by Sarah Squires
This one is 50 years old
It's faded yellow by the years and fitted together with brittle tape. It's lived through 50 years of Christmas, 50 years of two young families growing together, 50 years of sisterhood.
It's a Christmas card, a timeless beaming Santa glowing holiday wishes between two Winona County sisters.
The year was 1957, and Arlene Sommer and Betty Bergler were dairy farm wives raising young families. Before the age of high-definition TVs and e-mail, the two sent letters to keep in touch because calls between Lewiston and Winona were long distance.
Betty sent her sister Arlene a card. It was a simple act, a jacket that housed one of their usual letters. But for some reason the red Santa flip-top card didn't find itself in the trash after the decorations came down and the Minnesota winter began to warm.
For some reason, Arlene sent it back. The next Christmas, 1958, Betty got the same card she'd sent her sister the year before. Fitted with a new signature and year, Betty tucked the card away with her holiday gear and 12 more months passed.
And each year, the card has arrived in one of the sister's mailboxes. Fifty years of signatures and dates, fifty years of memories.
"I don't know why I did it," said Arlene of sending the card back to Betty the first time. She said she was sure it wasn't because she ran out of other cards.
The two customize envelopes every year, fitted with saved Easter Seals. They've circulated two other identical cards over the years, too, including one started before 1968 and signed by their late father.
These days, Betty and Arlene talk on the phone more than they used to, so thinking of what to say in a handwritten letter is harder than it used to be. But the card exchange lives on, even as finding space to squeeze the date and signature inside is becoming tougher.
"There's hardly anywhere left to write," laughed Betty of the half-century-old card. "At least it stayed together."