Cards and Conversations

Observations about life, people and relationships from the card department.

The Blank Card–revisited

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In the card department the other day, a customer asked me where to find the blank cards. She wasn’t quite sure what to say and the white space freed her to share from her heart without categorizing her feelings.

I’ve always been intrigued by the appeal of the blank cards. I notice people taking extensive amounts of time to find the perfect card, with the perfect words, the perfect illustrations (and of course at the perfect price) for their loved ones and friends. Why spend the money on a card with no words inside?

She then told me why she needed the card. It was for her son—in jail. Gulp.

There is no other type of card I can think of which fits.

Good luck?

Thinking of you?


Get well soon?

None of these work. The only perfect solution? A few simple words to her son saying “I love you,” surrounded by the hug of the blank white page. I’ve always perceived words to be a gift, but sometimes the absence of words is a gift.

Have you ever used a blank card to send a special message?


The Milestone Birthday Cards

In the card department the other day, I noticed the assortment of milestone birthday cards. I found myself wondering why these ages in particular have special cards made for them. There’s the first birthday card, the second birthday card, the third…and so on until the 13th birthday. Then we drop 14 and 15 and jump to the 16th birthday, then 18th, then 21st. Why?

Adult birthday cards celebrate by the decades. 30, 40, 50, 60…and then when we hit 70, we insert the ‘5’s with special cards for ages 75, 85 and 95. And of course, the ultimate. The 100th birthday card.

I can still remember when my husband and I made the crazy mistake of having a huge shindig for my oldest child’s first birthday. Yes, it was special, but not because our son turned one. It was because we, the mom and dad, survived our first year of parenting. We invited almost 100 people, rented a hall, catered food, and had family and friends enlisted to help with the party details. What were we thinking?

Our daughter’s first birthday a couple years later was way milder…a few friends at the house to hang out and enjoy a simple cake. Now that’s more like it. We could focus on the reason for the celebration…our daughter.

As an adult, my personal favorite milestone birthday was turning 50. Some people have problems with turning 50, but others, like myself, celebrate big-time. I decided to have a celebration a month, with someone different each time, for the entire year. One month, it was a fancy dinner. Another month included an overnight stay at a bed and breakfast. I celebrated with my husband and children by visiting my favorite city, Philadelphia, for the weekend. We put our tourist hats on and had a ball. Fun!

Not all birthdays are fun, or even funny.

The other day, a mom and dad were shopping in the card department with their three elementary-age children. The mom was looking around and the dad was chatting with the children. The topic was jokes, and what it’s like to try to make other people laugh.

The dad: “Sometimes, we try to make people laugh, but it makes them cry. Remember the time Mommy was turning 30 and I got her a card that say 40 and she cried?”

Not funny!

Milestone birthdays. Sometimes fun, sometimes funny. Sometimes not so funny.

What’s your favorite milestone birthday and how did you celebrate?


The Father’s Day Card

In the card department the other day, the final frantic search for the perfect Father’s Day card continued to the very last moment before the big day. I couldn’t believe the mad rush, as I expected the Father’s day cards to be purchased way in advance since we moms tend to plan ahead. Guess I was wrong.

One dad I know commented that he observed something strange about Father’s day activities. “Why is it,” he asked, “that we take the women out to dinner to a fancy restaurant on Mother’s day, but the dads eat at home on Father’s day? Not only that, they are the ones cooking their own dinner!”

“I guess because it happens so rarely,” I said. When I thought about it, I realized the truth of his comment. We all picture the grill being fired up to officially start the summer season—on Father’s day.

While at Dunkin’ Donuts one morning, I saw an adorable father-daughter team sitting across from me, enjoying their healthy breakfast. She was probably two years old. Coffee and a donut for him, juice and a donut for her. An icing-topped donut covered with sprinkles. Her white-blonde hair with the ponytails sticking straight up matched the white icing on her donut. Those crystal blue eyes of hers were gazing with glee at her dad between those sticky bites. They were having a ball. With dad, it’s about doing things which are out of the ordinary, and donuts for breakfast instead of, say, a healthy portion of eggs and whole wheat bread, make any outing with dad a special event.

