Wednesday, May 14, 2014
In the six or so weeks between late April and mid June of this year, I will have dealt with Mother’s Day (I have both a mother and a grandmother to think of), Father’s Day, my mother’s birthday, my father’s birthday, my parents’ wedding anniversary and my nephew’s first communion. That is one heck of a lot of cards to buy.
You see, I am still a sentimentalist at heart, and hold on to the belief that buying actual physical cards and either delivering them in person or sending them through the U.S. postal service is a kind tradition worth preserving in our increasingly impersonal electronic-based culture. Don’t get me wrong. I fully appreciate the convenience of modern communication technologies. I interact with most of my friends and family through e-mail and text messages for routine correspondence, but those modes of communication just seem hollow for special occasions. They require something different. And e-cards just don’t cut it, in my book. Ever since I saw the first one back in the 1990s, I thought they were both cheesy and pale imitations of the real thing, much like The Munsters were to The Addams Family.
So, I continue to trek to the drugstore when special occasions come up to choose just the right card. And for those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you know that there is the rub. I am the type of person who can handle metaphorical bags of porcupines tossed at him with grace and dignity, but I can also take something very simple like card shopping and turn it into a task on the level of complexity of establishing peace in the Middle East.
First, there is finding the appropriate level of sentiment in the card. I am a caring person, but not mushy. As a kid, I was sad when Bambi’s mom died, but I didn’t cry. Much of my family is the same way. A card with too many butterflies and cloying lovey-doveyness would embarrass both the recipient and me. At the same time, giving one of those joke cards (which I love getting, by the way) for anyone other than a fellow male whose sense of humor arrested at the age of 15 would come across as being overly emotionally defensive. So the search is on for just the right tone. Card companies seem to like to go for the emotional jugular, however, and most cards are either too emotional or too cold.
Next, there is a question of cost. I am a practical guy when it comes to finance, and most of the people I am closest to are as well. I know that when I get a card, I read it and appreciate it, but then it goes into a drawer somewhere until an indeterminate period of time has passed and I can toss it into the trash without feeling guilty. And don’t even try to tell me you would never do such a thing! I challenge you to come up with even one card from two birthdays ago.
Mmmm-hmmm…I thought so. My 88 year old grandmother could probably do it, but none of us mere mortals could if our lives depended on it.
I don’t head directly for the 99 cent card rack when I am card shopping, but I do set a limit of $6 maximum per card, even those I get for Gram, who has cards in shoeboxes and drawers dating back to the Eisenhower administration. It makes little sense to me to spend more money than that on something that will be read once or twice and then be stored away until it is thrown out.
Another rule I have for card shopping is no singing or talking cards. Those can be tacky, or creepy, or both. Plus, it is always awkward when people open them in the presence of anyone else. I believe that there is a special place in Hell for people who send musical or talking cards. The hottest part of that place is reserved for people who send Disney Channel pop star-themed musical cards.
Cards that people make on the computer are okay I guess, but they don’t quite meet the mark for me. Knowing that almost anyone could put one together and print it out in the space of less than five minutes just seems like the sender didn’t put forth the same amount of effort as they would have getting a store-bought card. Now handmade cards are the very best of all, hands down. To me, they show the very highest level of thought and engagement by the send. However, I can’t draw straws and my handwriting looks like I hold the pen in my mouth, so that’s not a practical choice for me.
The greatest problem I face when card shopping is finding one that addresses the recipient with the same term that I do. I call my father “Dad”, as I think most people do, so finding cards for him that say things like “To my dad” is not too difficult. However, I refer to my mother as “Mum”, and not “Mom”. After 44 years, it is way too late to change that. Almost every card you can find for a mother addresses her as “Mom”, and that just will not do. At all. That restricts me to choosing from among the cards that use the emotionally-distant, third-person term “Mother”, since I have yet in my life to locate one that uses “Mum”. With all the above requirements I also have when buying cards, this cuts back my choices considerably. To make matters worse, I have referred to my grandmother as “Gram” my entire life, and not “Grandma”. Much like the Mum/Mom situation, one can very rarely find cards addressed to “Gram”, though there are tons of “Grandma” cards out there. So I am usually restricted to choosing from those distant, third-person “Grandmother” cards.
Honest to goodness, it took me over an hour and trips to three stores in order to pick out a birthday card for my mother the other day. Thankfully, this six-week period of intense card-shopping only comes once a year for me. The other birthdays and special occasions in my loved ones’ lives are mercifully spread more or less evenly around the rest of the calendar. It’s a good thing too, or else I’d probably have to quit my job and become a full-time card shopper.