Ever since I can remember, my brothers and I each got a very special birthday card each year. Inside, in addition to cute pictures, birthday wishes, and occasionally a stick of chewing gum, there was always a single dollar bill. Growing up in Sri Lanka, we treated these dollars like pure gold - hoarding them in our secret hidey holes, counting them up, and waiting eagerly until the day when we would be in America and could spend our treasure! Grandpa and Grandma Miller (mom's parents) never forgot a birthday - and never forgot a birthday dollar - no matter how many thousands of miles away we were!
Now that we're all grown up and parents of our own kids, we don't get birthday dollars anymore. But sure enough - just like clockwork, Kyler's second birthday card appeared in the mail from Oregon. This time, it flew all the way across the US to a military mail dispatch center in New York. From there, it hopped a plane across the Atlantic to Prague, and from our Embassy mailroom into my backback for the run home. Kyler opened up his card, and out fluttered a single dollar bill. He's not sure quite what to make of it yet... but I'm sure he'll soon join his brother and sister in carefully stashing his birthday dollars away at the bottom of his piggy bank.
When Grandpa and Grandma got married and Grandpa started work as a pastor, he was just as likely to get his salary paid in a tithe of eggs or chickens as in greenbacks. They raised a family of five kids and sent them out into the world to start their own families... but their jobs didn't end there.
In college, Grandpa and Grandma's house in the tiny town of Creswell, Oregon was my haven - a place to unload the stress of the week, get my laundry done (by Grandma) and fall asleep in the lazyboy, belly filled with a homecooked Sunday lunch of Pot Roast followed by a bowl of ice cream, a couple of peaches, and an oatmeal cookie. Their house just outside of Eugene always had a neat smell to it. A smell of home during a time when this third-culture-kid was busy trying to figure out where in the world "home" was. We'd work our way through Grandma's archive of photo albums - documenting our family history on pages of 3x5 prints behind cellophane sheet protectors. Play a game or two of dominos. Watch Pat Sajak or Alex Trebek on the TV set. And then, laundry done, I'd head back to another week of college life.
With the birthday card last week came Grandpa and Grandma's loving touch from many miles and three generations away. They're older now - Grandpa's Alzheimer's has really taken a toll in the last year. Grandma's arthritis makes it harder each year to write the greetings on the birthday cards.
But their calendar is marked with the birthdays of all their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, stamps and cards are bought, and many times each year, a dollar bill wings its way across the globe to find great-grandkids just starting out life's journey. And though Kyler's too young to understand it now, someday I'll sit him down on my lap and tell him about his dollar bill. How it can smell like a Sunday roast right out of the oven, a scoop of vanila ice cream with a fresh-baked cookie on the side... and a lot of love from many miles away.