A shared love of Scrabble brought Annabelle Dale and Joyce McCarthy together as friends. These days, Annabelle always gets the last word, much to Joyce's delight.
Annabelle, 100, is a poet. Joyce, 92, is a self-taught watercolorist. Together, they publish the loveliest line of birthday cards ever to grace WestRidge Senior Apartments in Minnetonka, where they live independently with the other 100 or so residents.
Each month, the apartment posts a list of residents' birthdays and Annabelle and Joyce get to work.
Annabelle composes breezy and often funny poems: "October skies are azure blue/but guys with guns shoot you-know-who/It's a bad time to be a duck/and a great month to have a birthday!"
Joyce designs a cover greeting on her Mac -- "Happy Birthday!" or "Shurre and Begorra, 'Tis your Birthday!" -- then adds a unique piece of art created at her kitchen counter, mindful of the month. One painting features a row of pine trees blanketed in snow, another bursts with showy poppies. A tiny boat floats on water in a third. "If wishes were fishes/And we had a net/We'd gather them all/And then you would get/So many you'd have/A bundle to share/We are sending you some/To show you that we care!" On the back, Joyce includes credit where credit is due: "Greeting by Annabelle Dale. Painted and printed by Joyce McCarthy."
"This is no two-bit operation," Annabelle says. Annabelle has written poetry since high school.
Her son, Mike, said she's given him original greeting cards "every year that I can remember." He saves them.
Before meeting Joyce, Annabelle created birthday greetings on her own, writing poems, then adding them to "horrible" cards she constructed out of wallpaper and old napkins. She speculates about the reason Joyce jumped in to partner with her: "Maybe you got one?" she asks Joyce with a laugh.
Joyce, it turns out, was painting birthday cards with another resident who wrote poems, until he passed away.
"Oh," Annabelle says. "You were looking for a substitute?"
Well, yes. About two years ago, the women teamed up. They create eight to 10 birthday cards monthly, placing them in residents' mailboxes for a memorable surprise.
Next up? Two birthdays on July 4th. Joyce realizes that she'd better get painting, but Annabelle's work is done.
"July! A month of celebrations/the Fourth, a day apart/But the very, very special one is the day you got your start!/May God bring you blessings with days ever brighter!/That's my wish for you, the candle lighter!"
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