A Simple “Thank You”
Teaching Our Children the Importance of a Hand-Written Note
article by Cindy G. Foust
In case you haven’t noticed something about me and my column, let me bring it to your attention that this writer likes to do a lot of research when bringing our readers the written word every month. You know, kind of like Alexander Graham Bell of the literary world. I just think it’s important to educate our readers on subjects that are current and relevant, and when it’s an issue that I am clearly not an expert in, I hit the books (well, the Google button, but I bet Mr. Bell would have used a search engine if he had had access to one.) So where did my research bring me this month? Better yet, did I have a life experience in the last month that so moved me to write a column about it? Quite frankly, the answer is no. In fact, I have had what is commonly referred to as “writer’s block” this month. Oh, I know there are plenty of mundane things that I could write about that are somewhat “ho-hum,” but after my “Kathleen” month, I have felt compelled to write about something as page turning as her random act of kindness. And, it was her random act of kindness that got me to thinking that I sure wish, even after I wrote my column, that I had her address to write her a thank-you note.
I know many of our readers will remember the days when we wrote and received a handwritten notes in the mail, thanking us for something that we had been a party to. Before I get butchered by some of our BayouLife scholars, I do know there are those out there that still handwrite thank you notes. But not this writer. And if I’m not writing thank you notes, chances are my children are not thanking anyone with their pen, either.
As I probed this subject, my thoughts, which are never far from my own children, got me to thinking. Am I letting my children down, in the parenting circuit, by not teaching them this “old school” courtesy protocol? I mean, I make sure they say thank you and please, yes m’am and no m’am, and not to burp at the table, but note writing? Sadly, this hasn’t been on my list of parenting priorities.
As I probed this subject further, it began to dawn on me that I might have my neck in the parenting guillotine, but maybe for the wrong reason. Of course I want my children to have good manners and not be “those kids” that cause my friends to avoid my phone call, in case I was dropping by their house and bringing my “heathens.”
I just got to thinking that a lesson in “note writing,” however, might not necessarily have to be just to thank someone for a sweater or gift card to the mall. This lesson might actually eclipse the importance of writing a hand-written thank you note for a gift (I know, Emily Post would grieve over that statement and send me straight to the Emily Post Institute for Thank You Note Writing), or at least be just as valuable if that note is sent to someone our children admire. Incidentally, I don’t mean Taylor Swift or Lebron James. While those are people that our children certainly want to emulate, (as long as they don’t lick a wrecking ball or want to do demoralizing acts in a cemetery) I’m talking about someone who has a positive, caring or inspirational impact on our children, that they actually know.
A teacher? A coach? A grandparent? A sibling? A friend? A pastor? The list could go on and on. I think the important thing here is, number one, that the recipient of the letter be someone that is in their close circle. And number two, that the note be a handwritten letter of gratitude and thanksgiving for the influence they have had in their lives.
Do we have to be a young child or teenager to participate in this exercise (albeit it might be excruciating for some, who consider signing a check the extent of their handwritten anything.) I write frequently on role models and positive influences in our children’s lives, but what if we went a step further with our kids and made the hot topic at the dinner table about someone that our children admire, rather than who we think is going to the win the Super Bowl? I personally think this lost art could make a comeback and we Southerners, who profess and are recognized for our good manners and etiquette, might could start this movement of good will through the use of nothing more than a sheet of paper (Emily Post does say we all need good stationery, just saying) and a pen.
Rather than rely on my trusty Google button, I decided, before bringing this brainchild to our readers, to try this out on my own two literary guinea pigs, ages 16 and 9 (it’s always good to conduct these experiments around the dinner table, with good food serving as the distraction for this rather unsuspecting conversation.) Frankly, I wasn’t surprised in the least by their “nominations” for the person or persons who has influenced them the most, but what I was surprised by, was their willingness to participate in “Project Emily Post a la Cindy Foust Style” (well, not my little girl, for you see, she would eat dog food smashed between french bread if I told her it was good.)
They did however, have questions for me…which also took me by surprise. Who would mom write to? There are many people who will be getting a note from me over the next few months, some I wish were still here for me to write to (Haynes Louis Harkey, Jr…now there’s a column for the next time I get writer’s block), but I certainly have plenty of influential people in my life who are still here. One such person, is my nearly 90-year-old grandmother.
My children, I think, looked a little puzzled at my first nomination (like this is the Emily Post Oscars) and were a little curious about what I would say to her…my grandmother who has lived a very quiet and unpretentious life on her “hill” for nearly 60 years. I think, kids, I would start by thanking her for creating a home that I never wanted to leave, and when I was a child, that I had to be bribed and threatened to make go home. This extended stay at her house always included homemade french fries and my heating blanket turned on prior to my getting into bed. I would thank her for being one of the most steadfast and honorable people that I have ever known, who is loyal to her family to a fault. I would thank her for living her life in the simplest of ways, but in that simple life (because readers, she has it right), she has peace and joy in her non-stressed heart everyday. I would thank her for proving that you can make a dollar stretch until George’s face falls off; for proving that you shouldn’t plant your tomatoes and cucumbers too close together; and that if you drink a little vinegar everyday, you will keep most illnesses at bay (Dr. Seuss, Emily Post style). Finally, I would thank her for teaching me that some study in the “good book” keeps you grounded and loving your family and friends, even when they stumble, should be one of your greatest commissions.
Okay, so my kids may have looked like they had just watched a sappy Hallmark channel movie, but the important thing is, they listened. I know as parents, we can’t always expect our children to “get” everything we expect them to or even want them to, but every now and again, if we say it loud enough or long enough, we can penetrate that adolescent layer. Maybe note writing at your house isn’t a priority; before I got writer’s block and went through the steps to work through it, it certainly wasn’t at mine. But I have come to realize, in my 48 years on this earth, that sincere gratitude can take you a long way and letting people know how much you appreciate them will take you even further.
Most of the time, it’s the simple things in life that give us the most pleasure, and I truly believe, a simple act of “note” writing will make the day of someone that is least expecting, but very deserving of a letter of gratitude and appreciation. And don’t be surprised when one of those letters comes right back to you, from the appreciative heart of one of your children. You can thank me readers, by nominating me for the Emily Post scholarship award…I simply must learn to eat with the right fork.