The bottom line: getting dad’s attention. What’s better than simply hanging out, having donuts and a chat, and easing into the day with no apparent schedule in mind? Certainly beats the mad rush out the door with mom.

Men, we do love your lack of structure and routine, sometimes. It’s only special because we moms are creating the routine all of the other days. So I guess it’s a special day for all of us.

Happy Father’s day, dads.


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The Kid’s Birthday Card

In the card department the other day, two women were checking out the musical selection. One said to the other, sighing, “Jake wants a card with a hamster on it singing ‘Kung Fu Fighting.’ I don’t think I’ll be able to find it. He gave it to someone for their birthday and wants it for his own birthday.”

The other woman’s comment: “Have fun with that.”

No, I haven’t memorized all the cards we sell but I happened to know where the Kung Fu card was located. Why? Because I think it’s one of the strangest birthday cards around, but I replace it often. It must be popular, huh?

I went around the corner to the other rack of cards, pulled the Kung Fu hamster out and gave it to her.

“This might be the card you’re looking for,” I said.

She looked at it, opened to the musical rendition of “Kung Fu Fighting,” and her shocked expression was more valuable than the price of the card.

She explained further that the card was for her grandson, and of course what grandmother doesn’t want to please her grandson?

“Thank you!” she said.

I notice a common trend with kids’ birthday cards. Over and over I’ll hear the moms bring their little tykes to the card department to help select the perfect card for their friends. They interrogate. How old is he going to be? What’s her favorite princess? What’s his favorite toy? I’ve been asked for Star Wars cards, Lego cards, Tinkertoy cards (hey, wait a minute, those were from my childhood!), and a card for whatever the latest kid movie on the big screen happens to be at the time. (“Let It Go,” anyone?) Most often, however, I hear the kids tell their moms they want this card or that card for their own birthday. The moms do their best to explain it’s their friends’ birthday, not theirs. Ahhh, empathy. A tough lesson to learn in childhood. It’s tough in adulthood, too.

When we find a card with the perfect words, sharing the perfect sentiment, to feel perfectly loved, it’s always worth the search.

Hamsters, anyone?

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The Encouragement Card

In the card department the other day, the conversation between a young mom and her toddler gave a sneak preview of the scene I was about to witness.

“Mo-ommm!” Two syllables made the little boy’s point clearer.

“I said ‘no,’ young man, and I mean it. Now put it back.”

“But I want it!”

“No,” she said again, calmly but firmly.

They approached me, the mom with her dark curly hair thrown back into a quick ponytail, and her son, with his same dark curly hair toddling behind her. He was carefully holding a tiny bag of even tinier rubber bands for one of those new bracelet looms. Her response prompted him to object by throwing the bag down. The bag opened and a pile of rubber bands ended up on the floor. Mom was at the end of her rope.

I bent down to help pick up the pieces.

“Thank you,” she said, exasperated.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I remember those days.”

“This has not been a good trip!” she said.

I’ve had plenty of not-so-good trips. It has been over a decade, but I still remember the days when toting my small children along for what I thought were simple errands required monumental project planning and time management. I’d harbor a tiny sense of hope that this time, things would go smoothly and I’d get done effortlessly, like when I was single and in charge of my life. I remember using the same words to define the experiences as a “good trip” or a “not-so-good trip.” This helped to keep my frustration encapsulated within the boundaries of the trip. Otherwise, it became a not-so-good day, or week, or month, or more.

It was these times, however, that I’d receive just the perfect encouragement card or note in the mail from a friend. A simple “I’m here for you,” or “You’re a great mom,” or, “You’ll get through this” was sometimes all I needed. Those encouragement cards go a long way on the trips that aren’t so great. I think it’s time to send another one out to someone soon. How about you?


In-Law Cards

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In the card department the other day, a couple was in the “daughter” section looking for a birthday card. This one was not for their daughter though, it was for their daughter-in-law. Then I heard the strangest comment. The man said they needed a card which celebrated her, but didn’t condone her.

I don’t know what he meant.

In-law relationships are fragile.

Another day a woman asked for a holiday card for her “grandson and his wife.” Was she trying to include the granddaughter-in-law or was she making a point that her grandson was more important?

