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Kent Bernhardt: So, how long do you keep a card?

A few days ago, I was enjoying a rerun of “Seinfeld” I hadn’t caught before.

In the episode, Jerry has a falling out with a woman he’s dating over a birthday card. She asked if he received the card, then accidentally spots it in his garbage can.

After a few uncomfortable moments of dialogue, Jerry admits he threw the card away right after reading it. “You just signed it,” he tells her. “It’s not like you drew the picture on the front of it and wrote the words inside of it yourself.”

Naturally, she angrily storms out of the apartment, and Jerry is left with another broken relationship.

The show struck my funny bone because I saw a little of myself in Jerry’s predicament. I’ve often wondered how long you keep a birthday card, or any card for that matter. When is it appropriate to toss it? What’s the rule?

Don’t worry. Chances are if you’ve sent me a birthday card in the past five years, I still have it. But I’m human. I’m more likely to keep it a long time if you wrote me a personal note than I am if you just signed it.

I don’t think anyone’s ever written a book on card etiquette from the receiver’s standpoint, but maybe they should.

I Googled the matter and found a response from an advice columnist named Colleen. She suggests keeping cards forever that you feel compelled to keep.

I’m not sure what Colleen means by that. I guess any card from your mother would qualify for permanent status, but Aunt Maggie from Cincinnati would probably never know if you deep sixed her graduation card.

Colleen continues by saying that cards offered simply out of respect from people you don’t know well can go in the trash as soon as you return home from the birthday, anniversary party or wedding.

I would add that you should check them for money or gift cards first. There’s nothing worse than having to explain why you never cashed a birthday check. I’ve been there.

My explanation consisted of a dumb look, and me grunting “Huh?”

Colleen loses me when she suggests you may prefer to scan the card and keep a digital copy in your computer records. I’d like to see a show of the hands of anyone – ANYONE – who has ever done that. That’s way more work than I want to put into card etiquette.

I guess I’m a bit of a pack rat. I occasionally run across cards I received ten, even 20 years ago for various reasons. Sometimes they’re a nice trip down memory lane, assuming I recognize the signature inside.

“Martha … hmmmmm … who the heck is Martha?”

Somewhere I even have a note my grandmother sent my mother when she was away helping to nurse my dad back to health following a 1967 accident. In it, she said of me “He’s a bit of a handful sometimes. He doesn’t disobey really, he just doesn’t quite obey.” My grandmother knew me pretty well, and I squirrelled that one away even though it wasn’t meant for my eyes.

On my “forever” list are the cards with deeply personal messages or cards with original artwork. They occupy a special place in my heart, and probably my refrigerator. I have at least two of those there right now. I’ll also never part with a card drawn by my daughter when she was four depicting me with a big purple nose.

In short, when it comes to card etiquette I think you’re pretty safe in making your own rules. I would suggest though, it’s probably a bad idea to throw away the card right after reading it — if you’re in the presence of the giver.

That can get you removed from a will.

Kent  Bernhadt lives in Salisbury.

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