From Calling Cards to Pokes and Posts

Renae Brabham

It was the day before my birthday. I was in the grocery store checkout line with a box of Epsom salts. Repetitive trips up three flights of stairs daily had taken its toll this week. I was peacefully breezing through the checkout when a little warning came across the screen at the register. ID—check date of birth. The lady looked at me and cleared the screen. I'm not quite sure if I was more ticked that she considered me harmless for some probable infraction... or that I actually was.  


I asked the clerk why her register was prompted to verify ID for Epsom salt sales. She replied that people are using it to get high. As an afterthought, the clerk asked for my ID—I believe she thought she might get in trouble now for not asking. I pulled it out and handed it over. She said, "Happy Birthday," while grinning and continued on. 


The guy in the next aisle heard and contributed, "Happy Birthday, is this a milestone?"  


"They're all milestones now." I replied. 


Another gentleman behind me chuckled and said, "Happy Birthday."


I thanked them all and thought how sincere they seemed. I think it's because we all relate to a birthday's significance, a special day—inclusive of everyone. And a nice change from the "Paper or plastic?" or "Have a nice day" greetings. 


I prefer to have birthdays pass stealthily, like two ships in the night. Or do I? Why do I post my birthdate to Facebook (minus the year, of course)? Am I leaving an inconspicuous s-elfie... elf on the shelf… find me, claim me—because secretly, I don't want to pass into obscurity? Do I yearn for the childhood clarification of the daisy? He loves me... She loves me not. 


No, not really. For me, it is a yearning to keep an increasingly distant world closer. There are still people who like to wish glad tidings, Happy Birthdays and Thank Yous—and I am one of them. And receiving is not so bad either. It's like getting a mailbox full of cards or a bag full of Valentines. Subtle reminders that we can still reach out to each other in ways that are socially acceptable.


I thought of the social media delivery system of the 1800s. The calling card—personal ephemera brought to the home of the intended with a request to visit at some time. 

It was highly unlikely that you would see the person that particular day. As a gesture to show that you thought of them, you left a calling card stating that you hoped to visit in person sometime. A steward would answer the door, retrieve your card and place it in a dish near the entryway. 


The recipient would then go through her/his cards at their leisure, sending a courier to respond with one of their own cards if they accepted the invitation. If not, no reply was given. The cards were ornate and represented the style and likes of the giver, much like the business card today. 


Fast forward a century or so—now, with the tip of our finger, we can poke someone, post someone, or poach someone from anywhere around the globe. My phone vibrates on the counter. It's a calling card from the ya yas. "Let's meet at sunrise tomorrow at IOP in pajamas with chairs and toddies to start the day!" I send my courier back with a tap. "Yes!" 


When the clock buzzed at 5 a.m., I gathered the necessities: thermos, fuzzy slippers, monkey pajamas, big-eared gremlin hat. Ten minutes later I was quietly giving phone directions to the beautiful, lost, dysfunctional, blind ass ya ya's as they missed the exit three times. Long Point Road? Westvaco? North Charleston? Wth? Their excuse—we saw the road name and exit, but it didn't say north or south. And I know we've been there before—but it was daylight. 


We still made it to Isle of Palms for the sunrise with time to spare, a better morning I can't remember. We laughed, drank breakfast, and relished the gifts of companionship—the likes of which make you glad you have birthdays. 


I was back home before Don even knew I was gone. The smell of bacon and pancakes lured him into the kitchen. Sleepy eyes handed me the most beautiful handwritten card I have ever received. I am going to share a line because it was so profoundly encouraging—who we are, why we are, and how totally important this day is. 


"Before time, God set you in motion to be born on this day in 1958, and nothing in life has ever been the same—nor will it ever be, for eternity."


That may very well be the most beautiful thing that has ever been uttered to me. 


On my way out the door that evening I opened my mailbox. I pulled out two letters. One is a birthday card from my NC friend that has not missed my birthday for 26 years. Her cards are always a source of joy—albeit grounded with a few good digs on our "endurance." 


Now let's see what this other is... Oh... My AARP card... Seriously?


After a wonderful dinner and play, I came home, fluffed the pillows, and crawled into bed with my Kindle. Don peeps in to see me squinting as I typed out thank-you cards to the birthday wishes in my mailbox and on my Facebook page. 


Knowing I was about to let the Kindle flop over and fall asleep, Don tried to guide it out of my hands... "No, I am almost finished. I wanted to personally thank every person who took the time out of their day to wish me a Happy Birthday!"


Yeah...birthdays are good.