Janet Sheridan: What happened to thank you notes?
I exited the meeting for new teachers with the words of the dictatorial principal, Mr. Bailey, ringing in my ears: “Remember no gum, no slacks, no mini-skirts. Never be late for recess or lunch duty. And I will check your lesson plans every Friday for their adherence to your grade-level curriculum.”
The fourth-grade curriculum he referred to contained a list of topics to be taught each quarter in six content areas. Studying the dittoed document that night, I noticed an asterisk in the language-arts section that indicated thank-you notes should be taught in the weeks leading up to Christmas vacation.
As a child, my siblings and I received few gifts from those not part of our immediate family, but when we did, we reluctantly gathered around our kitchen table under Mom’s supervision to express our thanks — a waste of time in our heartfelt, but unexpressed, opinion. Now I had to teach the niceties of thank-you notes to thirty-two students suffering from pre-holiday delirium. I did my best; they didn’t. But we forgave one another.
During the last faculty meeting in December, Mr. Bailey issued another decree, “Many students give their teachers Christmas presents. Some don’t. So you shouldn’t open any presents in class. Instead, take them home, open them there and then model good manners by writing thank-you notes for each.”
Evidently, I had to practice what I preached.
The day before vacation, I left school with a boxful of presents, most of them cheerfully wrapped homemade treats. That evening, while my husband and I went to a movie, our well-trained dog, commanded to stay in the TV room, followed his nose to the living-room Christmas tree, sniffed out my gifts, and indulged. We arrived home to stray bits of decorated cookies, popcorn balls, cupcakes and homemade candy along with shredded wrappings and a dizzy dog.
Later, when writing my thank-you notes, I had to generalize my appreciation: “Thank you for the delicious gift. My husband and I shared it with an unexpected guest, who also enjoyed it.”
Today, only two groups of people seem concerned about thank-you notes: those who lament their absence and those confused by them. When I researched thank-you notes online, I found lots of odd questions from perplexed folks: Do I have to send thank-you notes to family members who live with me? To the college that accepted me? To people who sent me birthday cards without money? To the parole officer who treats me good? And my favorite: “I got divorced before I got around to writing thank-you notes for the wedding presents, so I can forget about them, right?”
Then there were questions about how to deliver a thank-you. Is email OK? Can I text or twitter my thanks? Does a phone call qualify? How about voice mail? Isn’t saying thank you when the gift is handed to you enough? And from a youngster, “How can I be sure my grandpa heard me say thank you? He’s deaf.”
Opinions on these weighty issues varied. I thought the best advice came from experts who skipped the specifics and provided general guidelines: You should give thanks for anything someone has taken the time and care to give you whether it’s an object, an experience, forgiveness or assistance; and as long as you express your thanks, it doesn’t matter how you do so.
As for the students who studied thank-you notes with me in a room decorated with construction-paper Santas sporting cotton-ball beards, I asked them after vacation if they sent thank-you notes for any of their gifts; and they looked confused.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the 1st and 15th of every month.
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