Friday, August 22, 2008

Thank you, anyway

Last night I dreamed about thank you notes. Only in the South would this ritual of etiquette have so much importance. My mom gives me a new pack of notes for almost every holiday, and I need them. Southern women are expected to write thank you notes—and good ones—for just about every occasion.

For example, if someone helps you host an end-of-the-year party for the preschool class, you’d better write her to thank her for all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat without crust that she made. Even if one kid was allergic, and you told her that beforehand, and we had to throw them all away, plus run back to the school for the EpiPen, it was the thought that counted.

Thank you notes need to be personal also. One must mention the gift or gesture, express how thoughtful it was, explain how much it means to him or her, tell the person how and where it will be used, and let the person know how much he or she looks forward to seeing the giver again soon. In other words, one needs to be a BS artist.

Unfortunately, with texting and e-mailing, writing thank you notes seems to be a lost art. Today, kids are given fill-in-the-blank cards in which they simply insert the names and the items. Now what’s that teaching them? I made my son write all the thank you notes for his recent birthday party. (I know he’ll marry one day and pass this duty on, but for now…) He had only written three out of the ten before he cried, “Why did I have to invite so many people?”

In the South, it’s not only what you say in the note that matters, it’s how fast it gets there. If you can manage to have a note in the mailbox the next day, you can guarantee your family will get casseroles for every hangnail, thereafter.

Now, woes to the person who is late in sending out notes. I heard one woman complain, “I sent her that gift six months ago and just now sent me a thank you note!” To which I wanted to scream, “She had triplets and a house fire, for heaven’s sake, give her a break!”

But the best friends, I’ve discovered, are the ones you never have to send thank you notes to. And if you did, you know they would be mad. They are the ones who show up at your door bearing food, gifts or company, whatever you need the most. They are the ones who volunteer to watch your children for a day when you have a bad headache, call to see what you need (ice, candles, cake?) before your kid’s birthday party, and, yes, even help you write thank you notes.

I am fortunate to have several friends like this. We have an understanding that I would do the same for them, no need to send a flowery note to explain. Words do not do you justice, dear friends, but thank you, anyway.

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