You see, back in the 1960s, before I even met my husband, he applied for and received his first credit card. It was called Master Charge (now MasterCard) and his credit limit was $2,000.
In those days, $2,000 was considered a small fortune. You figure, in 1965 my parents bought a Colonial-style house near Livingston Park in Manchester for $12,500, which my father thought was outrageously expensive.
My husband was so proud of his credit card, he treated it as if it were made of spun gold. He wrapped it in tissue paper before putting it into his wallet, so it wouldn’t get scratched. And I suspect he even slept with it tucked in his underwear.
When we were dating, he often used the card to try to impress me. If we went out to dinner with friends, he would take out the card and say, “My treat, I have my Master Charge right here,” and then he would flash the card as if it were a signaling mirror for a rescue plane.
After we got married, he decided to honor me by adding my name to his account so I could receive a credit card, too – which, in retrospect, probably wasn’t such a hot idea on his part. I mean, not only did the bank eventually change the card’s name to MasterCard, it also changed our credit limit to a much higher one.
So when my husband first handed me my very own card, I suddenly knew how Charlie, the kid in the Willy Wonka movie, felt when he found the precious golden ticket in his candy bar.
Over the next 40 years, the credit card served us well. We used it for emergencies, vacations, and for buying things online. And every three years, when the card expired and we were sent two fresh new ones, I would have to listen to the same thing from my husband.
“Do you know how many years I’ve had this MasterCard?” he’d ask, sniffing the new card and inhaling deeply, then making an “aaaahhhh” sound, as if he were smelling freshly baked bread. “I applied for it the day after I turned 18!”
I wasn’t quite so sentimental about the card. I’d just grab it, hop into the car and leave skid marks in the driveway as I sped off to the mall.
Last month, I happened to notice it was time for the MasterCard to expire, so I called the bank and told the representative there no longer was any need to send two cards because my husband had passed away.
“Just send me mine from now on,” I said.
“Oh, I’m very sorry for your loss,” the woman said. “We’ll take care of that for you right away.”
I thought nothing more about that call until two weeks later, when I was shopping online and whipped out the MasterCard to pay for my items.
The card was rejected.
I tried again. Still rejected.
I grabbed the phone and called the bank’s credit-card hotline.
“Oh, as it turned out, that account wasn’t a joint account,” the woman explained to me. “Your husband was the sole account holder. You were just an add-on.”
“An add-on?” I repeated, beginning to feel insulted. “What does that mean?”
“It means that because the account holder is gone, we had to close the account. And we’ll be expecting his estate to pay the outstanding balance.”
“Estate?” I laughed. “What estate?”
“Then you’ll be the one paying off the balance?” she asked.
I suddenly wished I hadn’t recently bought the Harley Davidson commemorative- edition Barbie doll. I was silent for a moment as the impact of what had just happened struck me.
Finally, I gathered the courage to ask, “Is there any way you can undo the cancellation and get the card back?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
“Then you’re saying my husband’s prized card that he had for over 40 years is gone forever, never to be used or heard from again?”
“I’m afraid so,” she said.
I hung up the phone feeling as if I had just committed card-icide. I had killed my husband’s prized possession and sent it to the great beyond. Even worse, I now not only was without a MasterCard, I had to pay off the balance. Had I been a contortionist, I would have kicked my own backside.
Every time I see a MasterCard commercial on TV now, I cringe and then glance apprehensively at my husband’s urn on the counter, expecting him to leap out at any moment and insist that we hold a memorial service for his treasured card and then bury it out in the back yard, complete with a headstone with the MasterCard logo engraved on it.
But mark my words, I will apply for a new card and put it to good use in memory of the old one.
The only problem is, the way I figure it, my new credit limit probably will be around $12.