entered America through Ellis Island from war-ravaged Austria speaking only her native German.
By the time I came along, her accent had grown faint. She navigated our English-speaking world effortlessly, but her vocabulary remained limited and you would never have sought her out for helpful grammar tips.
Her functional but limited command of English made writing a chore. That’s why she favored sending greeting cards over writing letters. When I was away at college or studying abroad, a card from her arrived in the mail at least once a week.
|Vasily Verschchagin's "Letter to Home"|
In her florid, Old World handwriting, she would sign each card, “Love, Mom.” Sometimes she would add, “I miss you and love you.” She never wrote a note longer than that. And yet, she always chose cards with lengthy poems or quotations.
For years I looked at those cards in the same way that you might look at cards. They’re thoughtful. A handwritten note is the gold standard of thoughtfulness, and cards don’t quite match that depth of personal touch. But cards do show that a person took some trouble to connect. They just didn’t reveal as much about themselves personally to you as a note writer might.
My perspective changed when my mom told me about her approach to card buying. She said, “I love you so much. And I’m so proud of you. I don’t have words like you do. I can’t say how I feel. So I spend hours looking for a card that can tell you what you mean to me.”
My mother never rushed by the grocery or the drug store to grab a card. She studied them so that she could send me just the right message.
|Johannes Vermeer's "Woman Reading a Letter"|
Greeting card messages may seem too generic to be genuinely personal. They’re written for a general audience. And yet, my mother had invested each card that she sent to me with her own sentiments. In her hands, the message was meant uniquely for me. She was sharing herself with me.
Once I understood the depth of my mom’s personal investment in those cards, I realized that my response to them had been woefully inadequate.