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Beverly Beckham

When you care to send the best

I call it my life box, the old plastic storage thing I keep under my bed. But, more accurately, it’s the-person-I-used-to-be box. Who I was when I was a child. When I was in high school. When I was a teacher. When I was a new bride.

It’s packed full of old greeting cards and book reports and poems I used to write and photos of people I used to know. Notes from the fourth-graders I taught. The guest list from my wedding.

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I dragged it out of its hiding place one morning last week because I heard on the radio that Hallmark was closing a plant in Topeka, Kan. Greeting card sales, no surprise, are down, not the end of the world except for the 300 men and women for whom it is, who are now out of a job.

To the rest of us, though, this is not a tragedy, just another shift in the way we do things. We communicate in different ways now. The greeting card has competition. And though this may not be a reason to mourn, it is something to be noted.

Hallmark got me a long, long time ago with its mushy slogan, “When you care enough to send the very best.” I grew up with this phrase hammered home in all the sentimental Hallmark ads. Lots of people did, which is why the-person-I-used-to-be-box under my bed is rife with them.

I saved many, many cards, but not all. All the cards you get in a lifetime wouldn’t fit under a bed. But I have a dozen birthday cards signed by my mother, and some signed by my father, and high school graduation cards from my grandmothers, and engagement cards and “just thinking of you” cards from friends I haven’t seen or thought of in years.

I look at all the different handwriting and, presto, I see these people. Where is Jack Daley, the friendly kid who sat beside me in home room freshman year at Archbishop Williams? He used to share his Hershey bars with me. He wanted to be a cartoonist. I have pictures he drew. I look at his handwriting and he appears.

The same thing happens when I see my mother’s writing, which is thin and light and a little scrawled. Like a whisper is hard to hear, her handwriting is really hard to read. But I see her familiar script and she comes back.

My Aunt Lorraine. My friend Janet Butler. My mother- and father-in-law. Same thing.

Cursive is a magic wand.

Fonts don’t do this. Type is not a signature. Print is impersonal.

But e-mails bring something else, maybe even something more. They’re immediate and raw and a way to say things that might not get said without a keyboard and the Internet. My father e-mailed a lot in his later years. Like a teenager, he took to the computer and wrote words he would never have handwritten on a card. I printed some of his e-mails. I wish I’d printed more because they are sparse and direct and funny and profound. And though there is no personality in the standard Times New Roman font, none of his familiar loops and slants, the words all by themselves resurrect him.

Maybe the greeting card is on its way out. Or maybe it’s just like most things, evolving. Hallmark’s biggest competitor, Cleveland-based American Greetings, announced last August that it was adding 125 workers and getting into the business of helping customers design their own greeting cards online.

So maybe the future is not a world without greeting cards, but a world in which — when you care enough to send the very best — what’s very best and how it’s sent will be up to you.

E-mail Beverly Beckham at bevbeckham@aol.com.
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