I still remember when I first met my husband’s grandmother, the family matriarch, more than twenty years ago. Getting invited to her house for dinner was how I knew our relationship was serious. Would I make it in her eyes as “family material?” I needed to spruce up on my manners. Who wrote those old books on manners, anyway? Smile pretty. Keep elbows off the table. Use gravy on the mashed potatoes. Take just one pat of butter. If the internet was popular then, I would have searched for Emily Post’s website on etiquette to brush up before the big event.

Grandmom turned out to be a sweetie. She told fascinating stories of times long ago as she served her favorite meal, roast beef. Of course, she had all the proper fixings, including mashed potatoes with gravy. She made her exquisite gravy by pouring the meat drippings into a separate saucepan, quickly whisking in some flour while heating so there were no lumps, then straining carefully until it was smooth and came together. Rolls with softened butter and steamed green beans rounded out the feast. It became clear Grandmom enjoyed company and preferred to have people over to share some of her favorite foods with her. Then came dessert. The lemon meringue pie she served was so perfect it looked fake. It tasted immaculate.

A couple years later, I was an official in-law. What a treat when I received a birthday card from her that year which referred to me as “granddaughter.” Maybe they didn’t have granddaughter-in-law cards then, but I like to think she was trying to tell me I was a true member of the family.

So yea, in-law relationships are not always smooth but, like the gravy, sometimes it all comes together.

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The Wife Birthday Card

Birthday Cake

An elderly gentleman, wearing navy slacks, a collared white shirt, and a black baseball cap with an infantry logo, passed me in the card department the other day. He asked where the “wife birthday” cards could be found. He made his selection after reading every card in the section. How cute. I asked how he would be celebrating her birthday.

“We’ll go to dinner,” he said, “as usual. It’s always special, though, because I feel lucky to even be here.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

His eyes glazed over at a memory from decades ago. “I served in Korea. And I saw too much. It’s hard to believe I’m still alive today.”

He continued. “We got married as soon as I got back. I was 20 years old. And we’ve been married 62 years now.”

“That’s amazing,” I said, “and thank you for serving.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about this man’s story. How he was so young, serving in the war, in love with a young lady who gave him a reason to come back. The happy ending of a marriage spanning more than 60 years includes with it the memories of a young kid in a war. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it seems. Love heals most wounds, though. And this man’s chance to celebrate a birthday with the love of his life continues to heal him. It’s not only a celebration of his wife’s birthday, but a celebration of freedom, of relationships, of survival, of love.

How about you? Do you think there’s more to a birthday card than the reminder of another year gone by?

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The Blank Card

I recently started a part-time position with a card company, stocking the little beauties in a retail setting. I’ve loved cards since I was a young adult, always striving to send the perfect note at the perfect time to a friend or family member and loving each minute of it. Why? Because words matter.

Words are the salve to heal our wounds when we’re hurt, the strength when we need a boost, the comfort when we’re down, the reminders to us we are important. Life is sometimes too busy to have a much-needed face-to-face conversation with a friend, especially when life’s ups and downs are thrown at us. The cards fill those gaps in their special way.

Until it was my job to return cards to their correct pockets, I hadn’t realized the importance of those cardboard sheets categorizing the cards with labels called “card captions.”  Those captions define life in its simplest forms: birthday, congratulations, sympathy, thinking of you, and my favorite, the blank card.

On one of my first weeks at the job, a woman was wandering the department for a while, more than ten minutes. She had a couple of selected cards in her cart, but seemed to still be searching for the right one. I asked if she found what she was looking for.

“I need a sympathy card,” she said. “It’s for my dad.”

I wondered what that meant. Was it because her dad knew someone who died? Then wouldn’t she also know that person who died? Did her dad die? I was confused.

“Well, I’m not sure what kind of card to get,” she said, “because I haven’t talked with my dad in quite a few years.”

Hmmm, it wasn’t about a sympathy card, it was about a relationship. I suggested she get a blank card instead. Cards can change everything, even the blank ones.

Have you had a situation where a card changed your life in a memorable way? I know I have. Many times.