Friday, February 22, 2013

A Shout of Sunshine

It is so quiet here. The kind of quiet that presages a good, soaking rainfall and indeed the sky looks as though readying for a downpour. In this preternatural silence I launch a shout of sunshine: two noteworthy stories about two remarkable women that I met in the course of my travels.

Tina: beautiful… radiant, even. We met onboard the flight to Dallas from San Diego. The plane was not crowded. How unusual! Of course, traveling off-season, just past the Holidays, when everyone was vacationed out and worn out (fed up?) from this Season’s greetings, it was bound to happen. Makes me believe that traveling in the off-season is truly the way to go. That, and the low airfare prices. I was able to score no fewer than 6 plane tickets for just under $900, tax and all. I’d say that’s not too bad, wouldn’t you?

Tina! No more digression: let’s just talk about Tina, and later Caroline.

I worried that my enclave of silence would be disturbed by this cherub of a woman who smiled her welcome when I sat down in her row, one empty seat between us. I need a buffer of silence to digest the visit I just had before taking on another round of socializing. Of course that doesn’t help me meet people, hear their stories and promote my blog. It is a constant wrestling match between my needs and my needs. That would be ‘silence’ for the former and ‘blog promotion’ for the latter.

How is it I keep getting away from Tina?

No more distractions. Here goes:

During most of the flight I absorbed myself in my Kindle, communicating that I was in no way open to conversation. Only at the end of the flight, when the pilot treated us to a landing that actually freaked me out a bit, even for all the flying I’ve done, that Tina and I locked eyes and exchanged conversation. Retrospectively, I wish I had given her more attention.

Tina and Craig met years ago. He was her first love. He moved away to Nebraska in 1989, taking his feeling for her along and leaving her grieving for what could have, and maybe should have been. He returned for a ‘hello’ visit in 1991 but quickly left again, for whatever reason. Twenty-one years later they reconnected via Facebook.

Four months ago he called her, asking: “if I fly you out here, would you come see me?” Heart soaring, Tina agreed. ‘Out here’ was DFW; the flight I met her on was that flight. No wonder this precious soul was glowing! I can just imagine her anticipation, can’t you? With proper, authentic sincerity and awe, I asked Tina if I could relate her story in my blog. Blessed woman! She snatched my writing pad and sketched notes out. From these notes I inform you. 

We just landed at DFW. Not wishing to be voyeuristic but hoping to witness these two hearts’ reunion, I scanned the crowd at the baggage carousel. She was not hard to find. Locked in an embrace reflecting a lifetime of devotion and ‘could have been’s, there stood Tina and Craig, pressed close enough to be one body. Craig rained kisses down on her from beneath his battered Stetson. She shed tears and returned his ministrations just as fervently. I went on, gratified to know that such a love withstood the distance, times and trials life hands us all. Soon enough my focus shifted from this great love story. I was being tackled by my diminutive sister who was also beaming with love and longing. Not that of a lover, obviously, but of one who cherishes her family.

Now a short tribute to Donna who, every year comes to the airport at close to midnight to pick me up. Thank you, Donna. I hope one day to collect you at the airport and treat you to a one-of-a-kind visit to my home. You make me feel so special and loved. I hope you know you are loved, too.

As amazing as Donna is, she is not the other woman I wish to tell you about. In fact, I believe she would wilt away under public scrutiny. Instead I’ll talk about Caroline. Caroline, of the mystical hazel eyes and luminous smile. She, the very embodiment of twinkling personality, tradition and goodwill.

Caroline is a writer. Not of great tomes or magical fables but of greeting cards.              

She is not employed by Hallmark, American Greetings or any other greeting card publisher. You will not find her works online, for free or at any price. However, if you happen to be a postal employee, especially at the North Texas Mail Processing plant you are likely to run across her handiwork, especially around Christmas but also at any other occasion that calls for greetings. Any holiday excluding the 4th of July, Caroline will dump upwards of one hundred fifty greeting cards in the mail stream.

