Never cross a Southern dowager. Period.
Within hours of the delivery of my first wedding gift, Mom handed over an alphabetized recipe filing box replete with 3×5 index cards for documentation.
“Just do it. Now. Not later.”
That meant scrawling the name of the giver, the address, a clear description of the gift, and the dates of delivery and the dispatch of the thank-you note.
The presents rolled in, first at a trickle and then a swift flow on the day of the 30-day countdown. I feared overlooking one gift and offending the giver. All my life, I heard whispers about brides who didn’t acknowledge the generosity of others.
“These working girls [unaware that this is the preferred term for sex workers] turn up their noses at proper etiquette. One year to write a thank-you note?” The conniption fit was on.
“She wrote her mother-in-law six months later—without a how-do-you-do before that.”
“She mixed up all her cards and thanked everybody for the wrong thing. Casserole dish, my eye! I bought that child a silver gallery tray. I would be on the phone pronto if I didn’t adore her mother so.”
“Time’s up for this bride. Buffy, would you subtly ask Teeny to ask her daughter whether she received my Steuben candlesticks? That’s the only gift I haven’t checked off my wedding-present log.”
“A two-sentence scrawl! A two-sentence scrawl! That’s what she wrote—a two-sentence scrawl! And she didn’t even name the gift. ‘Thank you for the present. We enjoyed our honeymoon. Love Betsy.’”
“Tardy, tardy. She got pregnant on her honeymoon and had the audacity to thank me for the antique demi-tasse set 11 months later—after she already had thanked me for a pierced-handle baby porringer. I have half a mind to steal it back.” Fool me once, fool me twice. . . .
“Our educational system is going to rack-and-ruin because a young lady can’t string together five complete sentences. No salutation. No date. ‘Great cocktail thingies. Fabulous shower! Fun to see you at the reception. Much love!’ Thingies? They were sterling silver shrimp forks. Ye gods above!” (People in my mother’s generation always appealed to Mount Olympus in dire situations.)
I mapped out a grand strategy to knock off this project in weeks. That meant writing five to seven notes per day with different emotional themes and pitches.
Theme 1: family. “Mr. Z and I certainly appreciate the lovely towel sets! It means so much that members of our family are sharing this special occasion. . . .” Five sentences (two declaratives, two compounds, one compound-complex). Meemaws thrilled to exclamation points and giddy underlining. I reserved ultimate fervor for relatives.
Theme 2: Mom’s nearest and dearest. “I was thrilled when you and the sewing club gave that unforgettable kitchen shower. It is such an honor to be part of the neighborhood tradition. I think fondly of all the brides who have had lovely parties and brunches in your homes, and I. . . .” Five sentences citing time, place, tradition, and memories (no skimpy declaratives permitted). These ladies were very sentimental, sharing one another’s joys and sorrows—especially the state of their “old maid” daughters. Who needs underlining? I wrote straight from the heart, knowing I was dead meat if I delayed or forgot one note.
Theme 3: my parents’ friends from days of yore. “How kind of you to remember Mr. Z and me! We certainly appreciate such an original gift. I cannot wait to perch the nutcracker on my mantel at Christmas. . . . ” Four sentences. Theme 3 was fiction I made up on the spot. I didn’t know who these people were, and they didn’t know we were living dirt-poor in a 1930s hippie-fringe duplex sans mantel or other decorative flourishes. I couldn’t wait to trot that kooky nutcracker back to Russia.
Theme 4: my in-laws’ friends. “Thank you for the exquisite purple candy dish. Mr. Z. and I will enjoy using it for many years to come. I cannot wait to visit your town again. . . .” Facing alien territory, I wrote five sentences. In addition, I took the time to make each note original because somebody once told me that residents of small towns in LA (lower Alabama) compared notes. I caused an uproar because I retained my “maiden” name (10-year professional byline)—apparently shaming in-law ancestors vying to strike me with thunderbolts from on high. Indeed, this was a dire situation: “Your silver will have the wrong initial engraved on it. Surely your children’s last name won’t be Hamrick.” No problem. I never asked the jeweler to engrave my silver. What’s more, I never took to childbed.
Theme 5: burnout—draft lead sentence . . . and finish two more sentences plus one fragment and sign-off tomorrow. “Mr. Z and I deeply appreciate the cut-glass relish tray. . . .”
Mr. Z and I amicably parted ways years ago. I kept the Waterford crystal, china, and sterling silver—and bequeathed him silverplate.
My hubby’s family was a bit surprised about the popcorn poppers and vases, given they are used to red envelopes full of money. Quite sure they thought my family ripped us off. 🙂 I’ve always personalized the thank yous.
Love your comment, Karen. I could have used a few bucks. However, that is frowned upon in the South unless presented by the parental magistrates (or close family tree leaves). x
Ahhh, Catherine, I know I can always count on you for a good shake of the memory tree! I was raised in the Midwest, where thank-you notes were also de rigueur. My brother and I were marched to a table properly equipped with blank cards, envelopes, stamps and writing utensils within 24 hours of any joyous event. 😉 you didn’t even THINK about playing with that toy or wearing that new smock until the giver had been fully appreciated. My wedding thank-tous were a source of agida for me, too. God forbid you mix up a gift or overlook someone! Thanks for the giggle…
Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I will cherish it forever. I especially will be sure to bring it out for all to see when you are around!
I am enjoying reading your lovely site… The thank you notes brought bristles to my back…one of my main hassles with my in-laws–and I suppose, one of many things they didn’t like about me. 🙂
Ha. A close friend and her husband shopped their basement shelves for years for gifts for weddings they attended, passing on their own Wedding white elephant gifts still boxed and unused. To be fair, they did receive five blenders! They kept mine, ahem, which I replaced 20 years later with a shocking red modern model. Loved your post. Judy http://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/06/28/6-a-m/
Hey Judy! Thanks so much for your generous comments. Yep–know about those duplicate gifts. ; )
Sweet sweet Southern voice.
Thanks, Brenda! Dawn Quyle Landau just dropped by because of your prompts! She just received an award from BlogHer.
Hey, Catherine…”sound checking for you here. Not sure what you were requesting, though. However, on my laptop speaker, it was not loud enough to hear (but my hearing is not that great!). With earphones, it was perfect. I do love your voice.
And, as usual, your writing, along with compound-complex sentences, is terrific.
And I so don’t like it when I give a present of any kind, and receive no reply (grits teeth).
Thanks for reading. I’ve asked a few people to take a listen because the sound has been a problem, depending on the computer. I did not turn up the sound sufficiently. I need to re-record. BTW I downloaded Audacity program (free) to record/produce MP3. You just need a mic. I encourage you to record outtakes of your posts.
I love the idea of sound. I might give it a try.
What’s an “outtake”?
Loved that end note. Glad you got the good stuff!
But, of course, every southern woman gets the good stuff. : 0