American Greetings: Cleveland Greeting Card Maker’s Class Act and My Hunt for the Perfect Card

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my failed quest to find appropriate greeting cards for the old, the sick, the dying and their caregivers.

Someone from American Greetings reached out to me a few days later on Twitter. I was hoping the card maker wanted my advice — I am a writer with insight into these topics, after all —  but alas, the company only wanted my mailing address.

This week, a box, shipped priority mail, arrived at my home with scores of greeting cards the company thought I might find useful, along with a card addressed to me with a hand-written note.

“We know the path you are traveling is difficult, but the work you are doing is so important,” someone at American Greetings penned to me in blue ink. “May you continue to find strength as you care for your parents, as well as many moments of love and peace.”

What a class act. Thank you American Greetings. Makes me proud to be a Clevelander (American Greetings is based in suburban Cleveland) and, I concede, your generosity makes me more likely to choose the American Greetings label.

Inside the box, there were a mix of greeting cards — birthday, encouragement, get well (designed for those who may never fully get well from whatever ails them) and sympathy.

All were appropriate. Most were generous and kind. But none was funny — something that many may appreciate, especially in not-so-happy times (not an easy card-writing assignment, to be sure).

My favorite cards inside the package — and I didn’t know American Greetings was behind this line of cards — were the Papyrus brand, the cards that use a hummingbird as their symbol.

The covers of Papyrus cards are usually tactile — with intricate beading or multiple layers of paper or other adornments. And each is wrapped in a clear, cellophane-type envelope, so there’s no danger of the card getting ruined on a grocery-store conveyor belt.

But the true beauty, to me, is that many Papyrus cards are blank inside, leaving you to be as sentimental, sardonic or supportive as you dare.

If only my handwriting — misshapen, haphazard and coded from years of newspaper reporting in the snow, on doorsteps and in front of unpleasant  crowds — was clear enough to read.

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Here’s a copy of my blog posting that led American Greetings to send me the cards: 

My mom’s cousin, Dorothy, turns 84 this month and I can’t find a birthday card.

Dorothy, like my mom, grew up poor.

(How poor? Dorothy likes to tell a story about coffee grounds: Her mom used them once for a fresh pot, then a second time for a not-so-fresh pot. Afterward, she carefully packed up the grounds and gave them to my grandmother, who squeezed out whatever caffeine was left for a third pot, thankful that her family had coffee at all.)

But like so many of that generation, Dorothy climbed into the middle class, working a good-paying factory job, marrying a man who did the same and frugally saving until they could buy a tidy ranch in a rural swath of Northeast Ohio where they lived for 50 years.

Life was good until last summer when Dorothy fell over picking strawberries in her garden and bonked her head on a stone.

She ended up in the hospital and shortly after, her husband, Lou, fell and broke his ankle.

Dorothy is home now, isolated, unable to drive because her fickle heart sometimes frolics causing her to faint. And Lou is in a nursing home 12 miles away, confused and calling daily, begging her to pick him up, unsure what he’s done to be sent away from his wife and the home he loves.

Happy Birthday? That, to me, implies Dorothy’s past year was swell and her next year — if there is a next year — will be better.

Nevertheless, a birthday card is necessary. If mom doesn’t send one, it’s more than a slight. It’s an invisible white flag conceding life has ended for both mom and Dorothy even though each continues to breathe.

So, as a pharmacist bagged up 28 prescription refills for mom and dad yesterday, I pawed through racks of birthday cards.

I first gravitated toward a slew of funny, acerbic old lady cards that mom and Dorothy would have happily picked for one another just a decade ago. But jokes about diapers or forgetting your name aren’t funny when they’re true.

Next I discovered a whole birthday genre dedicated to: “We’re both so busy, I never tell you how special you are.” Inappropriate when life turns into a series of medical appointments with naps and tv in between.

The rest were a hodge-podge encouraging the birthday girl to party, to swill wine until drunk or to do something special or naughty just for herself. No. No. And double no.

