To Haiti, with, I thought, love
From the April 3, 2016 Register-Guard
By Bob Welch
It was March Madness season. She Who Was Leaving Me had packed her bags and was ready to go. My job was to shuttle her, a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law to Portland International Airport, where they were headed to Haiti on a medical mission.
That’s when I remembered I’d forgotten.
The card. Midway through the 10-day trip, a surprise “mail call” was traditionally offered, where the 17 Haiti Foundation of Hope team members would be given cards and notes of encouragement from loved ones back home.
“Sneak a card to me,” her sister, Ann, had told me weeks before, “and I’ll make sure she gets it.”
I rushed into my office like a Final Four team down three with seconds left.
“I’m ready,” said She Who, heading for the garage.
“Be right there!”
It was a timid “be right there,” the kind of weak assurance a husband might offer when realizing he forgot to buy the most significant person in his life a simple card.
Alas, there was no time to wallow in the backwaters of regret.
No time to remember my past defeats, like the time in the 1980s when the hose I’d placed in the sink to drain the water bed slipped out and the basement filled with water while we slept. The time I was asked to simply hang a picture on the wall over the sofa and put a hole in the drywall the size of a basketball.
No time to even jot a quick note that would say to her: “thoughtful,” “prepared,” “homemade.”
I zipped into my office, where, in a stacking desk sorter, I had a disheveled collection of envelopes and greeting cards that, over the years, I had bought with intentions I’d long since forgotten.
My hands spun though the cards like a referee calling a player for traveling.
A postcard of sailboats at Fern Ridge with “Eugene, Oregon” on it. Naw, too “Bob.” A brick off the backboard.
A card with a George Warner painting of Eugene’s Eighth Avenue in 1895. Too historical. A clanger off the back rim.
A cartoon drawing of a hand bearing a fresh roll of toilet paper reaching up and into a bathroom stall whose roll was empty. Inside? “I’m forever grateful.” Too hysterical. Short off the front rim.
My comeback was not looking good. But if Texas A&M could rally from 12 down with less than a minute to play, I could — .
“I’m rea-dy!” This version arrived with a three-tone inflection as ominous as the door bell ringing in National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation.”
“Yes, on my way!”
I had to get off a shot, any shot.
This wasn’t that week I’d met her in the summer of 1972, when I’d wooed the then-17-year-old with a chocolate dessert that sent her into uncontrollable laughter after I tried turning half and half into whipped cream — and it flat-out refused to turn.
We’d now been married 40 years; “rookie mistake” wouldn’t cut it in the post-game interview.
As the flames of defeat licked at my feet, I toyed with rationalization. Greeting cards are overrated. It’s the thought that counts, right?
Cards are only manifestations of a capitalistic machine that would exploit personal sentiment to its monetary advantage. They represent corporate greed run amok, as if Hallmark and the others were puppet masters and we the feeble marionettes helpless to express our feelings to loved ones without the help of professional writers who get paid to say what we apparently can’t or won’t.
The inside door to the garage shut. Then again, is using a greeting card any different than, say, paying someone to change your oil or fix your sump pump?
The clock was ticking as I swirled in my own March Madness.
Five … four … three …
Suddenly, as if a ray of heavenly light had highlighted it, the card was in my hands: two birds perched on a heart made of twigs and spring blossoms. “What the heart has once owned … it shall never lose. — H.W. Beecher.”
Hallelujah! A temporary loss — Sally going to Haiti — was going to result in a huge win: Sally, on mail day, opening a card whose insides, I quickly scrawled, said, “So proud of you. See you soon! Love, me.”
With no time to read the greeting-card sentiments inside, I sealed the envelope, sealed the deal and all but, sealed the victory. I could almost hear the crowd roar and one of those East Coast basketball announcers saying, “The kid from R-Gawn launches what could be a game winner from half court … ”
A week later, in Haiti, the shot landed.
“Oh,” She Who said to herself as she read the front, “he remembered me.”
Her brow furrowed. The card looked familiar. And Beecher’s words seemed a touch odd. Oh, well.
She opened it.
It was a sympathy card. Not only that, but one she had purchased herself.
“May you find comfort in the many loving memories you’ll carry in your heart forever. With Deepest Sympathy.”
The arena went silent except for a faint chant of “Air ball! Air ball! Air ball!”
Welch writes books, teaches classes and gives inspirational talks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.