Nearly every day after school my mom had errands to run.
In addition to the usual runs to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the dry cleaners, any number of bakeries, and of course, Gibson’s Discount Center, we also made regular visits to two different card shops in town. Depending on where our other errands took us, we either went to Helen’s House of Hallmark in Parker Square or the Polka Dot Paper Shop.
Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, sending a card to someone was the only way you had to remember a loved one’s birthday who lived out of town, and that was a heck of a lot cheaper than calling them long distance. (Long distance is what we called paying for calls that were outside our area code. Yes, in the days before cell phones, we used to have to do that.)
Sending a greeting card was the only way you had to say you cared about whatever life event someone was going through, whether it was an illness, or death, or a new baby or graduating from college or high school. Sending a card was the way you said you remembered.
Seemed like we were there in those shops for hours because my mom would read every card in the racks, looking for just the right one.
I came to learn that the card someone gave you was just as important, if not more so, than a present.
Because they picked it out while they were specifically thinking of you.
Sure, sometimes people buy a whole box of cards to keep on hand for any occasion, but they still take the time to write a note inside. And they still have to look up your address, find a stamp, risk cutting their tongue licking the envelope, and remember to put it out on their own mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up.
So those generic cards count, too.
When I was a kid, nothing thrilled me more than to find an envelope addressed to me in the mailbox.
Honestly, I’m not much different now.
Amidst the bills and fliers and envelopes full of stuff someone’s trying to convince you to buy, it’s nice to find a colored envelope with someone’s handwriting on it.
Sometimes it’s hard to pick up the phone and know what to say. It’s even more difficult to make a visit. And of course, it’s wonderful how easy the internet has made it possible for us to communicate with friends and family all over the world.
But there’s something tangible about opening a card and finding love inside. Something you can touch and smell and read. Words you can keep, and pull out on those days you feel all alone, forgotten.
And remember that you’re not.
So to all of you who have sent me cards since my cancer diagnosis, thank you.