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Essay

Coda to “A Cardinal Career”

Generous to me while I was selling their cards and stationery, the Cardinal Greeting Card Company would prove equally generous long after I’d given up my little business.[1]

          About a year after I’d quit, I was surprised to receive a small but fairly heavy package from Cardinal.  What could they possibly want with me? Intrigued, I opened the package, still addressed to “Mrs. J. Peirce,” as all Cardinal’s previous correspondence with me had been, to find a solid metallic object about three inches long.  Closer inspection revealed the object to be a shoe.  And when I read the promotional literature accompanying the shoe, I discovered that it was a bronzed baby shoe, and that Cardinal’s idea was that I should go to the same people to whom I’d formerly sold Christmas cards and writing paper and try to sell them on the idea of having their babies’ shoes bronzed for posterity!  I laughed outright, never in my life having heard of anything so ridiculous, even grotesque.

          “You know, there are some people who’d like to remember what their baby’s shoes looked like,” my mother said.  But she said this with a kind of half-smile, as if she herself were not totally convinced. 

          “You’ve got to be kidding,” was my reply.  “Why would anyone even want such a thing in the house?”  In any event, whatever her take on the thing was, I knew there was no way I’d go up and down the street trying to convince my friends and neighbours that they have should their babies’ shoes bronzed.  Still laughing, I put the shoe back in the box, resealed it, wrote “Return to Sender” in large, clear letters on top, and took it out to our mailbox for the postman to take away the next day. 

          This process would be repeated at least twice over the next year or so.  Finally, the third or fourth time, I decided to keep the shoe, figuring this might help stop Cardinal from sending me any more of the ludicrous trinkets.  Instead of stashing the thing away in a drawer, I went whole hog, putting it up on prominent display on a window sill in the kitchen, for family and guests alike to see.  (Our fireplace, unfortunately, lacked a mantel). At first, people (other than my mother) didn’t seem to know what it was.  But soon they were catching on.  It wasn’t long before I was hearing occasional wry chuckles and even the odd outright belly laugh.  People were clueing in to the thing—and they were loving it.  The little bronzed shoe was more than earning its keep.

          I was bang-on in my guess that my keeping the shoe would stop Cardinal from sending me any more of them. Clearly, even their generosity had its limits.  And in due course, the little game lost its appeal to me.  I stuck the bronzed shoe away in a desk drawer while I decided whether to use it as a paperweight or to give it to someone I didn’t particularly like as a Christmas present.  Five years later, I still hadn’t decided, and the shoe was still sitting inside my drawer.

          But if you were to say that that was the end of the bronzed baby shoe saga, you’d be sadly mistaken.  For years after I’d put the shoe away, it would remain a small but significant part of our collective family life.  When something particularly ridiculous or untoward would happen, all anyone would have to do is say “The bronzed baby shoe” to evoke loud peals of laughter from everyone in the vicinity.  The mere mention of the thing enlivened more than one otherwise drab afternoon or evening.

          Whether such was their intention or not, Cardinal had truly provided me with the gift that kept on giving!


[1] As some of my readers will know, my time with Cardinal has been described in “A Cardinal Career,” published in 2018 in the Chicken Soup anthology “The Power of Yes.”  I sold Cardinal cards and stationery when I was in fourth and fifth grade.  As my Chicken Soup piece notes, Cardinal always addressed their correspondence with me to “Mrs. J. Peirce.”

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