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THE VALLEY DISPATCH , Paul Sullivan’s vintage columns appear every Friday in The Valley Dispatch. He wrote this one in 1994. Sullivan’s WBZ-radio show airs Monday through Friday from 8 to midnight.

Dear Fred, Anne, Chip and Courtney:

For the last 14 holiday seasons, I have come to expect the annual visitation of your lovely family Christmas cards. I have come to look upon them as so thoughtful.

In the early years, the religious scenes of baby Jesus in his manger with Mary and Joseph were simply inspiring.

As the years sped by, you kept pace with the times, staying in step with the teachings of the politically correct handbook — insensitive religious references were out.

So, we began seeing pictures of those adorable children of yours on the front of your cards.

Those cute little poses and outfits just about took my breath away year after year. And then when you added humor to the season by having the kiddos dress up in current events garb. So clever.

Like 1988, when the tykes dressed like Mike Dukakis with the Snoopy hat sitting on a Bradley tank, we laughed and laughed at that.

Or 1990, when they had the Pete Rose masks and dressed up like riverboat gamblers. Or even two years ago, when you had one child dressed as Pinocchio and the other as Bill Clinton, with the caption, “Which is your leader?”

Very funny stuff.

These cards certainly mean a lot more to me than the annual avalanche of impersonal missives from banks, insurance companies and real estate appraisers, not to mention my oil dealer.

As each Yuletide passed, I would treasure your card and say to myself, “Boy, those kids are getting big.”

And then this year, Lordy, I was shocked at how Chip had grown. For goodness sake, he looks ready for college.

And Fred, you must be so proud of Courtney. She is, well, she is just beautiful.

But this year, instead of just admiring the pictures and leaving it at that, I’ve decided to bring up a sensitive issue. I was going to just send a card and mention it, but since you’ve never included a return address with any of your cards, I couldn’t.

The newspaper column may not be the most appropriate venue to bring up this issue, so I want to emphasize that I am very, very grateful that you have lavished me with these annual reminders of our friendship. There’s just one thing I want to know.

Who are you?

I’ve rattled my brain since that first Christmas card in 1980, and I can’t remember. And I haven’t suffered any memory loss, at least that I know of.

Nothing on Post Office bulletin boards. I’ve gone through my high school and college yearbooks and called everyone mentioned who is named Fred or Anne. Nothing. I could tell you stories about the reactions of some old classmates. “Paul who?” was a typical response — and those were the good ones. Of course some folks just figured I had finally gone around the bend.

Now it may seem tacky to relay this message this way, but it’s getting to me. This is driving me nuts.

Fred. Anne. Chip and Courtney — if you keep me on your Christmas list next year, will you please include a return address?

This way when I open your card, I can immediately address one back to you, like I do for everyone who sends me a Christmas greeting. (Well I haven’t gotten to the oil man yet.)

This way anyone who takes the time to send me a card, always gets one back. And anyone who doesn’t send one doesn’t. Now that I think of it, that seems rather un-Christmaslike: Sending cards only to those who send them to me first. I should be ashamed.

If everyone thought that way, no one would ever get any Christmas cards — even from Fred, Anne, Chip and Courtney.

Hmmmmm, there’s a Christmas wish.

Editor’s note — After the column was originally published, Sullivan’s great aunt notified him that the christmas card was from his second cousin and her husband. It was the last card, call or any contact he has received from them.

To comment on this story, e-mail Paul Sullivan at psullivan@lowellsun.com.