouraged me to get the courage to join my college newspaper staff. She encouraged me to continue to write articles for the old Lincoln Park Herald. Together, we helped each other become better people.
Sometimes relationships serve a very specific purpose. They are a gift of Divine Spirit. When that very specific purpose is complete, the love may fade or change. In my case, the romance between Penny and I faded. We stayed friends.
When I first met Penny, I was a shy, sensitive boy who had many self doubts. Penny helped me to become more outgoing, to find purpose, to overcome self doubts. I so hope that I helped her to grow emotionally and to become a better person.
In the winter of 1972, I was a young man, in my second year of college. Penny was a young woman in her freshman year of college, away from home. We were very different people, from the people that we were when we first had met. Things change.
In 2005, when Penny began her fight with cancer, I kept in correspondence with her. I did my utmost best to minister to her. I like to think that I helped her, even in some small, tiny way to prepare for crossing over to the next world. I pray I did.
To my good readers, please don’t worry about losing the love of someone who is dear and near to your heart. Love changes. A romantic feeling may fade from the one you cherish. But, please know that true love never dies. It can change. But, it never dies. Love the one you love, with all your heart. Be courageous. Be bold. As dear old Rod Stewart sang to us all those years ago, “give it all you got, no holding back.”