Cards of Leaves and Petals
I buy birthday cards at the dollar store: 6 for a dollar. If I’m lucky I find pack of 8 for one dollar. And I buy about ten packs which will last maybe a year. The cards don’t have HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! or anything else printed on them. Which doesn’t bother me because I can write HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! just well, or even better because I am practicing my handwriting. I have got the cursive G down and the S as well, but H has me harrumphing. The fronts of the cards have abstract designs printed on them, or kittens or puppies or butterflies or flowers, some little thing to greet cheerfully the envelope opener. Taped to my office wall, behind the desk where only I can see it, is a typed list by month of the birthdays of the people whom I love and who are important to me. Forty some odd. Sometimes I cannot face getting out a card to write in and mail, what with the mayor’s to-do list and clamoring developers and a hundred important tasks at every hour of every day demanding to be done. George Washington arose at 4:30 in the morning every morning to face his “correspondence,” and since I don’t get up at 4:30 in the morning, ever, for anything but the call of nature, I have to find another time when I have the time and energy. But it’s only 60 seconds 40 times a year, plus several condolence cards and get well cards and I love you cards and I’m thinking about you cards. So, maybe 60 times 60, for a total of 360 seconds a year. So, for the price of 1 second per day I can tell 60 people how great they are and how much I love them. And a whole year’s cards cost me less than the $20 bill I occasionally slip in when the need of something extra is acute. These are prices I am happy to pay.
Dorothy Erma Evans Bawden Atkin. That was the name of my grandmother when she died 96 years after her birth in 1915. (Grandma was 96 years old for several years running because I lost track of her age for a while and told my children every time they asked that Grandma was 96.) She made her own cards at a time when people made their own things, their own dresses and trousers and shirts and socks, long before dollar stores and jumbo retail stores were a thing. My one-inch black binder journals contain precisely one birthday card per year from Grandma to me, and her cards are all homemade. Her small study was lined with books, not on bookshelves, but in stacks on the floor against the walls, each book containing colorful leaves and flower petals drying for later artistic arrangement with wax paper, white glue, and tissue of many colors, ironed in a paper grocery sack and cut to envelope size, with a cardstock insert on which she wrote the same message every year: Happy Birthday!! May you be blessed with the Choicest Blessing of our Lord this day and Always. With Love, Grandma. There were times, I am loath to confess, when I thought to myself, Another card saying the same thing about blessings and Jesus. But my God! what a beautiful and faithful and hopeful message from a grandmother to her grandson, and to every one of her granddaughters and grandsons, who all knew they were loved by this woman. And such a simple annual act, one done less and less, replaced often by the text or the e-card or the video message or the snapchat or the tweet, which are all good and nice as far as they go but which lack some intangible quality, a je ne sais qua, that oozes from the pen with ink letters laid on paper, the reassuring surety that the sender carved out a little time and space in space-time to think about me, to write words to me, words that carry along their current an underflow of love, of acceptance, of hope, not just a general hope but the individualized hope that my life works out well for me and hope that I can weather the storms and overcome the adversities, hope that I can find love and happiness, and can create love and happiness, and a general gentle flow toward goodness and wholeness in this world.
And so I try to do the same, 40-odd times per year, plus special occasions that come and tap my shoulder when they need to. I start every card with Happy Birthday!! and I write my own type of message that reminds the celebrant of their individual intrinsic value and gifts and reminds them I believe in them and love them and hope for them. Isn’t that what these little pieces of folded cardstock ought to do? If we’re doing it to check off the guilt box then don’t bother. Instead, send your heart.
Or send glitter. In her later card-making years, Grandma took to adding glitter to the card-making recipe, which meant that when I pulled the card out of the envelope a mist of impossible-to-remove almost microscopic glitter settled on my suit, stuck to my skin, and settled upon all surfaces indiscriminately within ten feet of ground zero. Some years I threw away the cards with their pressed flower petals and leaves and butterfly wings, and kept only the rote message, rote not out of laziness or a lack of care but because that message of blessings and Jesus was written on her heart and came out the same way every time in her cards. Other years I used the miracle of sheet protectors to preserve the special cards, and to contain their glitter. We have laughed about the glitter, my family and I, but we do not mock. We revere with a chuckle, which I think is an acceptable juxtaposition.
I follow Grandma’s recipe to make my own homemade cards, though a dozen cards take a good two hours, making for pretty dear cards. But I use them for the extra special people and occasions when such a card, beautiful and personal, is sure to have the effect of giving a bit of an extra lift in a down-dragging time, like the card to my sister on the anniversary of her son’s suicide, or the card with a $100 check because there is no money for gifts, or just because it gives me pleasure to share that bit of myself ironed and bonded into the wax paper and tissue and leaves, that says this came from my heart to yours.
It was a cool sunny late October day, and the bushes outside my window were turning a deep red before they browned and blew away. So I took a break from housework and ruminations and collected enough for pressing in a tall stack of encyclopedias, and after a month composed them into Merry Christmas cards that scattered around the globe.
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Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist. Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season. Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. A Time and A Season compiles Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births. The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.