Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thank You Notes

Writing thank you notes has always been hard. It started when I first learned to write and I was expected to send thank you notes to relatives who sent me gifts, whether I liked them or not. And since I wrote on full sized pieces of lined paper, I couldn't get away with a one-sentence note, like I can with email today. I had to think of enough words to fill that page.

I received gifts like outgrown swimsuits from my male cousins. Or lacy underpants that needed to be hand-washed from my grandmother. I thought it was bad enough that my mother made me wear the boys' trunks in the wading pool in our yard. It was unfair that I had to write a thank you note for this embarrassing ugly suit that my cousins had probably peed in. And as far as the lacy underwear goes – I don't like lace, especially where it itches. And who likes to hand wash? Especially underwear?

So, I would write very thing-oriented notes. "Thank you for the swim suit. I like to play in the wading pool and run in the sprinklers. I hope we have sunny days soon. I like the color blue."

My mom always censored my letters, so I couldn't write things like – I'm a girl. I want to wear girl swim suits like the other girls. You could send me t-shirts or shorts, but please not things you wear on your naked bottom.

Finally one year I did manage to tell my grandmother that I hate hand washing. And she never sent me anything that needed to be hand-washed again. She did care about what I wanted, but she never asked.

I liked knowing I had relatives who thought about me. But why didn't they have to write a full page letter to me? I'd rather have had that than any of their gifts.

As I got older, I was supposed to write about feelings. Some people got around that problem by buying cards at the store. But cards never say what I feel or think. I think in terms of stories. Only stories bring out emotions for me – not words like "You are so dear to me," or "Hugging you is like a sunshiny day." Besides my relatives lived thousands of miles way. I rarely saw or hugged them. They were photos, and every few years we might visit them or they might visit us. We always got a flat tire if we went to visit them and my father would swear and blame the flat on my mother. One of us always got sick, but that never prevented the road trips.

I was never satisfied with my thank-you notes. I would put them in a drawer. Unless my mother nagged me for them, they didn't get mailed. Somehow I thought that writing them would communicate through the ether and my relatives would get the message. Writing thank you letters was kind of like the mail system in Dr. Doolittle. In that book people wrote letters. They put them in mail boxes, but nobody picked them up. There was a disconnect between wanting to communicate and actually communicating. Even if the letters got mailed, I didn't feel I had communicated.

I've come to the conclusion that the words do not exist that will express my emotions.

A friend wrote today that she's got a rash all over as a side-effect from prescription medicine she took. Now I know that not only is my friend sick, but she's feeling worse than before she went to the doctor. I want to fix her health problems. I want to send energy from my body and thoughts to her so she'll feel better. There is no picture of flowers or rhyming couplet that will adequately tell her my wishes for her health and comfort, plus my selfish thoughts that she can't participate fully in our communication until she feels better. It's like a flat. Except that our bodies aren't mechanical and we can't just change the tire and continue on our journey. So even my analogy doesn't work. As I started to say – the words do not exist.

Thank you is the most ineffable feeling of all. Thank you for thinking of me. Thank you for giving me something you hope will be useful or pleasing. Thank you for being part of my life. Thank you for clicking with me.

That sensation of clicking is what I really value. And frankly – thank you for clicking doesn't say it at all.


  1. It does to me my sweetest, oldest friend.

  2. Thank you! You got my attention...thank you notes say it all for me. I had to write to my Grandmother every Sunday...took me years to figure out why. And now I am a Grandmother and would love to receive a "Thank you note" but with technology...its the clicking that says it all these days. Thank you!

  3. Alison -- happy to click with you any time.

    Bluesgirl -- yes -- I do like to hear from my grandchildren -- not just thank you notes, but activity notes, thought notes -- anything.