Greeting cards? Over 150 greeting cards? Hand written and addressed, with postage affixed and everything? Who does that anymore? Who, besides Caroline? Not many, I’d venture to guess.

How did she get started with this tradition?

Playing bridge. She was unemployed at the time and a group needed a fourth for bridge. A friend called her in. She enjoyed the game and savored the company. That is where the whole greeting card hobby/habit started.

Caroline sends out cards for all occasions besides holidays (excluding the 4th of July): birthdays, anniversaries, children’s birthdays, pet birthdays, ect. You name it, Caroline has got it covered. If you are on any of her three lists, you will receive greetings.

She maintains hand written lists. I asked if she ever thought of going digital, either to create a spreadsheet instead of all those hand written lists, or to send out e-cards. She exclaimed that she doesn’t even own a computer. All of her lists are painstakingly maintained. She updates her lists by the cards that come back stamped ‘undeliverable’. Also, she stays personally informed about people’s status: who is still married, who is still alive, ect. She showed me her lists. I was impressed, not just by the detail but by her script. Beautiful penmanship!     

She is an accountant by trade. That might explain her methodical list making and maintaining. Or maybe she is just that well organized. She would have to be in order to keep up this traditional form of greeting.

How and where does she find all of these cards? What is the criteria for being deemed a ‘good’ card? Would she ever consider designing her own cards?

Never. She avers she has no talent for design, although once, she did commission a special card for one of her contacts. A card is deemed ‘good’ if it is humorous. However, with a rare frown she explained that, for her recipients past the age of sixty it is very difficult to find a good card. Her words exactly: “there are no ‘good’ cards for people celebrating their 60th or beyond.” She should know: she shops year ‘round for cards, going as far as to the neighboring cities. Mournfully, she related how her favorite card store in Arlington, TX closed its doors. A sign of the times, to be sure but still: what a shame.   

What about postage? Chuckling, she told me about the time the mailman rang her doorbell a few weeks before Christmas. At his feet were two postal tubs full of her cards. Because she had selected outsized cards that year she owed more money. Dutifully she applied the required postage and dropped all the cards back in the mail stream. “Postage is getting to be tricky to calculate” she confided.    

How many actually respond to her greetings? “Not as many as you’d think”, she replied. However, she does relish the responses that she gets and sometimes gets feedback from unusual sources.
One time she attended a funeral, dutifully signing the attendance book. Another attendee, a family member of the deceased, seeing her name a few lines up searched her out to thank her for all those years of greetings. Guess who is now on Caroline’s list.

Would she ever consider stopping? Only if she ran out of money, she said with a twinkle.

This year Caroline thought about not sending out Valentine’s greetings. Her own love is gravely ill. She just doesn’t have the heart to send out clownish greetings of love while her Hank lies in hospice. It nearly broke my heart to hear her, valiantly staving off heartbreak by cloaking herself in optimism. That dark cloud passed quickly. Because of an overwhelming demand for greetings she will satisfy her public by sending out yet another round of cards.

Caroline inspired me. I have many friends who would love to receive a hand written missive from the other side of the world. And, what a gift to make: a tangible testament to undying friendship. There is no reason for me not to do it. I have my loved ones’ addresses. This year, I resolve to emulate Caroline. Exercise my penmanship and shower my loved ones with a hand written greeting or two.

My cards will have to go ‘airmail’, I hope on a flight that suffers a less scary landing than the one that caused me to finally talk with Tina.

Upon touching down our plane fishtailed wildly, from the left to the right of the runway. I can handle in air turbulence but not fishtailing on the ground at over one hundred miles per hour. It was not as though my life flashed in front of my eyes or anything so dramatic, but I did experience a frisson of fear. Maybe the fates intended it so that I would talk with Tina, and thus present you with these two very different tales of love.       


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