"Hey, Girly," the old man shouted from his wheelchair as I walked by his open door. "Hey! Come here! Girly?"
I was tired and wanted to go home. I silently chided myself for thinking about ignoring his plea. With a sigh, I pasted a smile on my face and stepped into his room.
"Look at this." He held out a tattered card. "Ain't it somethin'?"
I took it from his hand. A cartoon-style sketch on the front of the card showed a World War 2 soldier with a bugle inserted through a military tent doorway with a Christmas wreath hung above the opening. It said, "Christmas Greetings to an Army Man."
"We hit Omaha Beach together in '44," he said. I looked down at him and his eyes briefly clouded with the long ago memory. He was quiet for a moment before he continued. "When the war ended, we went our separate ways. I never laid eyes on him again. It was me that sent a card that first Christmas we was home. It was 1945."
His lips curved in a gummy smile. "He sent it back to me and said he didn't waste his hard earned money on Christmas cards. I kept the card and sent it to him again the next year--that would've been '46. I said 'me neither.' He sent it back to me and we been sending it back and forth every year since."
I carefully opened the worn card and looked at the notations inside. The first entry simply said, Merry Christmas, 1945. The second entry said, Don't waste hard-earned money on tomfoolery such as this. The third entry said, Me neither, 1946. After that, the only notations on the card was the year with "ditto" marks beside it. 1947", 1948", 1949"...
My gaze traveled over the entries. Year after year, the dates were scrawled, until every millimeter of the inside space was covered. I turned the card over and continued to scan the dates with accompanying ditto marks scribbled on the back.
"Look!" The old man giggled with child-like glee as he pointed toward familiar ditto marks beside this year's date. "Tough old goat's still alive and kickin' same as me!"
I handed the card back to him. He took it from me with a reverence reserved for a prized possession worth a fortune in gold. I patted his shoulder and wished him a Merry Christmas. He nodded in response and turned his full attention to the treasure in his hand. No doubt reliving his life experiences represented by the dates on the dog-eared card.
As I left his room I heard him softly whisper to the card: "Merry Christmas, old friend."