Return to Sender

Today – the middle of the month of April – not one but two Christmas cards I mailed off (both on the 17th of December) came back to me.

They carry yellow stickers. Return to Sender. Not Deliverable as Addressed. Unable to Forward.

One is a card for a friend I worked with in San Francisco in the early 1980s. We were secretaries in the Marketing Department of what at that time was a national-wide not-for-profit insurance company. Those were heady days, of alcoholic lunches when the bosses took you out at noon and you returned to the office several hours and many rounds later. After work, life meant meeting friends for drinks or beers at the neighborhood bars, and more restaurants and cultural events than you could count. I was in my twenties and living in ‘the big city’ for the first time.

San Francisco was a candy store, and I was a wide-eyed child with a big appetite.

The second returned Christmas card is addressed to the retired librarian from the University of Washington Health Services. I worked at UW in the late 1980s. I was going to massage school in my spare time, and my friend was keenly interested in what I was doing, as she was in anything to do with the world of healing. Traditional or alternative medicine: she always wanted to know more. She suggested we do a trade. I gave her massages right there in her office at lunch time. [1] She did document searches for me, tracking down peer-reviewed medical journal articles about massage in the days when massage was still a dicey career choice. (I was asked more times than I care to count what the name of the massage parlor was where I planned to ‘work’.) (Hah. Hah. Hah.)

My friend the librarian ran a working farm. We also traded those massage sessions in her office for packages amounting to half a lamb each spring. Once she snuck in a package of goat meat. “But how do I cook goat meat?” I protested.

“Really? Congratulations, Jadi. This is what people eat in a lot of places in the world. Figure it out!” I passed THAT package along to friends when I went to visit them. The husband is one of the best cooks I know, and Jim would have a solution. [2]

So here I am, firmly settled in Germany with my Swabian husband. I send out yearly Christmas cards along with a letter and a current photo taken by Uwe [3]. It’s my annual production, each letter hand stamped with glittery snowflakes. Because my mom made the most wonderful Christmas cards in the world. She had a husband and three very active little girls, and her cards were magic.

Mom would recruit us to help her color in the cards. I don’t know if this hand-painted card smeared then or later
I won’t even bother mentioning the decade that this card was made in. If you have to ask, you weren’t there…. Of course, it goes without saying that Mom sewed the dresses we’re wearing

My own, less clever Christmas cards are a way to remain connected to my mom’s tradition. And the cards are my way to remain connected, if I can, even if just one day out of the year, with the people who were in my life in various places at various times. Each of them helped me with their friendships more than they’ll ever know. Each year a few cards come back, and another friend has dropped from my life.

I still miss and love them all. [4]

NOTES: [1] I clearly evolved from those boozy San Francisco lunches. But man, I miss them! [2] Jim braised the goat meat and made stew. It was yummy. [3] Every single year, shortly before December, you will hear me mutter this: “God damn it, Uwe! I ask you on every vacation to ‘Take a photo that will be perfect for my Christmas letter!’ Just once I’d like to have a photograph from one of our trips picked out and ready to go for Christmas! Just once!” [4] Now I know what to tell people in next year’s cards. © Jadi Campbell 2021. All photos and images © property of Jadi Campbell. To see Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, and Grounded. Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was named a semifinalist for the 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award. My short story collection The Trail Back Out was named 2020 Best Book Award Finalist for Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.



16 thoughts on “Return to Sender”

  1. This was a delightful read Jadi, and what a beautiful heart-felt tradition. I’ve lost contact with so many people over the years! My parents always had a Christmas list and sent out (store bought) cards. Sadly none of their children have continued the tradition. Every now and then, around Christmas time I think of sending cards, but the idea is like a will-o-the-wisp and disappears as quickly as it came.

    1. I’ve embedded this tradition into my holiday rituals like the annual Christmas tree…. It began as a way to keep my mom’s tradition alive but then I realized how much work handmade cards are – so I cleverly dragged Uwe into my scheme. We select a photo from whatever trips we took that year and do a photoshop Xmas greeting. I’ve been touched that friends hang our photo on their fridge or corkboard, and simply replace it each year when the new card arrives. Documenting the aging process, no doubt!

  2. I had a returned card this year from a friend in the US, she’d changed address. It took four months to return to me.

  3. What a nice tradition. I only send out four cards: three high school girlfriends and one woman I have not yet met but whose blogs we watch follow. It’s odd how a “blog buddy” can turn into a distant penpal, soon to be someone I actually meet in person!

    1. Emilie, I send cards to honor my mom’s tradition, but also because with the advent of emails, writing a Christmas letter is almost the only time I send anybody a ‘real’ letter at all

      1. That was very thoughtful! When I was growing up, my godmother would send me pictures of her family from time to time. Later, some of her family photos were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Now, when I run across one of them in our family albums, I scan it and send it to her daughter and grandchildren, on the off chance that they might not have it. You never know what might be meaningful to someone.

  4. I had to look up Swabia.

    Mom always painted a nativity scene on our front picture window. We lived on an 8 lane highway and people would slow down to look at it. These days, people would probably try to steal the window.

    1. And your mom somehow found the creativity and the hours it must have taken her to paint your picture window. The energy our mothers had makes me feel exhausted just thinking about it

      1. That is very true. She mowed the lawn, sewed our clothing (including my father’s shirts), and painted the house when it was needed –among other things.

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