Plainly pleased

`THIS is a great moment for me,'' my aunt said. She was holding a rectangular box that she had just received in the mail. It appeared to be full of blank checks. I had no idea why this created such elation. Seeing I was puzzled, my aunt began telling me about a day, a decade ago, when she opened a checking account. A clerk produced a display folder full of sample checks and said, ``Choose the type you'd like to order.'' All of the checks were pictorial, my aunt said, and were identified by titles. For instance, one showing flowers would be called ``Lonely Begonias,'' and one depicting the dawning light, ``Sunrise Skies.''

She decided that, beautiful as they were, she didn't want an art gallery lurking beneath her pen when she was trying to pay car insurance or grocery bills. So she asked if she could order plain white checks. ``Sorry,'' the clerk said, ``as you can see, there are no plain ones offered.''

My aunt scoured the book for the one that seemed the least distracting and reluctantly settled on a horizon picture that featured clouds and sunlight. ``It was so bright it seemed I'd have to fight off the glare,'' said my aunt, ``but I thought I'd manage.''

The clerk informed her that the chosen check was from Page 8, and that, with her account, she could only choose from Page 4 or 7.

So my aunt chose one that depicted ocean waves, figuring that since it was predominantly one color (light blue) it would serve as well as the plain check. The clerk confirmed that it was a Page 7, and the order was placed.

``I must be inordinately drawn in by pictures,'' my aunt said, ``because those ocean checks gave me trouble.'' The central wave shown was enormous, and there was a surfer near the ``amount'' line. She felt that the precariousness of the surfer's position on the wave made her nervous and caused her to make frequent writing mistakes. As a result, many checks had to be crumpled and discarded.

Eventually, a change in her location led to a change in banks, and she asked again if she could order plain white checks. She was informed that she could, but that it would cost extra. My aunt refused, on principle, to go along with this policy. ``It's not as if you have to go to the trouble of extracting a picture in order to make a plain check,'' she told them. ``It doesn't make sense for it to cost more.''

So she chose a check that depicted mountain scenery. It was pretty and had relatively subdued colors. Her only problem, as it turned out, was with the gray boulders situated near the end of the ``signature'' line. When she wrote over these rocks, their dark color invariably rendered her ink unreadable, and the last syllable of her name would be lost.

She began scrunching the letters in her name together so she could fit them all in before reaching that dark gray area. This altered the way she signed her name, and on one occasion the bank questioned her explanation that she was ``just trying to avoid the rocks.''

Now my aunt is more than 60 years old, and this has made her eligible for a checking account category that offers, as an inducement, free checks. What she had received in the mail were her brand-new, free-of-charge, plain white checks. After hearing her story, I could understand why she was pleased.

I always have difficulty deciding what to purchase for my aunt on gift-giving occasions. I do the best I can, but I doubt if I will ever find anything that makes her as happy as that box of checks did.

``I think these white ones should have a title, too,'' said my aunt. ``How about `Blanket of Snow'?''

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