Birthday surprise yields hundreds of cards
John Cheeseman of New Milford had the surprise of his life for his 80th birthday last month.
Well wishes and messages of love abounded in several hundred birthday cards he received from all across the world.
“He is an awe of what has happened,” said his wife, Vivien, who orchestrated the surprise for his June 20 birthday.
Unbeknownst to him, in late May Vivien reached out by text and email to family, friends and his colleagues asking them to send a card for his birthday.
Around the same time, John’s computer died, so Vivien couldn’t access his complete list of contacts.
She recreated what she could and added a line at the end of her message asking folks to send the request on to others they might know who else might like to participate.
She hoped he would get 80 cards for his 80th birthday. More than 300 arrived in the mail, and continue to trickle in.
“It just went wild,” Vivien said.
John was amazed.
“And he knows every single person who sent a card,” said Vivien.
“Each one of these people in some way molded me,” John said, admiring the wall of cards in their living room. “They did something in my life that made me who I am in some small or significant way.”
Vivien admit the birthday cards weren’t as complete of a surprise as she had hoped, but the number of cards received were.
Since John looks forward to his walks to the mailbox each day, Vivien attempted to get the mail first, so she could collect the cards. She even alerted their mail carrier of her plan.
“The mail carrier got the biggest kick out of it,” she said.
Some birthday cards arrived before John’s birthday, though. At first, she played along, acting surprised he received a card and note from a colleague he hadn’t talked to some time.
A prolific writer, John began to write thank you notes to individuals who reached out to him.
Vivien watched as her husband devoted so much time to personalized notes and thought to herself, “’He doesn’t know what I’ve done,” she said.
As his birthday drew nearer, the number of cards picked up and the USPS app, which that allows a resident to get a daily email highlighting the mail that will be delivered on a particular day, intervened.
“He saw a card from a friend (on the app) and then asked, ‘Why was it on the app but not in the mailbox?’” Vivien recalled him asking her.
Of course, she had taken the card out of the mailbox.
Vivien still tried to play along but had to give some clues as to what she had planned.
Cards poured in from as far away as France, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.
“I thoroughly enjoyed reading of your cards,” John wrote in a letter to friends who extended good wishes to him. “What a kaleidescopic journey of thoughts, images, feelings and memories.”
The Cheesemans, who have been married for 34 years, moved to town from Danbury a year ago.
John graduated from Wooster School in Danbury and was the first alumni to serve as headmaster there.
He worked for 30 years at the school and retired in 2003 as headmaster emeritus.