At least 80 cards into my card safari, I abandoned the hunt. I paid the pharmacy clerk $500-plus for drugs extending my own parents’ not-so-pleasant lives and hauled my mini-drugstore home, hundreds of pills in bottles rattling like tiny, sad maracas.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this card problem. Since my parents moved in, I have been their personal shopper for all cards and gifts they give to each other and anyone else (including me).

Anniversary, Christmas, Sweetest Day (an Ohio tradition concocted generations ago by a clever local chocolatier): Each holiday is filled with land mines and chasms of time that neither candy nor warm bathrobes can cross.

Even buying cards for them is impossible. Most cards grown children give their parents involve “thanks”– thank you for all that you do, thank you for supporting me, thank you for bringing joy to our lives.

I’ve given scores of these sorts of thank-you cards to mom and dad over the years. And I thank them now for being the parents they have been. But the sad truth is, they should be giving me and my husband these thank-you cards now.

And that’s impossible because I would have to buy them. And I wouldn’t, fearing that such a move would trigger a weird psychological echo chamber, maybe even a worm hole for unplanned traveling through time.

But picking out sympathy cards is the worst. And I buy a lot of sympathy cards. Being in your 80s — like my parents are — is not unlike being in your 20s. But you’re sending sympathy cards and attending funerals instead of buying shower gifts and toasting with bad wedding champagne.

Of course it’s sad when anyone loses someone they love. But what is the appropriate sentiment when someone’s body dies years after their brain withered, leaving them a shell? Or when a person, who has longed for the Grim Reaper’s visit, dies after years of suffering, pain and loneliness?

Those passings, I always think to myself, should be celebrated (even if bittersweet).

Unlike so many birthdays, which now seem better off mourned.

Poor Dorothy.

I don’t know what we’re going to drop in the mail this year.

Maybe a blank card, scrawled with words of love and an old photo of better times, a snapshot of her and Lou smiling alongside mom and dad, martinis raised in jubilation.

Please remember: © Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In — from 2015 until present: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Feel free to re-blog on WordPress.

The Gap: Levi’s, church, Jeffrey Dahmer, rock-and-roll and me

thegapWhen I was on the verge of junior high — about to get my period, about to need a bra, about to have braces hammered onto each one of my teeth so a wire lasso could drag my bucktooth grin into a respectable smile — I fell into and out of the generation gap on a single afternoon.

It happened at the mall with my mom and inside, of all places, The Gap, a store whose very name is a sly marketer’s nod to the chasm that lies between parent and child.

But I didn’t know that then.

I knew hardly anything. It was 1977, before the Internet or cable TV,  when neither the Akron Beacon Journal nor the The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer would deliver daily papers to our far-flung home in rural Ohio. The arbiters of style in my town were K-mart and a Sears surplus store that opened in an old grocery that still smelled of burnt sugar cookies and rotten bananas.

Much of my information about the outside world came from Brenda, a pretty blonde girl who was in the same grade as me, but much savvier. Maybe it was because she already knew how to french kiss, or because she had older brothers or a younger mother than me.

Whatever the reason, I always paid attention to what she had to say, especially on the day she told me the one thing she needed before stepping foot into Howard Claggett Junior High, the only item on her school shopping list that would guarantee success and make her dreams come true —  a pair of Levi’s.

She broke this news to me during church, either in a whisper or a note. I can’t remember which because bombshells like this often fell quietly with muffled giggles during weekly Sunday sermons.

Our Methodist preacher was an angry old man in a blue leisure suit who liked to shake his shriveled fist — a worthless claw emaciated by some disease we didn’t know — at us from the pulpit. He never learned our names and called each of us “girl,” which might have been OK if the generic term was somehow an endearment or a necessity because he couldn’t remember everyone in a large congregation.

But it wasn’t. He didn’t like us and most Sundays only 40 or 50 people, mostly farmers, filled half the white-painted pews of our white clapboard church. So when his sermon invariably pivoted to corn or wheat or some far-flung Biblical place we never believed was real, Brenda and I passed the time kibitzing about the things that mattered to us.

