Thank You Very Much

By the time that I got to the attic, I was far past dwelling on every single memento  removed from my parents’ emptying house.  A steady parade of dumpsters had hauled away umpteen boxes, and I had bequeathed the local library and rummage with untold books, cookware, and just plain gradoux (a most apt word of my mother’s).  But when boxes of old correspondence veiled in decades of dust and mung (my mother’s synonym for gradoux) started to emerge, my husband Nick stood guard in front of the dumpster as the arbiter of what should be saved or tossed.

He discovered several boxes that appeared to have been moved from attic to attic over the past 200 years.  One box included a numbered photograph of a very homely President Lincoln, another a whole sheaf of correspondence from some long ago ancestor named Charles Forseth, whose letters from the early 1800s detailed the appalling but routine deaths of children from such old fashioned diseases as the croup, quinsy or the dwindles.   But the biggest find was probably the box filled with every single letter that my father had ever written his parents – and he was a faithful correspondent throughout WWII and his married life. But then with a gasp I saw that this box contained every single thank you note that I had ever written my grandmother.

Granny Brown’s identity was solidly based on her role as a family matriarch to her five children and 23 grandchildren and many other nieces and nephews.  She was a consistent gift giver, for Christmas and birthdays for sure, and then I routinely got a Valentine’s day gift.  Giving gifts must have been a near full time job, and I remember a special room in her home that she used for flower arranging in the summer, but then was converted to a wrapping room around Christmas time.  For the 25 years that our lives overlapped, she used the same exact diagonally striped red and white wrapping paper with green velvetoid ribbon.  And then my parents would give gifts to all of their nieces and nephews and vice versa.  Since we did not routinely see these folks, Christmas could consist of a bizarre collection of somewhat anonymous gifts.

Moments after Christmas, my mother’s pestering would begin,

“How are you coming on those thank you notes?  It would be more manageable if you wrote at least one per day. Here I have gotten some special stationary for you, and I have a list here of all the gifts that you received.  If you put a thank you note on the counter, I will make sure to get in the mail today. Okay?”

The thank you note harangue could suck the life out of a holiday, so for several years I wrote a note the very minute I opened the gift on Christmas morning. Some were particularly challenging.  Aunt Lootie used to give all 5 of us the same gift and sometimes no one could figure what it was.  One year we all got a different type of plastic vegetable that had a secret compartment – mine was a cabbage.  We were collectively stumped, but then several months later I realized that these were intended to be clever hiding places for jewelry or other valuables that you could put in your fridge to fake out a burglar.  On occasion I would try to write a generic pre-emptive note before I even opened the present:

“Dear Aunt Lootie, Many thanks for the intriguing item.  I am sure that I will use it frequently.  I have never seen anything like it.  I hope that you are enjoying a happy Christmas with all your family.  We sure are.  Hope to see you soon.  Love, Bobbie.

As I stood in my parent’s driveway with the musty box, I realized that the thank you notes that seemed an odious chore were meticulously saved and appreciated by my grandmother.  She must have received several a day and her attic probably contained boxes and boxes of thank you notes.  I pictured her saying, “Wow that David certainly writes a lovely note.  I’m so glad to hear from Bobbie, but it sure sounds like she is writing it under duress.”  How would I measure up?

The first one I opened must have been from my college days since it was written in the brown ink that I favored.  I also used some sort of very fine tip pen – I think that it was called a Montblanc pen – which included the ritual of sucking up the ink from a bottle of ink, leading to spillages and smudges.  The note began:

“Dear Granny, I am sorry that I have not written to you in such a long time, but I have been very busy at school.  But I wanted to thank you for the Indian bird mirror and the collapsible purse…”

The rest of the note was basically illegible, but I was impressed at its length, so hopefully quantity balanced tardiness.  Then I spotted a bit of misfiling by my grandmother; the box contained a thank you note from my cousin David, the epitome of thoughtfulness.  I thought that for sure he would blow my feeble efforts out of the water.

David from college;  “Dear Granny, I am sorry that I have not written sooner, but I have been busy at school.  I want to thank you for the ten shiny dimes you sent me for Valentine’s day.  I am sure that I will put them to good use.”

