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Merry Christmas from Thelma and Roy

By Larry Gross · November 29th, 2012 · Living Out Loud
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During the Christmas season of 1969, my grandmother on my mother’s side of the family, Grandma Nora, and her sister, my Aunt Huda, received a Christmas card from Thelma and Roy. There was no last name to go along with their first names. It was a religious type of card and the envelope to it was postmarked Aurora, Indiana, with no return address. My grandmother and my aunt, who lived in Vevay, Indiana, always knew the people who sent them Christmas cards — that’s kind of how this card sending thing works — but they had no idea who Thelma and Roy were.

We always got together with Grandma Nora and Aunt Huda on Christmas Eve, and during that visit in 1969 Thelma and Roy came up more than a few times in conversation. My mother didn’t know them, neither did my dad. My twin brother and I, just being kids, weren’t even asked, but I knew who Thelma and Roy were. My twin brother Jerry knew them even better. You see, the thing is, Thelma and Roy didn’t exist.

Here’s what happened:

Living in Southern Indiana, our parents would often do Christmas shopping in Aurora. During one shopping adventure, my brother Jerry thought it would be funny to buy a couple cheap Christmas cards at a drug store, sign them “Thelma and Roy,” and send them to Grandma Nora and Aunt Huda as a joke. To our amusement, the joke totally worked. Grandmother and aunt were clueless. 

Christmas, 1970: Jerry wanted to send Christmas cards again. This time, he decided to include handwritten notes inside the cards. 

In notes written by “Thelma,” Jerry wrote that she was doing fine but Roy was in failing health. Living on a farm just outside of Aurora, milking the cows and doing farm chores was taking its toll on poor Roy. Their farm was up for sale. Thelma and Roy wanted to move to downtown Aurora and live an easier life.

The notes that year drove Grandma Nora and Aunt Huda nuts. Who were these people? My grandmother started making phone calls to friends asking if they knew Thelma and Roy. So did my aunt. The phone calls, of course, produced nothing. None of their friends were receiving Christmas cards from my brother’s made up characters.

The next year, 1971, was a hard one for Thelma.

In the notes inside the Christmas cards, she informed my grandmother and aunt that Roy had passed away. Thelma was a bit shocked that my Grandma Nora and Aunt Huda hadn’t attended the funeral. In fact, Thelma let it be known she was pissed about it. She thought them not even coming to Roy’s visitation was flat out rude.

The note rattled Grandma Nora. She now was going through the Aurora phone book looking for listings that had the first name Roy or Thelma. When she went shopping with us in Aurora that year just a few days before Christmas, she would stop people on the sidewalk and asked them if they knew a Thelma who lived on a farm outside of town — asked if they knew a Roy who had recently died. She was becoming a little desperate. 

My mother didn’t even want to talk to her mother or Aunt Huda about Thelma and Roy. She told them both they were getting too obsessed and to let it go. The joke was clearly getting a bit out of control, but my twin brother Jerry thought it was too late to turn back. The adventures of Thelma, less Roy, had to continue.

The Christmas season of 1972 found Thelma in a better state of mind. She had remarried, her new husband was named Bill, and she had finally sold the farm. She and Bill were living in a small house in downtown Aurora and also had adopted a small poodle named Sherman. Just like in prior years, my grandmother and aunt learned of Thelma’s updated status through those notes tucked inside religious Christmas cards. Grandma Nora and Aunt Huda were still scratching their heads trying to figure out who these people were. Aunt Huda had a thought.

She had a friend who lived in Aurora named Bill who was a widower. She called him asking if he had recently remarried and if he had if his new bride was named Thelma. Talking about the phone call later on with my mother and grandmother, Aunt Huda said Bill told her he was still unmarried and he didn’t know a Thelma. Aunt Huda also said she got the impression that Bill thought she was going crazy.

In the summer of 1973, my grandmother passed away. She died thinking Thelma was real, Roy was dead, Thelma had a new husband named Bill and a poodle named Sherman. My Aunt Huda assumed that Thelma and Bill would attend Grandma Nora’s funeral. At last, she would find out who these people were.

Since Thelma and her new husband Bill didn’t really exist, they couldn’t attend my grandmother’s funeral. My aunt, feeling bitter about them not showing up, concluded it was Thelma’s way of getting even for neither she nor my grandmother attending Roy’s funeral. Now, my brother’s joke was turning ugly.  

But how do you stop a joke like this that had gone on much too long? You don’t, or at least Jerry didn’t know how to.

With Grandma Nora now dead, Jerry continued to buy cheap religious Christmas cards that he would mail from Aurora, Indiana to our Aunt Huda. Now, however, it was just a card being sent. In a final note written before Christmas in 1977, Thelma informed Aunt Hula she had developed horrible arthritics in her hands. It was too painful to write those notes. 

Jerry continued with the joke into adulthood. In total, this card-sending ritual went on for nearly 25 years. When he moved to Seattle, it was necessary to get me involved with it. He would mail me the card in a larger envelope and I would drive to Aurora to mail it to Aunt Huda. It was absolutely insane, but in 1992 the insanity finally stopped.  

In the spring of that year, Aunt Huda died. She was living in a nursing home in Vevay, Indiana and was 99-years-old. Toward the end of her life, her mind wasn’t all that sharp, but my mother told me her mood and mind would become clearer and more in the present when she would get a “damn Christmas card from that goddamn Thelma person. Who the hell is she anyway?”

If my aunt had ever asked me that question, I think I would have told her the truth. Well, actually, with the joke getting so out of hand for so many years, I’m not at all sure of that.



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