On this Sunday, that was junior high happiness.

Where, I asked Brenda, could a girl like me get a pair of these magical Levi’s?

Four words: The Gap, Summit Mall.

I had no idea what The Gap was, but Summit Mall was only about 15 miles away in a suburb of Akron, a glittering palace of modernity worlds away from the barns and plowed fields that made up my life.

Getting there, for me, would be nearly impossible.

My dad was always working — in our barn at home or in his office at a bank.

And my mom had expanded her “Little House on the Prairie” philosophy — we should lead simple, self-sufficient lives, growing our own vegetables, our own livestock —  to include a “700 Club” overlay, embracing some of the bizarre beliefs of televangelist Pat Robertson and his unsavory ilk.

Shopping malls and consumerism in general, my mom believed, were dangerous. And, I would later learn, she was right, but not in the way she imagined.

That year, 1977, the devil lurked at Summit Mall.

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Future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who was 6 years older than me, was a student at nearby Revere High  School. Dahmer  hung out at Summit Mall, often flopping onto the carpeting, pretending to have seizures, just to get a rise out of shoppers.

I don’t remember witnessing that. And it would be another year before Dahmer killed anyone, and a few more before he feasted on anyone’s flesh.

But even if I had known a serial killer was prowling around Spencer Gifts, lingering by the gurgling Orange Julius machine and convulsing in front of Piercing Pagoda, that wouldn’t have dissuaded me from my quest. Nothing would.

My mother, after listening to weeks of whining and sighs, must have realized this, too, and finally caved.

On a summer Saturday afternoon, not long before school was set to resume, we arrived at Summit Mall.

The Gap, we learned from a tired-looking woman smoking a cigarette and pushing a baby stroller, was a sliver of a store near the center of the mall that catered to teens, a thought which made me, at 11, walk on tip toes hoping the Gap clerks wouldn’t toss me out like a child too short to ride a roller coaster.

I heard The Gap before I saw it.

“Play that funky music, white boy,” the store called to us over speakers turned outward into the mall, rock-and-roll bait dangled to lure anyone under 30 toward its hook. “Play that funky music right.”

The Gap glowed in the distance like a bare lightbulb, harsh and bright. Girls with feathered hair like Brenda’s walked in and out joyfully swinging Gap bags filled with unknown treasure.

When mom and I walked in, a bit overwhelmed and confused, a Gap clerk — who was trying her best to look like Farrah Fawcett even though she looked more like Barbara Streisand — immediately approached to help.

We had never seen clothing stacked in store bins before. And instead of sizes — 6, 8, 10 — the jeans were labeled in inches by waist and inseam.

I told Farrah Streisand I wanted a pair of Levi’s and, without measuring me, she grabbed four pairs of jeans, shoved them into my arms and pointed toward three dressing rooms that could be used by either men or women.

Mom followed me and leaned against the outside of louvered dressing room door, telling me her latest spiritual concerns about rock music as Stevie Nicks crooned  “Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night and wouldn’t you love to love her.”

The rhythm of the human heart, mom explained, didn’t match the beat of rock-and-roll. And one of the preachers she listened  to, the one on the radio, said that rock music’s heavy bass could confuse a child’s heart and yank it out of rhythm, causing a heart attack.

I tried to ignore mom as I slid on my first pair of Levi’s. Too small.

As I peeled them off, mom yammered on about her life when she was my age in the 1940s and how it would be so much better for me if I listened to Glenn Miller, or maybe something more contemporary but harmless, like The Carpenters or John Denver.

The next pair of Levi’s nailed it. Even the length was right.

When I emerged from the dressing room, before I even looked in the mirror, I knew I was no longer 11, or at least the 11 I was when I walked into The Gap.

The childhood spell was broken.

My mother was no longer a needed help, but an obstacle, an adversary trying to lock me in a different world, another time.

I was Brenda now.

