Even though credit cards are a common thing nowadays, years ago, they were considered a status symbol. Just about everyone used cash back then, so credit cards really weren’t part of the norm.
Back in the late 1960s, before I ever 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, around that time 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.
OLD GAS STATION SIGN
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, by adding me, the credit limit was raised to $10,000, which was dangerous in my hands. And with the annual percentage rate at 24%, well, that made it even more risky.
But 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 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 was forced 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 21!”
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.
But after my husband died, when it came time for the MasterCard to expire once again, I called the bank and explained there no longer was any need to send two cards because my husband had passed away.
“So you just have to send me my card from now on,” I said.
“Oh, I’m very sorry for your loss,” the representative 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. “Your husband was the sole account holder. You were just an add-on.”
“An add-on?” I repeated, slightly insulted that I hadn’t been important enough to be the co-owner of the card. I felt as if I’d been reduced to the plus-one on a wedding invitation.
The woman explained, “Because the account holder is gone, we had to close the account. And we’ll be expecting his estate to pay the outstanding balance on the card.”
“Estate?” In spite of the fact I was panicking as I tried to mentally calculate how much money I now owed the bank, I had to laugh. “What estate?”
“Well…if he left everything to you…then that also includes his bills, unfortunately. You are now responsible.”
Finally, I gathered the courage to ask, “Is there any way you can just undo the cancellation and get the card back?”
“I’m sorry, no. If you want your own card now, you will have to start all over again and fill out an application.”
“Then you’re saying my husband’s prized card he’d had since he was 21 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 cherished possession and sent it to the great beyond.
Even worse, not only was I without a precious MasterCard, I also was stuck with paying off the balance. Had I been a contortionist, I would have kicked my own backside.
Every time I saw a MasterCard commercial on TV after that, I cringed and then glanced apprehensively at my husband’s urn on the hutch, expecting him to leap out of the ashes at any moment and insist that we hold a memorial service for his treasured card and then bury it out in the 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 personal credit limit probably will be around $15.
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Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science fiction. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org