The other afternoon, I carried a couple of Christmas packages to the car, waved at Nancy as she headed to the Post Office and walked back into the house to see, right there on the counter, an ornament that belonged in one of the packages disappearing up the road.

I panicked and grabbed the ornament and my pickup keys, ready to chase down and find a way to shove the Item into one of the packages. That impulse lasted only a second, though. The mental image of us pulled over at the side of the street trying to force an ornament into a pretty carefully wrapped box overpowered the urge to get that thing into the day’s mail so it would arrive before Christmas. I put my keys in the basket by the back door and propped the ornament on the kitchen table.

Christmas of 2020 is a different sort of celebration. Yes, I know. That isn’t news to anyone who has been conscious since March when the pandemic struck and the idea of normal was the stuff of dreams. Schools closed, all sorts of public events cancelled or postponed, and a lot of people masked up and hunkered down.

Surely it will be over when warm weather arrives, I thought early on. I mentioned that notion in a phone car with our son Andy, an epidemiologist in Colorado. He cleared his throat and asked, “Ever hear of California or Florida? How much warmer do you think it needs to be for them to become virus free?’’ Summer came and went. So did fall.

Now there’s a vaccine that is promised to provide protection. First injections started during the last week, and people are hopeful. Still, it will take months for the vaccine to become readily available to most of us. Until that happens, we try to be careful about where we go and who we see. Nancy and I are relatively isolated under normal conditions, so hunkering down hasn’t been a hardship except for missing some of our family.

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One example? A granddaughter who lives in Minnesota considered coming home for Christmas. She and the two women with whom she lives have been really careful not to be out in public settings. The two roommates told our granddaughter if she went to South Dakota for Christmas, she should plan on staying here until the pandemic is officially over. Under that guideline, we won’t be seeing her any time soon.

And not seeing family members who live in other communities has forced us to become more efficient at wrapping and mailing Christmas packages. We’ve usually mailed one or two during a holiday season. In normal years, though, nearly all of the family makes it home for a day or two, long enough to exchange gifts and share some time. This year, we’ve done more mailing – like the shipment that went off without a key element the other day.

It occurs to me that the pandemic has turned the clock back on Christmas to when I was a kid on the farm. In those days, we pored through the Sears, Roebuck and the Montgomery Ward (my Aunt Grace always called them “Monkey Wards’’) Christmas catalogues for days, choosing the best pop guns and footballs and cooing dolls and tea sets. Our mom would hear our suggestions and get all mysterious as she filled out catalogue order forms and entrusted them to the U.S. Postal Service and its rural delivery service. It was like email but old school. We always had gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve.

Since the pandemic hit last spring, we’ve done a ton of online shopping. The delivery trucks have learned the road to our place. They’ve arrived steadily. On the farm, we had to drive a mile to our mailbox and considered ourselves blessed. Down in our river bottom, the deliveries are right outside the front door. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same operation as back then, and the Postal Service has been a basic piece, then and now.

I just have to remember to get everything into the package before we entrust it to the carrier.