HARMON: A not so thoughtful surprise birthday card

April 16, 2014 

“Happy Birthday to You,” the card read and I couldn’t wait to see who had remembered me on my special day. An event that went pretty much unheralded 67 years ago, probably known only to mom and dad as they welcomed me into the world in 1947, the year Tupperware parties and the slinky were invented and a guy named Robinson broke into the major leagues.

I don’t think mom used Tupperware back in the day. She knew how to cook and there were five of us, so no need for storage. But dad may have listened on the radio as Jackie Robinson stole home for the Dodgers. Have times changed? Of course they have. But I digress.

The card came in the mail and since I’m not used to getting birthday cards in the mail these days, I was excited and curious to see who had remembered me. I had a grandfather who would put a dollar bill in a birthday card each year for each grandchild, but I knew there was no way this had come from him. The last one of those came in 1967 when a dollar was worth about six times what it is today. Still, to be remembered on your special day is, well, special.

It was a postcard card and it had beautiful candles with tennis balls on top. Someone had put a lot of time and effort into this card which really got my attention. My mind was filled with memories of tennis players I had lost to in the past who may have remembered beating my eyes out on the court.

Who could have sent this wonderful card? Someone, probably from long ago, had remembered me. Maybe a teammate at Georgia Southern or a USTA competitor from days gone by. Who could know? All I could think of was, as an aging athlete, it’s nice to know someone remembers when you could bounce around the court and hit a good shot now and then, instead of limping into a ball that’s destined for the net or, heaven forbid, the fence.

Someone actually remembered me on my birthday. What a treat. There were other items in the mail and I shuffled this one on the bottom to be looked at when I finished the walk up the driveway. Sort of saved it until last, you might say, like the last M&M in the bag or that last bite of pecan pie. So many potential well-wishers were swirling through my mind as I approached the kitchen door. I could hardly wait to unveil the back of the card and see who had remembered me.

I sat down and flipped it over, slowly reading the ad that offered “$10 off all orders over $50 dollars. It was a “Don’t forget to eat your Ovaltine” moment and it was a bummer. At this age, the thought of using over $50 worth of tennis equipment makes me wish for an expiration date because either I or the offer needs to expire. But to be remembered, even by a corporate entity is exciting. So I read further and saw, “Offer good for (my name) or ... CURRENT RESIDENT.” Yes, whoever moves into this place when I’m gone gets the birthday deal of a lifetime.

Somebody in Pittsburgh wasted a lot of time dreaming up this promotion and giving it to just anybody cheapened the moment for me. My moment of feeling special was gone and in its place came the reality that I was just another consumer, a name on a list somewhere up in Pennsylvania.

Of course they said if it wasn’t my birthday, “Just pick a month.” Any month would do, but to me the month of March was my special month. I walked over to the kitchen “filing cabinet” and filed the card with some orange peelings, left over oatmeal and another ad promising hair growth. Have times changed? Of course they have, but there’s one thing that hasn’t and that’s our ability to say “no thanks.”

Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at sharmon09.blogspot.com.

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