If you meet Beth Catlin, she'll ask for your name, address, and birth date. And on your next birthday, you'll receive a handmade card from her -- a square piece of paper, actually, with Happy Birthday
written in colored pencil.
And you, like the 3,834 others in her birthday circle, will receive a nearly identical greeting every year after that. She won't need to look up your name, address, or birth date, because she has them all memorized. The spellings are exact, the dates precise. And not one card has ever been returned because of a wrong address.
Catlin, 50, is an autistic savant. Mentally and emotionally challenged, she lives with her parents, Don, 80, and Barb, 78, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. There, after dinner each evening, she carries out the extraordinary mission she began sometime in 1972, when she decided to make cards for every person she has ever met, plus their friends and relatives, whether she has met them or not.
"This is Beth's gift. Hers is a world of word and number association and constant observation," Barb Catlin, her mother, says.
While Beth's gift is not uncommon among "number" savants, the way it has manifested itself is touching to those on her list. "Some people have told us that Beth's card is the only one they can rely on receiving," says Don Catlin.
Every year, more than 200 people respond in kind, sending cards to Catlin on her own special day: September 22. "We're proud because Beth has made so many people happy with her thoughtfulness," says her mother. "This is our reward -- and her triumph."