Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thank You, Danke, Gracias

What do brides hate and grandmothers love?  Thank you notes.

I was raised to show respect with my manners. I responded to adult questions and instructions with “yes ma’am”  and “no sir.”  I wore white gloves to church and my cotillion dance lessons. My hankies were clean and pressed, tucked into a pocket for any emergency. I wrote thank you notes for gifts received. 

In the culture wars of the 1960’s in San Francisco the old manners were dropped like a hot plate without an oven mitt.  Buses had to hang signs reminding us that the front seats were for the infirm and elderly. I remember a young mom toting her baby in one arm and hanging onto the overhead bar on the bus with the other. A business man sat on the aisle and ignored her difficulty - until the baby, jolted with every bump, spit up on him. 

Living as a young adult in the unstarched West, people my senior told me to call them by their first names. People only wore gloves for cold weather. And I seldom sent thank yous.

Then I moved to North Carolina, officially part of the fabled American South.  I noted two major differences in good manners. First, my fellow teachers called me Mrs. Glover instead of Pam.  Young teachers answered me with “yes ma’am”. And second, everybody wrote thank you notes--for everything!

It took a while but I learned to write them too. The first big hint was when I got monogramed note paper for a gift. Of course, I wrote a thank you back on it.  Once I took dinner to a young mom who was bedridden and got the thank you note so quickly I thought she must have had it written before I delivered the meal.  

When invited to a luncheon I took flowers as a hostess gift.  A couple of days later, I got a note from my hostess. I was agog to receive a thank you for my thank you! 

I’m doing my part to pass along this good habit.  My grandson, husband and I recently went kayaking with friends. Later I told Sam he’d have to write a thank you. He was mystified. “I never had to write a note for going to somebody’s house before!” My son-in-law explained that he’d write one if he wanted to get invited back. So he did. And this week, Sam got a thank you note from our hostess for his note. 

It’s taken some getting used to, but I see this little ritual as a gentle reminder that every act of kindness deserves attention--and it's worth every word you put on paper. 

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