And then I spotted a thank you note from my cousin Ralph.

Ralph from college:  “Dear Granny, I can’t believe that Christmas was already a month ago, so sorry that I am so late in getting back to you.  But I just wanted to thank you for the Christmas check, and to also let you know that you are the best grandmother in this whole wide, ever-expanding universal infinity.”

Okay, so Ralph gets points for creative hyperbole, but absolutely every thank you note I read, all of mine and all of my siblings, uniformly apologized for tardiness.  All in all, I think that I more than held my own.  My notes would quickly dispense with the actual thank you and provide updates on my life – what courses I was taking at college, plans for a summer job.  Probably just what my grandmother was eager to learn, particularly since both of us had probably long since forgotten the collapsible purse.

Of course, now I have turned into my mother as I cajole my kids into writing thank you notes, although to my credit I generally hold off until January 1st.  I even got them small embossed note cards so that they would not be overwhelmed by the expanse of a large blank page.   But I nix the email thank you or the phone call and firmly insist on the traditional hand written thank you note sent through the US Postal Service.  I also realized that no other form of communication requires penmanship, which is fast becoming a lost art.  I know that I could recognize the handwriting of all my grandparents – Granny Brown’s hurried scrawl, Granny Farwell’s more upright loopy writing, and Grampy’s which looked oddly feminine.  I spent many hours as a child creating the perfect handwriting, experimenting with slanting it backwards and then forwards, and then finally deciding that the spidery forward slanted looped style was going to be my personal style.  All of that is now gone – I don’t think that my kids could recognize my handwriting, and sometimes I forget what I thought it should look like.  And I don’t think that my kids think that their handwriting is a distinctive personal trait.  But all of that can by rectified by a proper thank you note.

However, the thank you note will remain a chore unless you actually receive one yourself.  I realized that unlike my grandmother, as an adult I have rarely received a thank you note.  Gift giving in general has dwindled on both sides of my family, so I have received very few thank notes from siblings, nieces and nephews.  Certainly my paltry collection would only require a binder clip and not a box.  But then out of the blue I received a thank you note from a cousin, not for a gift, but for a small favor, and in fact I would not have elevated it to a favored status.  I am sure she had shown her appreciation at the time, but there it was in the mail, with her own handwriting and with the added wallop of time and thought.  I was almost moved to tears at this simple act of gratitude.

Recently my husband and I joyously celebrated 25th years of wedded bliss and I realized that many of our wedding gifts (which I had dutifully written a thank you note for) had become part an integral part of our everyday lives – the white bowl with the blue flowers where I have mixed hundreds of batches of cookies, the large casserole dish that housed the jumbo turkey tetrazzini every Christmas eve, and the card table that saw frantic efforts to complete last minute dioramas.  This got me thinking again about the lost art of the thank you note.  So I sat down and wrote rethank you notes to my parent’s friends for my most memorable wedding gifts, but this time with the perspective of 25 years.  This was a huge success; I received very emotional thank you notes for my re-thank you notes.  As my husband and I often say to each other, “it doesn’t take much and it’s so easy.”  My faith in the thank you note has been reborn, and even if my dear grandmother couldn’t read my illegible notes, I am newly proud of what I had casually dismissed as a dreary chore for a dutiful granddaughter.  My new commitment is to write at least one thank you note a week.  It’s so easy.

The missing words in the follow poem consist of two sets of anagrams (like post, stop. spot), one with five letters marked with dashes (—–) and one with six letters marked with asterisks (******).   One of the anagrams in each set will rhyme with the preceding or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

Christmas is now clearly over, and it’s the —– of the New Year,

So I know my thank you note ***** are both near, dear and clear,

My mother harangues me with her increasing “I mean it” —–,

And I find paper and pen midst sighs, moans and groans.

“Dear Granny, the item you gave me is perfect and so well ******

And my tardiness in response does not mean that my thanks are diluted.

I have **** ** constantly so I think of you almost every day,

And if I really knew what this thing was, I’d have more to say.”

But now, as a recipient, I realize that the —– that were such a chore to send,

Can pack an appreciative wallop when you’re on the receiving end.







Onset, duties, tones, suited, used it, tones

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