What does a family do to celebrate the birthday of a 90-year-old?
This was the question posed by Verda Benson when she looked ahead to Tuesday, the 90th birthday of her mother, Fern Elam.
Elam was born in 1910, the second of 14 children. She moved to Alaska from Colorado four years ago to be near her daughter. She lives alone in Kenai and said she enjoys the area.
"I just like the country," Elam said.
For three of her four years in Alaska, she was a foster grandparent at Mountain View Elementary School. She helped bring the foster grandparent program to the Kenai Peninsula.
Benson said she wanted to do something unique for her mother, something that was meaningful.
"She is a pretty special lady," Benson said.
The question was answered when Benson focused on something her mother enjoys. Mail.
"Mother just loves mail," she said.
Benson got the idea in her head to try and get a birthday card from each state in the United States or at least a card for each year her mother has lived.
"I thought, I can do this," she said.
So Benson began the crusade of contacting everyone she knew to help her with the gift. All the while, her mother was in the dark about her plans.
Benson began sending e-mails, letters and calling every person she could the first week of August. Then suddenly, mail started coming in.
One day she brought a map to her mother's home and placed it on a wall in the living room. Elam still had no idea of the surprise brewing.
Benson brought over the mail and gave her mother the cards on Aug. 19. They placed a thumbtack in every city a birthday card had come from.
The gift also turned into a geography lesson, Benson said, because not all cities were on the wall map. The family had to look in other sources to find the exact location.
Many colored tacks dot the U.S. map, some are clumped together, while other locations are densely marked.
For the past two weeks, the cards have trickled in. On Thursday, Elam received 14 cards and one package, the most she has received at one time.
"This has given her something to look forward to every day," she said. "It is a gift she has been able to enjoy for more than one day."
Cards adorned with flower bouquets, animals, fancy writing and wishes for a prosperous year line doors in Elam's apartment.
"The attention is nice," Elam said, scanning the mass of cards.
Though Benson's goal was only cards from the U.S., some friends traveling out of the country participated, so Elam has received cards from Canada, England and Norway.
So far, Elam has received more that 80 cards and some gifts, and they are still flowing in.
One card states "Happy 80th birthday," a wish that brought an immediate smile to Elam's face.
Even though tacks have not been placed in a few states, Benson said, she is well on the way to the goal of 90 cards.
"We may not reach all the states, but we will reach 90 cards," she added.
Though it has been a fun venture, Benson said she will have to think of another gift next year.
"I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," she said.
Benson said she plans on making a scrapbook for all of the cards and sending thank you cards to everyone who participated in the gift giving.
"I don't even think she is mad that I took her pictures down to put up this ugly map," Benson said.
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