The last time I visited my parents on the farm, I found an old shirt box in their attic. Inside were handmade birthday cards from my classmates. In a flash, I was back in second grade. Mrs. Langford's voice was trilling cheerfully. She told us to get out our crayons. She rounded the room, handing out sheets of construction paper. Then she demonstrated, very slowly, how to fold them in half. At the blackboard she picked up her special teacher’s chalk and, with perfect printing, wrote the formula:
Happy Birthday Rhonda, from ______.
With smudgy fingers and feet dangling above the boards, my classmates began creating. I suppose I was making my own picture and trying not to peek to the right or left.
The cards are very hopeful. My birthday is in the dead of winter, but nearly everyone drew flowers. Some composed variations on a classic theme. Kathleen, for example:
roses are red
violets are Blue
but you are the best
Roses are Red
Vlilites are Blue
Tinker Bell is you
and Bruce, who can now be forgiven for
Rross are Red
Vilits are blue
I wonder what you smell like
I do I do.
Some attempted a portrait. Eddie--though he wouldn’t dare call me Carrot Top--used orange for my hair. Annette chose the same, but gave me a purple crown. Denny was ornery, as usual: Happy Birthday Red Headed wood Pecker. Suspiciously, he put a pipe in my mouth.
Brenda had the whole 64-color set. She made me a beautiful present in periwinkle, a color I coveted. And Dawn couldn’t get enough of sevens: 7 candles! 7 tulips in 7 colors! An enormous 7 right next to my name!
Wait—did Mike have a crush on me? He put two people in a row boat, with a heart floating in the sky above them. The heart is pale peach, very vulnerable looking. In Mike’s topsy-turvy state, he made one big mistake: when you open the card, the words are upside down.
Billy’s cake is on a table--good thinking, Billy! I like, too, the wish you left: Happ Bith day. Here I can safely confess what Mike never knew: that you were my real crush (did we ever officially break off our engagement?).
Rodney would eventually earn a Ph.D. in quantum physics, and here he is already displaying his genius. He discovered a new law of science: the cake is upside down, but the candles are still burning.
Melinda’s work is all brown. Maybe it’s chocolate, but there is a depressing look to her cake. The candles are too far apart and don’t fit; three are drifting off into empty space. One of them (a slip of Melinda’s crayon?) looks like a small cross.
Here is a pink house for me, floating between sky and grass. And here, lavish green frosting. And here (not sure why) is a multi-colored washing machine.
Who is the anonymous sender who put tears on the face of a stick figure? Who wrote ow three times in red? And this sparse card, done in pencil: would no one share their crayons? The one foster child put a happy daisy on the front, but an angry one inside. And this card, so neatly folded, says I love you. It’s from Edwina, the quietest of all. I hold it awhile, remembering the day in college my mother called to tell me Edwina had died in a car accident. We were all turning eighteen that year, but still so very young.
Dear friends: I appreciate the birthday wishes on Facebook, I really do. But some day I would like another batch like these. Crayons only, please. You can send them to Rural Route 2. The mailbox still leans over the blacktop, where the yellow bus used to stop and carry me to school. It doesn’t come by anymore, of course, because all the children on that route have grown and gone away.