That Heap of Thank-You Notes
The brainiacs have installed Excel sheets or Gantt charts. I have flashbacks of the recipe filing box and 3×5 index cards. . . .
The presents rolled in, first at a trickle and then a swift flow on the day of the 30-day countdown. I feared overlooking one gift and offending the giver. All my life, I heard all sorts of whispers about brides who didn’t acknowledge the generosity of others.
“These working girls [unaware that this is the preferred term for sex workers] turn up their noses at proper etiquette. One year to write a thank-you note?” The conniption fit was on.
“She wrote her mother-in-law six months later—without a how-do-you-do before that.”
“She mixed up all her cards and thanked everybody for the wrong thing. Casserole dish, my eye! I bought that child a silver gallery tray. I would be on the phone pronto if I didn’t adore her mother so.”
“Time’s up for this bride. Buffy, would you subtly ask Teeny to ask her daughter whether she received my Steuben candlesticks? That’s the only gift I haven’t checked off my wedding-present log.”
“A two-sentence scrawl! A two-sentence scrawl! That’s what she wrote—a two-sentence scrawl! And she didn’t even name the gift. ‘Thank you for the present. We enjoyed our honeymoon. Love Betsy.'”
“Tardy, tardy. She got pregnant on her honeymoon and had the audacity to thank me for the antique demi-tasse set 11 months later—after she already had thanked me for a pierced-handle baby porringer. I have half a mind to steal it back.” Fool me once, fool me twice. . . .
“Our educational system is going to rack-and-ruin because a young lady can’t string together five complete sentences. No salutation. No date. ‘Great cocktail thingies. Fabulous shower! Fun to see you at the reception. Much love!’ Thingies? They were sterling silver shrimp forks. Ye gods above!” (People in my mother’s generation always appealed to Mount Olympus in dire situations.)
I mapped out a grand strategy to knock off this project in weeks. That meant writing five to seven notes per day with different emotional themes and pitches.
Theme 1: family. “Mr. Z and I certainly appreciate the lovely towel sets! It means so much that members of our family are sharing this special occasion. . . .” Five sentences (two declaratives, two compounds, one compound-complex). Meemaws thrilled to exclamation points and giddy underlining. I reserved ultimate fervor for relatives.
Theme 2: Mom’s nearest and dearest. “I was thrilled when you and the sewing club gave that unforgettable kitchen shower. It is such an honor to be part of the neighborhood tradition. I think fondly of all the brides who have had lovely parties and brunches in your homes, and I. . . .” Five sentences citing time, place, tradition, and memories (no skimpy declaratives permitted). These ladies were very sentimental, sharing one another’s joys and sorrows—especially the state of their “old maid” daughters. Who needs underlining? I wrote straight from the heart, knowing I was dead meat if I delayed or forgot one note.
Theme 3: my parents’ friends from days of yore. “How kind of you to remember Mr. Z and me! We certainly appreciate such an original gift. I cannot wait to perch the nutcracker on my mantel at Christmas. . . . ” Four sentences. Theme 3 was fiction I made up on the spot. I didn’t know who these people were, and they didn’t know we were living dirt-poor in a 1930s hippie-fringe duplex sans mantel or other decorative flourishes. I couldn’t wait to trot that kooky nutcracker back to Russia.
Theme 4: my in-laws’ friends. “Thank you for the exquisite crystal dish. Mr. Z. and I will enjoy using it for many years to come. I cannot wait to visit your town again. . . .” Facing alien territory, I wrote five sentences. In addition, I took the time to make each note original because somebody once told me that residents of small towns in LA (lower Alabama) compared notes. Footnote: I caused an uproar because I retained my “maiden” name (10-year professional byline)—apparently shaming in-law ancestors vying to strike me with thunderbolts from on high. Mr. Z and I amicably parted ways years ago. I kept the Waterford, china, and sterling silver—and bequeathed him silverplate.
Theme 5: burnout—draft lead sentence . . . and finish two more sentences plus one fragment and sign-off tomorrow. “Mr. Z and I deeply appreciate the cut-glass relish tray. . . .”
* * * * *
What’s the trick to easy-breezy thank-you notes? A strategy, schedule, and great-looking stationery!
Read southern humor, memory, and musings on Catherine Hamrick’s blog, Random Storyteller.