There was no way I could get out of it. Edna wouldn’t let me.
From the time I was old enough to hold a pencil or crayon in my chubby little hands, my mother (the aforementioned Edna), taught me to write thank-you notes any time someone gave me a present. She also believed in sending thank-you notes after having dinner at someone’s home, or if someone treated you to a meal out. She believed in a written thank you after a visit, a meal, a gift ... everything! And she wouldn’t let me get away with buying a Hallmark card and signing my name ... oh no, it had to be handwritten and well thought out. When I was young, it was done in pencil or crayon on lined paper; as I got older, my mother provided me with my own stationery. By the time I got to high school it was monogrammed stationery, but always that note had to be written and posted within just a few days of receiving any form of generosity.
Today, thank-you notes, if sent at all, are largely electronic, quite perfunctory, and if you mention them to a young person, their eyes roll. “That’s so old fashioned, so yesterday!” they wail. “I’m like too busy.”
Edna would have had a response to “like too busy” — she would have removed the present until the thank you was sent. She would be pleased to know that all her efforts paid off. Today I wouldn’t think of not acknowledging someone’s kindness. My friend, Betty, has a magnificent handwriting, and therefore still posts her notes in carefully written script. My handwriting is not wonderful, but I can print pretty well, and I admit to often writing my thanks using a computer, so my gratefulness is legible.
Thank-you notes did not begin with Edna, much as I always thought, but started way back in both the Chinese and Egyptian cultures, as far back as the 1400s, with friendship and good-luck notes written on papyrus. My warped mind conjures up Chinese thank-yous as, “Chang, grateful appreciation for take-home carton for lo mein. Much easier than carrying in hand. Your friend, Hong.” Or, an Egyptian missive of gratitude might begin, “Ramses, we are indebted to you for having extra strips of linen that we could use to mummify grandfather when he passed. We were clean out of tape. Yours truly, Anen.”
Thank-you notes are personal and strengthen a bond between people both in everyday life and in business. They make people stop and take notice, because sadly, they are rare in today’s world. We need to reintroduce more gratitude into our society, to let people know they, and what they do, matters. A verbal thank-you, or better yet an Edna-approved note, would mean the world to a friend or an employee.
When parents recite that age old sing-song litany of “What do you say?” when someone gives their child something, let them know what thank you really is, what it means, and that it is very, very special. They then might learn to say it without a prompt.
Hey, English teachers, this one’s for you. If anyone in your class is still handwriting, God forbid still in cursive, why not give an assignment of writing an essay of gratitude? It’s customary at Thanksgiving dinner to go around the table and have everyone recite what they’re thankful for, but often it’s just a quick recitation with little thought behind it other than to get to the sweet potatoes with the marshmallows on top before someone else does.
Yes, thank-you notes are indeed old-fashioned. Centuries old, but they still hold up today and can mean even more than ever. Like this final one I felt compelled to write:
Dear Mom (Edna),
Thank you for all those years of “making” me write thank-you notes when people gave me things. Back then it was a doll or a toy or a new outfit, but the thank-you note I write today is not about a “thing;” it’s about a life lesson ... and it’s one of so many you gave to me over the years. By insisting I learn how to do this, you also insisted that I grow up to be a grateful person who would never take anything for granted. So for that, and for so many other things, thank you.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-539-7762.