From You’re in Canada Now, A Memoir of Sorts, published in 2005
A sincere thank-you note, I have tried to impress upon my kids, will transcend all manner of social situations.
“Dude,” my oldest wrote, on a post-It she stuck on the bathroom mirror where her sister would be sure to see it. “Remember when I went out last night I asked you please not to eat those last two chocolates that Grandma sent me for Christmas? I was really looking forward to eating those chocolates, but when I got home they were gone so I guess you went ahead and ate them anyway. I hope you are sorry. Thanks a lot!!!!”
Her sister replied with a post-It of her own: “I am NOT sorry I ate your chocolates. They were YUMMY!!!!!!!!”
This happened the day I had planned to lock them in a room with the Emotional Moments stationery they got in their stockings, to pen their Christmas thank-you letters.
“Thank-you note writing is one of the loveliest traditions to have been utterly compromised by the information age,” writes Leslie Harpold, in “The Morning News”, an online magazine. Like many people, my daughters have grown used to firing off emails; they risk losing touch, I fear, with the concept of simple – but important – handwritten thank-you notes.
Harpold recommends a six-point formula. First greet the Giver, as in “Dear Uncle Richard.” Then express your gratitude: “Thank you for the inflatable life-size moose. It is just what I always wanted.”
My daughters complain I am asking them to be dishonest in thanking a seldom-seen relation for something they don’t have time to blow up. Eventually I concede: they can drop the “what I always wanted” part if they at least write, “Thanks for the inflatable moose.”
Discuss use of said gift, Harpold continues, and don’t lie. “The moose is such a realistic shade of brown,” is more honest than, “The moose makes our living room so much more cozy and warm.”
In the next paragraph, mention the past……” It was great to see you at Grandma’s funeral….” and allude to the future……” I look forward to seeing you again when Grandpa’s time comes.”
Next, repeat expression of gratitude. It’s not overkill to say, “Thanks again for the moose!” though the person who sends a note in gold ink embossing – “May the Lord Reward Your Kindness” – for the jar of Dilled Pickles (albeit homemade) perhaps got carried away.
Finally, the Regards (as in “Peace out, Shorty”). Do not include details of your life, i.e., complaints that your mother will gouge your eyes out with a fork if you don’t finish this. The thank-you is exclusively about thanking someone for their kindness, Harpold says. Simple as it sounds.
Simple, my kids say, sounds hard. So, I stoop – to bribery – letting them in on the hidden, unspoken agenda behind thank you notes: it will mean they are likely to be the recipients of further gifts. “That isn’t the best reason to write…….but, if your godfather sends you a ‘flat present’ (the godfather’s term for a fat cheque) and you don’t acknowledge it, next Christmas he’s going to think twice before sending you “a little something it’s really nothing.” And, no, “Dude, thanks for the chump change, you rock,” isn’t going to make the godfather spontaneously cough up more, unless it’s for a finishing school in the Alps.
My youngest, who is determined to practice law as soon as she hits legal age, argues I’ve given her the best reason not to write thank-you notes to those who regularly give her gifts she doesn’t use. “If I write to Aunt Janet, thanking her for another crocheted toilet seat cover, it will encourage her,” she says. She would have to bring up the crocheted toilet seat cover. Five years ago, I made the mistake of saying “One of these years Aunt Janet is going to surprise us and come up with a really original gift, like another crocheted toilet seat cover.”
By the end of the day, I suggest we get started. “Just write the first word, ‘Dear……’, I implore.
“How can I call someone “dear” when I haven’t seen him since I was in utero?” my oldest daughter challenges.
I ignore her point, and soldier on. “Express your gratitude. Do not begin with “I am just writing to say…….” Clearly you don’t need to say you are “just writing” because if Uncle Richard is sober enough to be reading your letter, it’s obvious that you have written. Write as if what you say is happening now, in this very moment.”
What is happening now, in this very moment is that my daughters have left the table to smoke a doobie. My mother had a rule that we weren’t allowed to play with our toys until we had finished our thank-you notes: “You will not smoke dope until you’ve written to your cousin thanking him for his generosity,” I shout after them.
“The Herb Man say never put nothing in writing,” my legal eaglet fires back. She’s right; the last time he got acquitted he wore a T-shirt to court saying, “Nobody Talks, Everybody Walks.” I scratch Cousin Herb off the list: we can thank him in person the next time we see him out of wire-tape range.
When my daughters return to the bargaining table, they want to know who else they “are allowed” to thank in person. “Like, what about Dad?”
For Christmas their father had made them a photograph album of his daily regime in the federal penitentiary.
“Here’s the rule: if you live under the same roof, you don’t have to write a thank-you note. Don’t give me that if Dad were here he wouldn’t handcuff us to the chair…. ………..why can’t you just be thoughtful and write him a wretched thank-you note, for God’s sake, you know how much mail means…. you wouldn’t even have been born if it weren’t for him.”
When all else fails, there’s the guilt-inducing plea.