Rhymes for Christmas time

November 27, 2003 11:00 pm
Boyer's scrapbook is almost too big for the suitcase she stores it in, but it's worth the effort to heft it out of hiding. The book contains a lot of history from her years as an english teacher, ranch woman, mother and being generally curious about rhyme and reason. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Boyer's scrapbook is almost too big for the suitcase she stores it in, but it's worth the effort to heft it out of hiding. The book contains a lot of history from her years as an english teacher, ranch woman, mother and being generally curious about rhyme and reason. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

Joann Boyer lugs a suitcase from a backroom, warning it could take hours to browse through the treasure stored inside.

She pops the two latches and lifts out a three-ring binder covered in a fuzzy red fabric, lashed together with a tattered leather belt and bulging with 30 years of Christmas letters.

"Without the belt, I think the book would have gone to pieces," says Boyer, 95.

There's a reason she's stashed these letters safely away.

These aren't the standard end-of-year updates that clog the postal system every December.

The book's first page is a hint to her secret: a copy of the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

It's also handy to know Boyer taught English — her specialty is American Literature. She retired in 1970.

"Poetry was my favorite. That's how I ended up rhyming history," she says.

Beginning in 1960, Boyer began composing her yearly Christmas letter to the rhythm of the jolly holiday poem describing Christmas Eve.

"That was one of my favorite Christmas poems," she says.

Mostly, she wrote about family affairs.

From 1962: "The farm is still solvent, the cattle are sleek

And school work proceeds as per schedule each week."

From 1984: "Our Boyer grandkids are all three in the East

Each doing own things, sounding happy, at least."

She included major milestones.

From 1987: "To one born in ought-eight it is kind of a scary ‘un

To find yourself faced with that ‘octagenarian.'"

She threw in a bit of history too, documenting John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 and the first man on the moon in 1969.

"There's quite a bit of history there — January first on through December. Everything that happened in the family and the world, if it was worth including," she says.

Her family frequently argues over who will inherit this treasure trove of information.

"They use it for (family) history," she says.

Started her students on poetry

"This is unique — this community knows about this book," she says, pointing toward Haines, "but it's the only community that does."

Boyer's former students probably recall her creative letters as well.

Once her English classes found out what she was doing, they wanted to get in on the act.

"They liked the idea," she says.

Their efforts took a little guidance, though.

"They did an awful sloppy job — they'd rustle the rhyme til it was at the end, no matter what the line was," she smiles.

That mistake — rhyming words at the end of each line even though it doesn't make sense — is an easy one to make, says the former teacher.

"It came awfully easy to just wrestle something in," she says.

But each December she dutifully sat down with pen and paper to craft her poem.

"When I started getting Christmas cards, that gave me the approach to start writing," she says.

Only in 1988, it seems, was her letter a tad tardy.

"Merry Christmas, dear people, nineteen eighty-eight

This just may be a year when our greetings are late;

Old Man Time threw a curve and to reverse gear,

Catching busy old Boyers completely off guard

And putting Joann in the cardiac ward."

Boyer smiles as her eyes skim over the poem.

"I'd forgotten I'd had that till I read over it," she says.

Each year's letter is pasted on its own page, surrounded by snapshots of family gatherings and dated stamps hailing "Merry Christmas" and "Christmas Greetings."

She's even saved Christmas cards from her friends and relatives — and students.

"Only one ex-pupil is still rhyming her letters," Boyer says. "She does a good job."

She stopped rhyming after 30 years

Boyer stopped writing her holiday poems in the early 1990s, when she was well into her 80s.

"When I quit doing those I had protests from all over the world," she says. "They wanted me to rhyme the history of the world forever. They said ‘this is the end of an era.'"

Maybe, but now she can relive those eras whenever she wants.

"That'd take you about 30 years to go through this," she smiles, flipping through the brittle pages. "I figure when I get too old to do anything else, I can sit there and go back through that book."