Susan Shinn Turner: The tradition of the envelopes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 23, 2018

Every family has its own holiday traditions. My favorite is the Tradition of the Envelopes.

It goes back to my grandparents’ era. When I was a kid, my mom’s parents had eight children, all of whom were married. They also had 23 grandchildren and a handful of great-grands.

Every year at our Christmas gathering at one of my uncle or aunt’s houses in Shelby, they’d pass out envelopes after we’d had lunch. Every year, the amount was the same: the children got $25; their spouses got $15; and the grandchildren and great-grands each got $5 in their envelopes. I remember campaigning with MaMa Beam once to give the great-grands only a dollar, but she was unmoved. The amount stayed the same. I took note of the amounts for future reference.

Years later, my parents continued this tradition with me and my first husband. (He did not get as much as I did in his envelope.) When Andrew came along, he got his own envelope.

After Andrew and I were on our own, there were lots of Christmases that Mother put our money in those ornaments that open up. We’d search high and low on the tree for those special ornaments. But then one of the clasps broke, so that particular habit fell by the wayside. The envelopes returned.

I always pointed out to Mother that it was important that I got more money than Andrew. After all, now I was the child and he was the grandchild. It made sense to me. A generation later, those envelopes had much more than $25 in them. Andrew and I each got the same bill, but Mother always tucked in a little extra for me. After I reminded her.

Then there were the years we had to go on scavenger hunts to find our Christmas money. We went back and forth between our side-by-side townhouses, peeking in the ovens, searching the fridge, looking behind pillows and the like.

Last year, during our first Christmas with my new husband, Mother and Daddy again handed out envelopes. I peeked in Jim’s envelope to make sure I still had the upper hand. I did.

This year, Daddy put a twist on the whole dang tradition. Since Jim, Andrew and I are hosting 23 members of the Turner family for Christmas Eve lunch, Mother and Daddy invited us to have Christmas with them on Dec. 15. I picked up a ham from Raleigh as well as a chocolate meringue pie from the lady who caters the Raleigh Kiwanis Club lunches. Phil Kirk and K.C. Ramsay are both members of that club, and I almost decided to join the club based on that pie when I had lunch with them this fall. I ultimately decided it would be good for my community service but not my waistline.

The chocolate meringue pie was a big hit with Daddy.

While the ham was cooking, we had time to open presents and of course, the eagerly anticipated envelopes. After we opened presents, Daddy left the den momentarily and came back with three envelopes and handed them to me.

“These are three envelopes and there are no names on them,” he said. “Pass them out and see what you get.”

He had to be kidding, of course. There was no way I was letting my extra cash get away. Surely he was kidding.

He was not.

I looked at the envelopes. They all looked about the same to me. How much do a couple of extra bills weigh, anyway? Clearly I should have researched this.

Well, shoot, I thought to myself. He must’ve made them all even this year. I didn’t say anything about it, but handed the first to my husband, the second to Andrew and kept the third one.

I sat down in my chair and pulled out a sheaf of twenties. I counted them and they seemed in good order. Andrew counted the same. OK, fine. Then it was Jim’s turn.

“One hundred, two hundred, three hundred….” he said.

Surely he was kidding. Wasn’t he?

In a few minutes, I casually edged my way over to the sofa. There was no way Jim was gonna show me what was in his envelope. Dang.

“Just don’t say anything else about it,” Mother said.

She has never been a patient person, I have to say.

After we finished up the dishes and Jim, Andrew and Mother were back in the den, I cornered Daddy in the kitchen.

“Those envelopes were all even this year, weren’t they, Daddy?” I asked.

Surely he was kidding.

“No, they weren’t,” he said. “But don’t fret. It was only $5 extra.”

After church the next day, I hugged Daddy’s neck before I headed back to Raleigh.

“Next Christmas will be better,” he said, and smiled.

I didn’t know what he meant … and then he winked.

Now I think about it, though, my husband probably does deserve that extra 5 bucks after all.

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