Birthday Cards With Secret Codes

by | May 18, 2010 | Love

I looked at the scrawled handwriting on the envelope. I blinked and read it once again before tears began to tumble. My birthday card had been addressed, sent, and signed by Dad.

I’d not thought about, or expected, a card that year. The prior months had been dreadful as we watched Mother’s health spiral downward. At Dad’s age, the ordeal eventually took a terrible toll on him as well. Especially when he realized Mom’s only option was to live out her final days in a nursing home. She would never come home again and soon Dad would be alone for the first time in his life.

Yet, there it was…a birthday card, and the only one I had ever received without Mom’s familiar handwriting. I didn’t even feel the need to open it, for Dad’s efforts told me all I needed to know, and more. I cradled it like a priceless breakable and wept buckets of tears. Some for a card I would always hold dear, others for the sorrowful changes taking place in the lives of those I love.

When I did open the card…the sentiment was lovely and it was obvious much thought had been given to the selection. Although it was signed “Mom and Dad,” never had I seen my parent’s names written by Dad…another gloomy reminder of what was to come. Mom would not be with us much longer.

Six years later, with Dad rapidly approaching 90 years of age, I smiled when my birthday card came today! It always arrives several days early and the birthday check inside holds a brainteaser Dad concocted when greeting cards became one of his duties. The “memo” line at the bottom of the check is where his now-infamous secret code is found. Using capital letters he leaves a birthday message. An example: H. O. A. Y. T. Y. When I call to thank him for my card, you can bet your boots I will be quizzed on the answer.


A year after Mom’s death I was on an extended summer visit at Dad’s. I yawned as I plodded to the coffee pot one morning, poured a cup, and sat down next to Dad at the kitchen island. He was addressing a card to an old family friend.

“Dad, how do you keep track of all the birthdays and anniversaries? And, your cards are never late. You do a really good job!”

The look he gave me with those big, blue eyes suggested I might be dumb. “It’s simple! On the first of the month I get my calendar and write down all the cards I’ll need to send that month. The next time I go shopping, I buy them…then I place them in order in the file cabinet drawer.”

I grabbed Dad’s calendar and yanked open the file drawer. Sure enough, the cards were in perfect order, from the first of the month to the last.

“Wow, you’ve got quite a system here!” I exclaimed. “Maybe I should set up one just like yours.” I teased.

“After Mom died I had to figure out something! I didn’t realize how many cards we sent out in a year’s time.”

I’ve never asked Dad about his secret codes for I know they began as a witty distraction during a sad and emotional time. They’ve continued because he’s a wise man who knows life goes on regardless of our circumstances…and that a new comical twist along life’s path can always lighten our load.

(Code = How Old Are You This Year)

©2007 Kathleene S. Baker


Birthday Cards With Secret Codes