My grandma on my mom’s side has confessed that she eliminates gift-giving to her children and grandchildren once they have failed to write a thank-you note on more than one consecutive occasion. I suppose corners must be cut when your gift-giving extends to 13 children, 11 children-in-law, 26 grandchildren, and a small black cat named Winston (the cat is exempt from the note rule, as it is challenging to write without an opposable thumb). The notes of gratitude are not mere gestures, but, collectively, they have taken on the role of Blair family historian. They are the simple efforts that tie our family together.
Amidst the dusty leather bound novels, yellowed dollar-bin paperbacks and framed pictures of Civil War generals on their bulging shelf-lined walls, my grandparents have reserved a single bottom rack for a tidy and tight collection of two-inch plastic Wal-Mart binders in every putrid, muted color not found in the rainbow: dusty rose, burnt orange, mauve, desert olive, faded navy. Uniform black Sharpie-scribed names queue neatly across the spines of the binders on quartered note-card pieces.
In the book marked with my name, the first pages contain thank-you notes that were written in my mother’s connected not-quite-script print, but they are signed across the bottom in my youthful font that resembles twigs arranged on the paper. As the years progress in my book, so does the quality and appearance of my lettering. My mother’s hand quickly disappears as my own writing dominates the collection of stationery papers.
As the pages turn with each year in my life, the words seem to procreate. One line of thanks for my very own five-dollar bill and signed has evolved into an introductory paragraph detailing the wrenching decision process of spending my five-dollar bill, a brief section questioning what their lives are busy with these days, a comic interlude about the failures and successes of my life and relationships, a hearty thanks, salutation, signed. My notes are my growth as a caring contributor to my family identity; they are an acknowledgment of relationships and the value of giving, not receiving.
A fading formality, an old-fashioned pen-to-paper ritual, a disappearing duty in the e-world of instant gratification, thank you notes are a brief moment of poise and selflessness that recognize the kind efforts of a friend who remembered your forgettable 51st, a host who did all the dishes while you spun your finger around the rim of your not-quite-empty glass of merlot, a stranger who returned your wallet with every penny still jingling in the coin purse.
In my Grandparents’ house, each small note from a different script or scrawl is unified by our devotion to a tradition. I believe that the delivery of a letter looped with words in neat lines across the page and sealed the old-fashioned way– with a moist outline of lips to secure the flap across the seams — will always define and defend a sincere commitment to good character. A character that revels in the human ability for thoughtfulness and giving.
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