Today would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday (12/16/2020). And while I miss her and could just generally talk about how wonderful she was, that would just be empty. I want to actually tell people about who she was.
My mother hated her birthday. She always felt that it was too close to Christmas, so there was really no celebration of her birthday as something separate from Christmas. Growing up, any relatives offering gifts or well-wishing always showed up for Christmas with a belated happy birthday for her.
I always tried to celebrate it as its own holiday, but it was hard because by the time I had come along to recognize her birthday, she was quite over even the ritual of adding another year to her age. For over 20 years she was 39 and holding. When she did recognize her birthday, she didn’t want a physical gift. She preferred a sentimental card or a meal out to eat, usually at her favorite restaurant, Olive Garden (which I am planning to honor, myself).
She was happiest on her birthday when one of her granddaughters and grandsons happened to be born on the same day. To her, it was far more important to celebrate their coming into this world than her own, and constantly demurred her own celebration in favor of theirs. But she was also very proud that they shared her birthday.
While she didn’t like a fuss about her own birthday, she diligently celebrated that of others. Close friends and relatives and members of the ward received cards every year, for birthdays, “get wells,” or even “thinking of you.” But they were all (with the aid of a computer) handmade. This started off as a hobby to fill the time after my Dad had passed away, but quickly became a job she relished and fervently pursued.
For the ones to friends and family, she signed, but to those going out to others, she didn’t want recognition. She believed that she could remain anonymous when creating dozens of cards a year. No, I take that back. She didn’t believe she could remain anonymous, she wanted to remain anonymous. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself. The cards weren’t about her or what she did, but about the person receiving the card.
And to her, it was no big thing, but I saw the hours and hours she pored over their making. She didn’t just choose a design. She customized the graphics and message to each person, to each occasion. She got colored pens and glues with glitter and further decorated each card, spending hours and hours at her desk. This would go on for days as she worked from master lists of birthdays. The pens and glues required time to dry, so every horizontal surface in her room became a place for cards to dry. She would only stop for the day when either she reached the end of her list or she ran out of space for cards to dry.
Of course, you cannot make dozens of cards year after year and people not figure out who was making them. And several times in the ward people wanted to give her credit and make it an official ward calling just for her, but she deflected. So it became an open secret.
I can only guess at how many thousands of cards she created over the years. Despite my pressing, she would never save the cards she created on her computer. She would claim that she just wasn’t that good with computers, but now I think it was that she didn’t want to make the cards about her, and saving them would have been a kind of bragging, a “look at what all I’ve done,” that might draw attention to herself.
Well, I know there are people who got her cards who have held onto them as cherished keepsakes, and I’m sure there will be hints and remembrances of The Card Lady told here and there. But I suppose I get to have the last word on it as I, and I’m sure my brother Ed, will be adding this little bit of story to her biography, forever memorializing what she did.