A year ago, when Stewart Owens did not receive the same battered circa World War II Christmas card he and Joe Konrad have exchanged since 1943, he began to worry.
"I called to make sure he was still here," the Liberty man said.
Mr. Owens, 87, breathed a sigh of relief when Mr. Konrad, also 87, of New London, Conn., told him he was OK, but the hang-up was that his wife was in the hospital and he did not know where she kept the fragile holiday card. He eventually found it and promptly mailed it to Mr. Owens, who received it in January.
This week, Mr. Owens mailed the card back to Mr. Konrad, continuing the tradition of holiday wishes between the former U.S. Army Air Corps buddies for the past 69 years.
"It's ready to fall apart, but it's still there," he said of the 4-by-6-inch card with a red and gold cover showing three burning yuletide candles surrounded by a pine bough. The engraved sentiment inside reads: "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."
It all began in 1943 when the men were roommates at Middle Georgia College, where the U.S. Army had sent the two Pittsburgh natives for a course on aeronautics.
At Christmastime, Mr. Owens chose the card to send to Mr. Konrad from a box of 50 provided by his mother.
The following year, Mr. Konrad, who was stationed in California, wrote "Good luck, kid" on the same card and mailed it back to Mr. Owens in Florida.
What a cheap guy! Mr. Owens recalled thinking when he opened the very same card.
The next year, Mr. Owens, who had moved to a base in Amarillo, Texas, mailed the card to Mr. Konrad in Clovis, N.M., signed: "Your buddy, Stew, 1945."
After the war, Mr. Owens returned to Liberty, and Mr. Konrad to Morningside, but a tradition -- which would span decades, wives, children and grandchildren -- had begun.
The few words scribbled each year in an empty space on the card reflected not only their holiday wishes, but the changing fortunes and landscapes of their lives.
Samplings from Mr. Konrad:
"This time there's two, Bettie and Joe." 1948.
"Three this year, Bettie, Joe and Marianne." 1950.
"We're moving to Conn. this time. Joe, Bettie, Marianne, Mickey, Marc and Meg." 1960.
"Only 1 M left and he's in college. Joe, Bettie and Matt." 1984.
And from Mr. Owens:
"Stew and Dorothy." 1949.
"Stew, Dorothy, Debbie and David." 1961.
"Grandparents for the first time this year." 1981.
By 2004, there was only one signature: "Stew." Mrs. Owens died that year.
Today, Mr. Konrad is a retired principal scientist for Analysis and Technology, a U.S. Navy contractor. Mr. Owens, a former Liberty mayor and councilman, is retired as a congressional aide to former U.S. Rep. Joseph Gaydos.
The men have gotten together a few times over the years and have exchanged phone calls. But without the card, it might have been a different story.
"We probably would have drifted apart otherwise," Mr. Owens surmised.
He also said the U.S. Postal Service deserves some credit for the long-lasting relationship. "They have not lost the card in 69 years," he said.
As for what he wrote this year, Mr. Owens said it was simple: "Stew." 2012.
"There's not space for much else," he said.
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.