Emily Parnell: The tell-tale heart beats for skipped thank yous

07/17/2014 1:56 PM

07/22/2014 10:43 AM

The tell-tale evidence lies beneath my floorboards. Calling out to me in the night, causing my conscience to wail out in pain.

True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am…

Go ahead, tear up the planks of my home, you will find the hideous evidence of my crime. I admit the deed! In the depths of my basement, there is a box filled with unsent thank you notes.

Read this and accuse me — convict me. It is a heinous crime, indeed. Haul me away to etiquette prison, lock me up and throw the key into the Missouri River.

These date back nearly 12 years — artifacts from my younger years, from our wedding. We wrote them. Oh, how we wrote. Mostly me, though my husband did help. My hand stiffened, my fingers went numb, pain shot from my knuckles to my elbow from note after note, which I took care to imbue with specific, heartfelt thanks and promises to use, enjoy and think of the giver each time I did. We addressed and stamped and licked and sealed and hoped not to meet with the same demise as George Costanza’s fiancé.

We drove them to the mailbox. Off they went, save a few. I wrote them — oh I did. My misshapen claw scribbled some so illegibly that they were placed in a “redo” pile. Others came from names I did not recognize, who did not even appear on our invitation list, and I vowed to hunt to the ends of the earth to find their addresses. A few were for gifts so special that I felt a special thank you was in order. It was the final, tricky few that have lived in my basement for so long, chiding me from beneath the floorboards.

I shouldn’t have let them slip by the wayside, hence the occasional panic attacks. I could send them now, perhaps, at least some of them. What would you think you received a thank you note 12 years after the fact? I didn’t mind the Christmas card I received in April.

But not everyone is forgiving. Thank you notes mean different things to different people. I’ve heard vehement complaints from people who gave a gift and never received a note. The rules were not followed, the gift unappreciated. It becomes a dark cloud of perceived ungratefulness that hangs over the person who failed miserably, unable to send a simple thank you note.

I will offer an alternative point of view. I’m not expecting much support, and there would undoubtedly be very few people who would join my rally to eradicate the writing of thank you notes. When I receive a snail-mailed note in the mail, I think, “Oh, she already told me thanks. This was unnecessary. Nice — but unnecessary.” Then I look at the cute card and briefly consider the possibility of keeping it to try to recycle it in some craft I’ll never get around to. I then throw it in the recycling bin, feeling guilty, as though I’ve just thrown away $2 and someone’s time, and I imagine the pain they feel in their hand. It would feel the same, but might be more fun, if someone told me thank you in person, handed me $2, which I would then throw in the trash, and did 15 jumping jacks.

I’m sure my viewpoint isn’t “right,” and I would find little support in an anti-thank you note revolution. But I believe gifts are free — gifts with expectations and strings are sales transactions.

Running into a friend and noticing she’s wearing a necklace I gave her brings me much greater joy than receiving a card in the mail ever could. I love a texted photo of my nephew playing with a toy we’ve given him. A phone call — an email — they all feel less rigid, more organic.

When giving a gift, I cut the strings at the get-go. Do what you like with it. Thank me how/when/if you want. But please, under no circumstances, should my gift make you feel guilty. You owe me nothing. I gave it to you because I wanted to.

Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell writes for Diversions each week.

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