When Tommy returned from his trip to Walgreens, he was carrying a plastic bag that appeared to contain more than the Triple A batteries he had gone to purchase. From the square shape of the box within, I thought it to be golf balls.
“What did you get?” I asked. I was teasing, for no matter how many dozens he has stored on basement shelves, I don’t mind him adding to his collection.
My husband smiled and entered the house, leaving me on the porch where I had stationed myself to enjoy a beautiful Saturday afternoon. But after spilling coffee on a garden chair, I left my spot to get clean-up equipment.
I spotted the square box on the kitchen counter. Instead of a package of golf balls as I had guessed, the box was yellow trimmed in gold and decorated with the familiar red flowers, green border, and the words “Whitman's Milk Chocolates Sampler” in green script. A yellow envelope addressed to me was laid next to it. I opened the card that read, “Happy Birthday from the Group!”
“Thank you, Sweetheart!” I called out as I searched for Tommy. I found him installing the new batteries into his headphones, and acting as if there was no surprise waiting for me.
“I love the card and the chocolates!” I said as I pulled him from his task.
My husband’s eyes moistened. He placed the Triple A’s and headphones on the counter and bent down to accept my kiss. Then, he picked up his equipment and returned, smiling, to finish his job.
Although my birthday was the previous week, and “from the Group” was a bit off base, I was thrilled to receive both the card and the gift. Tommy had remembered after all. I know he chose this particular card, rather than a more appropriate, “To My Wife,” because at Walgreens he didn’t have with him his reading glasses, and this card’s “Happy Birthday” was large, colorful, and easy-to-spot. He didn’t sign it, but no matter. I knew the identity of my my gift giver.
On August 10, the morning of my actual birthday, when the kitchen counter was vacant of card or chocolates, I wasn’t hurt or angry. I knew if my husband could have pulled it together, he would have. On past birthdays, I could count on a sentimental “To My Wife” card and bouquet of flowers greeting me in the morning. But since Tommy no longer drives, I realized that would have been difficult.
I’m certain he knew the actual date because phone calls wishing me "Happy Birthday" started early that morning and cards that arrived in the mail were displayed on our dining room table, along with a basket of treats my daughters had sent.
Because I thought his lapse on my special day was due to his inability to purchase something on his own, I had an idea. When his Friday driver, Stuart, came to pick up Tommy, I made this suggestion: “There’s a Hallmark’s next to the coffee shop where you get Tommy,” I said. “Tell him you saw on Facebook that it was my birthday and would he like to stop in and get a card.”
“No problem,” Stuart said. But when the two arrived home and my husband led the way inside with only his gym bag, I looked at Stuart for clues. “I asked him,” he whispered to me, “but he made it clear he wanted to go straight home.”
Since Walgreens is only a block from our house and Tommy’s language problems don’t prevent him from making an off the shelf purchase, he could have bought the card and chocolates on my actual birthday. And Stuart did give him the option to buy something that same day. My husband chose neither.
I have a theory as to why he picked today -- eight days after the fact. I believe he wanted to separate himself from the crowd -- make his gift and card more special than the rest. He wanted to let me know he cared more for me than anyone else, more than the first-thing-in-the-morning well wishers or card and gift senders.
Anyway, that’s what I think. It doesn’t really matter. The greeting card “From the Group” is propped on its own on the dining room table, and every bite of candy feels like love.