Did you get any of those Christmas letters this year?
You know, the ones that teeter on the fence between sweet and informative or sappy and insufferable? The mass-produced missives mailed to friends, relatives and other unfortunate countrymen?
You're not alone; we did, too. In fact, there was a new one in the stack this year from the parents of one of my daughters' friends who have moved to another country (Florida). Their letter was happy and bubbly, full of the sort of gee-we're-swell superlatives for which such letters are loved and loathed.
But missing from our mailbox amid all the snail-mailed holiday happiness is a particular Christmas letter from a distant cousin of my wife.
We're pretty sure it isn't because their lives were any less stupefyingly stupendous than in years past, or because they don't send out their annual letters anymore.
No, we firmly believe our address was stricken from their mailing list.
And it's all because of the Rotato.
See, eight years ago, when we got the annual letter from "Bob" (not his real name) and his family, the contrast between our mundane existence and their jetsetting lifestyle could not have been sharper.
While their annual letter sounded like the draft of a script for one of those riches-to-riches TV reality shows - something like My Super Sweet 16 Meets the Cardashians - our family happily was unwrapping modest gifts that all seemed to have "As Seen On TV!" stamped on the box.
Among them was the Rotato, a nifty little gadget that peels a potato as you hand-turn a crank. So it was hard to convey my excitement at a device designed for turning tubers while the Growing Up Gotti crew was gushing about the sunsets they expected to enjoy from the kitchen of their under-construction oceanfront mansion.
So, unrestrained bigmouth that I am, it was impossible for me to resist the urge to poke fun at Bob's annual letter. And that didn't mean just dropping snarky comments around the Yuletide fire, either - it meant putting snarky comments in writing.
"We've come to look forward to Bob's letter," I wrote back in 2000, "because while it is a breathtaking masterpiece of self-important braggadocio, Bob seems blissfully unaware of its snobbery."
Ahem. Because that was before The News-Times appeared on the Internet, I'm guessing Bob was blissfully unaware only until relatives sent my comments to other relatives, who eventually passed them along to Bob and his family.
Thus, those relatives helped Bob discover my disdain for his boasts about flying lessons and Atlantic fishing trips and his tennis-playing wife and competitive horse-riding daughter.
And for their trips to France and Great Britain. Super! See how easily the peel comes off when you turn the crank? And the jaunts to New York to see Barbra Streisand and Atlanta to see Tina Turner? Sweet! But check out how the peel stays in one piece - and the blades are replaceable, too!
So, when Christmas 2001 rolled around, we kept checking the mailbox. The Christmas card from my saintly and wonderfully reliable Aunt Laurie was there (thanks, Aunt Laurie!), as were cards and letters from friends and family near and far.
But nothing from Bob. We're pretty sure his family didn't meet with any Y2K calamity, or get wiped out in 9/11. Or go into group rehab.
Instead, we're confident that the letters themselves ended. Or at least ended their trip to our mailbox. Either outcome is OK with me.
We occasionally hear from some of the closer relatives who still recall my satirical response to Bob's chirpy letter from the turn of the century. We don't hear any more turns of phrase from Bob, though.
Maybe they're jealous. After all: They got a Selle Francais mare and a trip to Normandy. But I got a Rotato. That news probably hurt their peelings.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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