Where can you find the memories of a lifetime? They are stored in several large plastic containers neatly arranged on the shelves in my den. The time has come to revisit these mementos and as I begin to wade through more than 60 years of birthday, anniversary and holiday cards a pattern emerges. Young married friends wish me a happy birthday. A few years later their children’s names have been added to their greetings. Anniversary cards from my parents and in-laws are signed mom and dad. And then, just mom. Marriages add, deaths and divorces subtract and births change the equation yet again.
And suddenly, tucked in between the stack of greetings I come upon a decades old Mother’s Day card. Millennials mistakenly think they have a monopoly on recycling but my mother came from a generation who couldn’t tolerate waste. On May 13, 1990 my children and I gave my mother a large, elaborately decorated Mother’s Day card. The following year she took it out of the drawer, where she kept her treasured old cards that she often reread like a favorite book, and she insisted we regift this previous year’s card. We dutifully added the new date, along with a brief note, and a tradition was born.
As I open the floral cover the long list of dates reads like a diary that has recorded the milestones in our lives. My father passed away in the beginning of 1992, so that year she celebrated motherhood without her partner for the first time in 50 years. In 1999, after I began to study Hebrew, I signed my Jewish name, Chaya Minna.
The card documents the simchas (joyous occasions) in our lives as new people joined our growing family circle. In 2006, after our oldest son married, we added our daughter-in-law’s name; their newborn’s name in 2007, along with our new son-in-law; the following year, 2008, my youngest daughter-in-law. The last recorded date was May 10, 2009. We had reached the bottom of the page, never realizing that this would be the very last entry. My mother passed away the following September.
The second Sunday in May officially became Mother’s Day when the U.S. Congress passed a law on May 8, 1914. I didn’t start observing this secular holiday until I began attending public school but as I became more knowledgeable about our own heritage I realized that in our tradition every day is Mother’s Day, reflecting the fifth commandment:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened upon the land that Hashem, your God, gives you.” (Exodus 20:12)
As I sift through my enormous collection of greeting cards that evoke cherished memories of loved ones, I think about my grandchildren who have been raised on emails, Facebook posts, Instagrams and Tweets and realize that ours may be the very last generation who will experience the joy of physically holding a loving greeting from the past forever etched in ink.
Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the author of the acclaimed anthology, “Like the Stars of the Heavens.” This article appears in her new book, “The Wedding Gown that Made History and Other Stories,” available in June on amazon.com. Visit her website at Helenschwimmer.com.