Some things you can do on your own. Sometimes it takes a comrade-in-arms. And sometimes, well, it takes a whole village that extends throughout the world.
I've documented how our lives were changed when my handicapped mom came to visit us in Maine for the last year. I've recorded and ups and downs, the surprises, the setbacks - everything that she brought to us by her presence. When her 89th birthday was approaching, I was stumped. As I've noted before, the usual gifts one buys for Mom are neglected because "it's too pretty to wear" or some such attitude. There's very little she needs except food, medicine, assistance, attention......ah, attention. Hmmm..... And there begins the saga of Operation Birthday Card.
If you consider it, a great many endeavors in life start with "what if?" So this is where I started. What if, I thought, Mom could get a lot of cards in the mail for her birthday? She never gets mail except for medical bills and her church newsletter. She craves mail so much that she thinks she hits the jackpot when I bring her the Vermont Country Store catalog from the mailbox. I can buy her a cake, the family will come by for a visit - yes, all that is going to happen easily. But how do I get a bunch of birthday cards mailed to her? And even more fantastic, how do I get cards from all over the country, and dare I think it, even a foreign country or two?
And therein lies the village. I was intrigued to see if complete strangers would send my mom birthday cards on her 89th birthday. Were people that gracious anymore? Did folks really care about a lonely elderly stranger living away from home on her birthday? I was going to find out. Once my little plot was hatched, I contacted my sister and my kids. "Please ask your friends to send Granny birthday cards!" Then I went online, starting with my medical transcriptionist chat room, my dear "friends," most of whom I have never met in person but whose lives I have been a part of for years now, and asked for their help. They said they would be delighted! Theirs were some of the early cards. I had designated the whole month of May, even though Mom's birthday was toward the end of the month, so she could get cards in the mail in a steady stream. I instructed everyone to be sure to write down the state where they lived so we could see how far away the cards were coming.
Next I went to Facebook and posted an appeal. My cousin's wife even reposted my post, so her friends got the message. I called the offices of both our Maine US Senators and asked if they could pitch in (thanks, Susan Collins!). I sent a letter to Mom's home church in Memphis, asking for their help. I sent an e-mail to my contacts who I thought might be willing to participate (again, one leader in the transcription field reposted my appeal on her blog, and again, more folks agreed to send cards). Then I went to a Prince Edward Island blogger who is known for her stunning island photography (I love her pictures!), and posted a comment, asking if she or any of her friends could drop a card in the mail from Canada. Finally, I e-mailed Mom's favorite disc jockey, Rick Foster of WDEA AM of Ellsworth, Maine, asking him to send a card (which would have thrilled her just by itself)....and lo and behold, he kindly offered to wish her happy birthday on the air!
So, the cards started arriving. The first one we got was from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, from a name I didn't recognize. Mom was a little confused. "Who is this?" she asked. I said, "It's a stranger to you!" She said, "Well, who is it, though? Do you know her?" and I replied, "It's a stranger to me too!" Well, that really confused her, LOL, but I basically said that some people heard it was her birthday month and they wanted to send her a card. She thought that sounded so sweet. As I did with every subsequent card, I carefully cut the return address/postmark from the envelope, taped it to the back of the card, and hung the card on the wall in her room.
That solitary card was not lonely for very long. Before long, she got two cards in one day, then three, and one day even got 28 cards in the mail in one day! After a while, the wall was too crowded, so I took the cards down and put them all in a box. Every day I added to a list of where the cards were coming from (I'll publish this list below). With the exception of one beautiful card from Beverly where the state of origin fell off the back of the card, I believe I got every one recorded accurately. Mom was really surprised to get a few cards from outside the United States!
Every evening when my sister called, Mom gave her an update on how many cards she got, smiling all the way through the conversation. There were sweet cards, gorgeous cards, funny cards, religious cards, and cards made by kids. There were personalized cards (one lady sent a card that said "Hey, 9-year-old!" and drew an 8 in front of the 9 so it said, "Hey, 89-year-old!"), a card with the Memphis skyline, cards with wonderful descriptions of where the senders lived, and some people even sent more than one card a week or two apart! One of the cards that made us laugh out loud was from a boy named Zack. He is a student in my daughter-in-law's class, and was one of the many handmade card creators from that class. His card was made on green construction paper, had a red heart, had on the front "Happy birthday! Love: Zack," and the inside said this in big letters: "89! That very cool!" In another heart were the words "Wow! 89!" and then under that, "I hope you stay alive forever." (We could tell those elementary school kids were awed by somebody being 89 - it probably sounded like she was 150 in their eyes - one girl even wrote "89!! OMG!")
My Canadian blogger really came through, as not only did we get cards from Canada, but she knew some folks who lived in other countries, too. And Rick Foster, the DJ extraordinaire, bless his heart, not only wished Mom a happy birthday on his radio show - he played her favorite song, and then after her birthday, drove out to our house and delivered a CD he had burned with the recording of that tribute and that song for her to listen to over and over.
Every card was a gem, every card was a surprise, every card was so much appreciated - I wish I could mention every name of every person in the global "village" who made my little idea a reality. You blew me away with your kindness - the kindness of family? Of course! The kindness of friends? Very gracious and much appreciated! The kindness of strangers? Unbelievable.
Mom is going back home to my sister's next week. The box full of birthday wishes will accompany her; it is a most treasured possession. Thanks to you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and especially YOU......
Here is the final tally as of June 26 (will be updated if need be!):
Alabama (Mobile, Huntsville)
Arkansas (Sherwood, Little Rock, Jacksonville)
Arizona (Scottsdale, Cave Creek)
California (Redding, El Dorado Hills, Corona, one unspecified)
Colorado (Ft. Collins)
Florida (Coconut Creek, Hernando, Pensacola, South Daytona, Panama City)
Kansas (Overland Park)
Kansas (Overland Park)
Kentucky (Bardwell, Versaille, Paducah x2)
Louisiana (New Orleans, Lafayette)
Maine (Fairfield, Old Town x2, Madison, Winterport x2, Glenburn, 19 from Lewis Libby school)
Mississippi (Olive Branch x3, Tupelo)
Nebraska (York, Omaha)
New York (Scotia)
North Carolina (Knightdale, Thomasville, Monroe)
Oregon (Eugene x2, Gresham)
Pennsylvania (Sugar Grove, Bethlehem, Freeland, Grove City)
South Carolina (Cheraw)
Tennessee.....(Memphis x36, Eads, Cordova, Franklin, Arlington, Nashville, Murfreesboro)
Texas (McKinney, Corpus Christi)
Utah (West Point)
Washington, DC (US Senate, the White House)
West Virginia (Chester)
Out of country:
England (Warkwickshire/ Droitwich/Blackpool)
Wales (Llandovery Carms)
Canada: Montague, Prince Edward Island (PEI) / Williams Lake, British Columbia / Vernon Bridge, PEI / PEI nonspecified x2 / Belfast, PEI /
28 states plus Washington DC, 6 countries