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Siblings exchange the same birthday card for 30 years

Corinne Hable, left, and Louise Stenberg. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

LAKE LILLIAN -- Some might call them cheapskates, but Corinne Hable and Louise Stenberg say the 50-cent Hallmark birthday card they've been sending back and forth to each other for the past three decades is priceless.

On May 27, it will be 30 years that the two Minnesota sisters have exchanged the same card.

"It's a treasure to us," said Hable.

What started out as a simple "gotcha" back in 1982 has turned into a family tradition for Hable, who lives on Big Kandiyohi Lake in rural Lake Lillian, and Stenberg, who lives in Spicer.

The gag began when Stenberg sent a birthday card from Texas to her big "and much older" sister, whose birthday is April 27.

The front of the card says, "Happy Birthday to a good looking relative."

The inside says, "Save this card. You can send it to me on my birthday."

So, that's exactly what Hable did a month later, for Stenberg's birthday on May 27. The volley continued when Stenberg sent the card back to Hable again the next year.

The exchange hasn't stopped.

"I'd say we've had a lot of fun with this card," said Hable.

Each transaction includes a humorous greeting, a snarky comment or a short rhyme to mark the year. Every white space on the card is filled with the greetings and two extra pages were added to make room for 30 years' worth of birthday wishes.

Through a thick layer of sharp wit honed by being the only girls in a family with four brothers, the messages are laced with affectionate terms of endearment that only sisters can share.

In 1992 Stenberg wrote, "42 and 50 years; we both keep getting bigger rears."

In 2004 Hable wrote, "In 2004 I start a new page, this old card is starting to show its age. It's old and tattered and rather lame, just like us, we're getting the same."

They try to outdo each other with the greetings.

"I kind of get panicky the last week," said Stenberg, a Renville County Public Health nurse, recalling the anxiety of coming up with a verse to top her sister's.

During the first few years the card was sent in the mail. Not wanting to trust strangers with their precious memento, the card now is hand-delivered.

"I don't know how much postage we've saved," said Hable, who worked for the U.S Postal Service for 26 years, including 17 years as the Lake Lillian postmaster.

But even hand delivery isn't foolproof.

They both visibly shudder when recalling 1988. That year Hable temporarily misplaced the card and was unable to deliver it to her sister on her birthday.

"I lost it once," said Hable. "I put it away so I wouldn't lose it. I put it away a little too good."

She eventually found the card and delivered it to her sister at Christmas time.

"She thought it was gone and so did I," said Hable.

Stenberg, who has to keep track of the card for 11 months of the year, still gives her sister grief for losing the card during the one month it was in her keep.

With longevity in their family history, Hable and Stenberg expect to send the card back and forth for a good number of years to come.

"But will you write a little bigger? My eyes are going," said Hable, in reference to her sister's small handwriting.

They've already discussed what will happen to the card when they're gone.

"When we die, who gets it?" asked Stenberg, wondering if there will be a family fight over it.

Maybe the grandchildren will want it, said Hable. "It is an heirloom."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750