My sister, Claire, came up with the idea of sending cards to my father on his 95th birthday.
Now that doesn’t sound so unusual. Of course, everybody in the family would be sending him a card. But Claire wasn’t thinking of several cards or, for that matter, timing them to arrive on Feb. 2 – Groundhog Day.
No, this would not be just one day for my father to celebrate. Her plan was for the cards to start arriving two to three weeks before the actual day and for each of us to send five or six of them – enough to surpass 95 cards – a blizzard of birthday cards. She put out the word with e-mails and by mid-January it started snowing cards.
But this Saturday was the actual party in Connecticut. Claire and Edward drove down from Massachusetts. My niece, Christa, her husband, Thor, and 6-month-old daughter Freya came in from Brooklyn, while Ted, Erica and the twins drove from Rhode Island.
We arrived to find the cards filled a basket. Not all of them fit in, either. A balloon-shaped card crafted by Erica and the twins was taped to a painting in the dining room, appearing as if it had taken flight from all its companions.
There was a consistent message to the greetings. Naturally, they were congratulatory and “Happy Birthday” was an excessively used phrase – after all, the obvious needed to be stated.
A humorous thread was woven throughout. Some of it was the cards themselves, such as the wide-eyed cat with the question “You have nine lives too?” from his great-granddaughter, Natalie. Inside she wrote, “Hope your birthday is purrrrfect.” And the crowning touch was on the envelope – a stamp bearing her picture with my father. One card carried a picture of two elderly gents in a pub, beer in hand, with the words, “You can’t turn back the clock…But you can wind it again.” There were post cards from different parts of the world – Claire had really spread the word. There were holographs, singing cards, plenty of pictures of animals – especially dogs – and even a paper airplane Ted made and decorated. My father was ready to fly into another year, even though he didn’t realize it was a paper airplane and unfolded it. Ted reconstructed it and launched it.
Usually my father downplays his birthday, although that’s been increasingly difficult for him to do the older he gets.
“Ninety-five, that’s ridiculous,” he said, as we gathered at the dining room table for lunch.
There was no feigning he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, or why Claire brought along a crown for him to wear at the head of the table. He played the role, responding to a toast celebrating the occasion with another one for Marge, in appreciation of putting everything together, including a very chocolate, chocolate cake with an untold number of candles.
There were a few gifts, nothing too elaborate, including a couple of bottles of wine, which Edward opened. Really, what can you give on a 95th birthday?
The cards said it in so many ways.
When Claire proposed the “blizzard,” I had imagined how he might enjoy opening three or four each day, looking them over and reflecting on those who had sent them. What I hadn’t foreseen was the challenge of choosing so many cards. I made the rounds, stopping at Walgreen's, CVS and Benny’s (Benny’s has some weird and funny cards in case you’re looking for the eccentric).
I got a cross-section. Some were on the serious side. One was political – good, I figured, to spark debate about the president – and a couple more that were absurd. I would have never got them unless there was this compunction to be a part of the blizzard.
There was more to the blizzard than simply cards. There were notes, words of congratulations, recollections of good times, thoughts about life and words of praise.
You see, when you are sending more than one card, just saying “Happy Birthday” doesn’t cut it. Nor do just the puns and endearments cleverly crafted by others.
Try a birthday card blizzard when that special day comes around for a family member or friend. They needn’t be 95 to get a good dose of humor and sincere sentiment.