I was Rhiannon.

I was Amanda, alive like a bird in flight.

 Note: Even caregivers — maybe especially caregivers — need a break. Today, I reached into a different part of my life for momanddadmovein. I’ll be doing this once in awhile to give myself some room to breathe. Thanks for reading. And please remember that my blog is copyrighted. If you’d like to use any portion, please contact me. WordPress users feel free to re-blog. Thanks.

American Greetings/Hallmark: Cards for nearly everyone and everything — even dogs and divorces — but not for the old

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My mom’s cousin, Dorothy, turns 84 this month and I can’t find a birthday card.

Dorothy, like my mom, grew up poor.

(How poor? Dorothy likes to tell a story about coffee grounds: Her mom used them once for a fresh pot, then a second time for a not-so-fresh pot. Afterward, she carefully packed up the grounds and gave them to my grandmother, who squeezed out whatever caffeine was left for a third pot, thankful that her family had coffee at all.)

But like so many of that generation, Dorothy climbed into the middle class, working a good-paying factory job, marrying a man who did the same and frugally saving until they could buy a tidy ranch in a rural swath of Northeast Ohio where they lived for 50 years.

Life was good until last summer when Dorothy fell over picking strawberries in her garden and bonked her head on a stone.

She ended up in the hospital and shortly after, her husband, Lou, fell and broke his ankle.

Dorothy is home now, isolated, unable to drive because her fickle heart sometimes frolics causing her to faint. And Lou is in a nursing home 12 miles away, confused and calling daily, begging her to pick him up, unsure what he’s done to be sent away from his wife and the home he loves.

Happy Birthday? That, to me, implies Dorothy’s past year was swell and her next year — if there is a next year — will be better.

Nevertheless, a birthday card is necessary. If mom doesn’t send one, it’s more than a slight. It’s an invisible white flag conceding life has ended for both mom and Dorothy even though each continues to breathe.

So, as a pharmacist bagged up 28 prescription refills for mom and dad yesterday, I pawed through racks of birthday cards.

I first gravitated toward a slew of funny, acerbic old lady cards that mom and Dorothy would have happily picked for one another just a decade ago. But jokes about diapers or forgetting your name aren’t funny when they’re true.

Next I discovered a whole birthday genre dedicated to: “We’re both so busy, I never tell you how special you are.” Inappropriate when life turns into a series of medical appointments with naps and tv in between.

The rest were a hodge-podge encouraging the birthday girl to party, to swill wine until drunk or to do something special or naughty just for herself. No. No. And double no.

At least 80 cards into my card safari, I abandoned the hunt. I paid the pharmacy clerk $500-plus for drugs extending my own parents’ not-so-pleasant lives and hauled my mini-drugstore home, hundreds of pills in bottles rattling like tiny, sad maracas.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this card problem. Since my parents moved in, I have been their personal shopper for all cards and gifts they give to each other and anyone else (including me).

Anniversary, Christmas, Sweetest Day (an Ohio tradition concocted generations ago by a clever local chocolatier): Each holiday is filled with land mines and chasms of time that neither candy nor warm bathrobes can cross.

Even buying cards for them is impossible. Most cards grown children give their parents involve “thanks”– thank you for all that you do, thank you for supporting me, thank you for bringing joy to our lives.

I’ve given scores of these sorts of thank-you cards to mom and dad over the years. And I thank them now for being the parents they have been. But the sad truth is, they should be giving me and my husband these thank-you cards now.

And that’s impossible because I would have to buy them. And I wouldn’t, fearing that such a move would trigger a weird psychological echo chamber, maybe even a worm hole for unplanned traveling through time.

But picking out sympathy cards is the worst. And I buy a lot of sympathy cards. Being in your 80s — like my parents are — is not unlike being in your 20s. But you’re sending sympathy cards and attending funerals instead of buying shower gifts and toasting with bad wedding champagne.

