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Virginia Jongeward turned 86 a few days ago; her birthday card turned 99.
Of course, the card has been observing two birthdays every year since 1962, when Doris Olson bought it for her friend.
It cost 25 cents.
The two Vancouver women have been trading that same card back and forth ever since. The most recent exchange happened a week ago, when Olson signed the card and handed it to Jongeward -- just as she did 50 years ago.
Olson said she bought the card because it shows two women playing bridge.
“We’ve played bridge for over 50 years,” said Olson, 90.
It’s not a perfect match, however. One of the women on the front of the card is holding a cigarette.
“Everybody smoked but us,” Olson said, referring to the group around the card table.
The message inside reads, “To the little homemaker.”
When it came time to get a card for Olson’s birthday in June 1962, “I couldn’t find a better card, so I re-used the same card,” Jongeward said.
It was pretty easy to make the exchange back then, when the two neighbors could just pass the card over the back fence.
The two families were close in a lot of other ways. Jongeward (pronounced “young-ward”) recalled when both women were pregnant.
“It was my fourth and your fourth,” she reminded Olson. “We walked to the grocery store with our six children” -- accompanied by a dachshund that also was pregnant.
Both babies were due at about the same time, so Doris and Jim Olson had an agreement with Virginia and Ray Jongeward. If Ray had to rush Virginia to the hospital in the middle of the night, Jim would come over to the Jongewards’ house while their kids were asleep. And Ray would do the same for the Olsons.
Then it happened.
“Ray dialed the Olsons,” Virginia recalled. “He said: ‘Jim! I need you! Now!’”
The person on the other end replied: “Who are you calling?”
“He dialed the wrong number.”
The Jongewards moved away when Ray’s job in education took him to Olympia; the family returned to Vancouver five years later.
Doris smiled as she described how Virginia packed the car for her trip back to Vancouver.
“She moved back with her kids, her vacuum cleaner and the card,” Doris said.
Virginia didn’t want to lose that card; after all, “It’s irreplaceable.”
She did get a scare one June when Doris’ birthday was approaching and Virginia couldn’t find the card.
“I have a special drawer where I keep it. I look, it’s not there, and my heart speeds up,” Virginia said.
“It was just under some other things.”
The women are so protective that they’ve preferred to deliver the card personally rather than entrust it to the post office.
Both women, by the way, are former postal employees.
“We did send it by registered mail some years,” Doris said.
While it’s nice to have a card for 50 years, it’s much nicer to have a friend for more than five decades. The two women have shared a lot of life’s transitions over those years. Jim Olson died in 1996; Virginia lost her husband of 63 years when Ray died in October.
Doris Olson moved into Cascade Inn retirement center three years ago, and now Virginia keeps the birthday card most of the time.
Each January, “I present it to her to sign and bring it home,” Virginia said.
With the next handoff a few months away, Virginia already is looking forward to signing her name for the 50th time.
“The card will hit 100 when I give it to Doris in June,” she said.
Beyond that, Virginia is looking forward to signing it over and over again in the years to come.
“There still is lots of room,” she said.