My birthday is in exactly one week, and so far the only greeting card I’ve received in the mail is one from the physical therapy office I attended more than a year ago. Hey, turning 30 last year was bad enough, but now that I’m officially entering my 30s, getting a reminder about how the body breaks down isn’t exactly the most pleasant punch in the arm (although if someone does punch me 31 times in the arm next Saturday, at least I know a place that can help me with any resulting shoulder injuries).

But actually, the sender of that first birthday card isn’t really what bummed me out–it’s the fact that it made me remember that my stash of birthday cards will be one less this year. As soon as I opened that envelope and saw the birthday greeting, my heart sunk. It’s July, it’s birthday time, and there will be no card from my Aunt Adzia this summer.

The cards Adzia sent me were never glamorous in any way; they didn’t come with birthday confetti inside, and they had nothing to do with any of my interests, the way Bryan selects cards with pugs or how my mother-in-law tries to find something Disney related. They were your typical flowery, butterfly-dotted, overdone cursive cards, the ones you can hardly read because the scripted font is so dramatic, the kind that start off with introductory questions, as though the card is making a high school graduation speech: “What is a niece?” I’m not particularly fond of these cards, but apparently my aunt put much thought into them; my grandmom said that whenever she and Adzia went to Rite-Aid to go card shopping, Adzia would stand in front of the greeting card display and open card after card, reading the messages, making sure they were “just right” for each recipient.

Sometimes I’d get two cards–one that was mailed, and another she’d pass along to my grandmom to give to me. This one usually came with a bow taped onto the envelope–and not just any old bow. We’re talking fancy, curly packaging bows, the kind that cost $1.99 at card stores. On days I was feeling silly, I’d tape the bow onto my shirt or in my hair, or just hang it in my cubicle for a week. Sometimes the extravagance of the bows meant more to me than the bank envelope of birthday cash she’d slip inside.

Before 9/11 and a sudden fear among my family that people might try to mail me anthrax disguised as a Hallmark card, Adzia never used to put return addresses on her envelopes. Still, it was no mystery which cards came from her. Maybe it’s because she went to Catholic school and perhaps was scolded by the nuns for bad penmanship, but Adzia would address every envelope by first penciling a straight line with a ruler, using the faint lines as a foundation for her trademark wide and bubbly cursive handwriting. The inside was no different, but here she usually erased the penciled-in lines after signing her name.

Adzia's penmanship perfectionism carried over onto the boxes of decorations she stored in the basement.

For a while, it was odd to see only Adzia’s name on the inside of my cards. I had grown up knowing my Aunt Adzia, her sister, and their brother–who had all lived together–as the gang of three. For most of my childhood, these cards–although in Adzia’s handwriting–would close with “Love Always and Forever, Aunts Adzia, Stasia, and Uncle Cas.” When Uncle Cas passed away, the signature shortened to “Aunts Adzia and Stasia.” Stasia died in 2007, and since then my birthday cards came from one person, with one signature.

Adzia was good with birthday cards–they usually arrived a week before the occasion, right in between the cards from my realtor and chiropractor and those from my immediate family. It would probably be in my mailbox today, in fact. But the cards have been dealt; the time has come for the perfectly aligned greetings to fade into history. I may never see Adzia’s freshly penned signature again, but at least her love is Always and Forever.

Adzia keeping an eye on my sister, as she reads her own birthday card.