Of course it’s sad when anyone loses someone they love. But what is the appropriate sentiment when someone’s body dies years after their brain withered, leaving them a shell? Or when a person, who has longed for the Grim Reaper’s visit, dies after years of suffering, pain and loneliness?

Those passings, I always think to myself, should be celebrated (even if bittersweet).

Unlike so many birthdays, which now seem better off mourned.

Poor Dorothy.

I don’t know what we’re going to drop in the mail this year.

Maybe a blank card, scrawled with words of love and an old photo of better times, a snapshot of her and Lou smiling alongside mom and dad, martinis raised in jubilation.

Please remember: © Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In — from 2015 until present: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Feel free to re-blog on WordPress.

Life can be ugly and unpredictable: Pick a husband who will last — and laugh with you — a lifetime

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The first time I introduced Skip to my parents, I knew I wanted to marry him.

It was October 1998 and my future husband was not in peak form.

He — like his mother and most everyone on her Hungarian side of the family — had developed a painful cyst at the base of his spine. A few days earlier, a doctor carved a 4-inch zig-zag incision, scooped out the culprit and sewed Skip back up with what looked like an embroidered lightning bolt emerging from the top of his butt crack.

It wasn’t pretty.

And Skip was in pain. By the time we pulled into my parents’ driveway, he was ashen and sitting side-saddle because leaning against the driver’s seat hurt too much.

My mom, I had warned Skip, had no social boundaries. None. She was nosy, touchy and, at times, a wee bit raunchy. But she could also be witty and disarmingly charming.

When mom saw Skip limping up the back stairs, she greeted him with a smile and an innocuous question: “What’s the matter?”

Skip explained about the cyst.

And before Skip could shake my father’s hand, mom walloped him with round two — the inappropriate question, the one I was certain would come even though I couldn’t predict the circumstances or the timing — “Can I see it?”

Skip, without hesitation, unbuckled his belt, dropped his jeans and let mom peel down the dressing so she could marvel at his wounded anatomy.

“Herm,” mom said to my father, “come here, you have to see this.”

My dad, politely averting his eyes, declined and asked Skip — in manly solidarity — if he wanted a beer.

Skip and I were in our early 30s then. My parents were in their late 60s. None of us could have imagined what the future held. But that moment — and the hours that followed — set the tone for all the years that followed, including the past three since my parents moved in with us.

Many readers of this blog have left messages and sent emails of encouragement to me. They say I am brave to help my parents and that my parents are lucky to have me.

But the truth is, my parents are lucky to have my husband.

If Skip didn’t support me — financially and emotionally — I couldn’t help my parents. He also pitches in daily to get things done. Today, on his day off, he took mom on a field trip to the library and listened patiently as she yammered on with two people she knew — even after those people seemed to lose interest.

How many books and movies — both comic and tragic – have been penned about Romeo and Juliet relationships doomed by quarreling or misfit Meet the Focker families? There’s a reason.

Even if you find a soul mate, a lover, a best friend, you’re destined for trouble if your match doesn’t fit with your family. Yes, couples can muddle through. And, for some, family isn’t as important. But I knew, particularly as an only child, that my husband would need both the right mindset and sense of humor to not only cope with my family, but to be happy with me.

I was already in love with Skip before I took him home to meet my parents. But as that day wore on — without tension, only laughter — I knew I would be his wife.

After mom re-bandaged his incision and Skip hoisted up his jeans, mom, who has no science or medical training, told Skip that his cyst wasn’t hereditary.

It was, she declared, his unborn twin.

Mom, now with dad on her side, told the story of a man they knew in Florida who had the same sort of cyst. When doctors operated, they found hair, tiny teeth and bones. Doctors concluded that the man’s body formed the cyst to expel the remains of a twin he had unknowingly carried with him for decades since birth.

Skip didn’t argue. He didn’t talk about all of his family members with the same issue. Or that, thankfully, his doctors did not report finding any teeth lodged above his butt crack.

Only later, when we were alone, did we laugh, not realizing at the time that his lightning-bolt scar would forever be known in our family as “twin.”