More than 10 years ago, I got a reverse fan letter. I call it that because Sandi Backlund wrote a letter to me and sent it to our son Steve Young, a former NFL player, via a station on which she heard him interviewed. The letter eventually made its way to a very delighted me, who doesn't get much input from readers via snail mail.
Sandi commented on how much she related to a story Steve told of when I went on the field and told a kid not to neck tackle — an embarrassing moment in my motherhood history. She related to it because of her concerns while watching her son play rugby. Two of her son's friends were stationed on either side of her to keep her from going on the field (and) doing something similar.
After she contacted me, I began sending my articles to her. She's a good-living Catholic woman from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and, over the years, she would send back announcements of her activities or her children's weddings and bits of information. We've never met face to face, but we are friends.
Less than a year ago, her father came to live with her and she sent emails updating how things were working. Recently she sent out this email, "My dad turns 89 on February 18th. There really isn't anything he needs but there is something he likes to do… go to the mailbox every day. So I am asking my friends/family to give my dad a birthday card blitz starting February 1st. it would mean so much."
I picked a card, and just before sealing the envelope I thought, "Why not stick in one of the football cards Steve signed?" I pasted the football card on the left side, then drawing a big word bubble, I put, "Hey Sam Serrano, hope your day is happy."
A couple of weeks had gone by when an email appeared from Sandi with a picture of her dad wearing a vintage San Francisco 49ers jacket. I honestly didn't remember him being a fan.
She wrote, "Thank you so much for the birthday card, your sentiments and the signed card from Steve. My dad has had this jacket since 1984. What is eerie — my dad has been wearing this jacket every day this week and hadn't worn it for about two years."
Sam had gone to the mail one morning expecting nothing, and there was a birthday card from one of his long time favorite player's mom with a signed football card inside. He was over the moon. It made my day as well.
The experience reminded me of how little we really need in life to make us happy, especially as we age. We collect fame, fortune and possessions, but it's caring and thoughtfulness that count, like a signed football card.
In author Kate Morton's recent book, "The Lake House," the protagonist, Alice, ponders a conversation with Ben, the itinerant gardener.
"But Ben was different, and he made her see things differently. He had no desire to possess things or to accumulate wealth," Alice thinks as she ponders. "His parents had worked on archaeological digs in the Far East when he was a boy and he'd realized then that the possessions people coveted in the fleeting present were destined to disappear; if not to turn to dirt, then to lie buried beneath it, awaiting the curiosity of future generations."
Ben had told her: "All that matters to me are people and experience. Connection — that's the thing. That flicker of electricity between people, the invisible tie."
Today with Facebook, FaceTime, email and texting, there are easy ways to keep in touch with others. Press a button on a cellphone, click a mouse and we're connected, renewing ties that bind.
Because, as my friend Lindsay Starr Hendrickson and her husband, Blaine, put on their yearly valentine card, "Love makes our world go round… and round… and round… and round…"