One horrible weekend a few years ago, one of our dearest friends and down the street neighbors called to let us know that she thought her father was in the last stages of his life. Minutes or hours to go. Could we help with the children? Of course. Duh. Always. She and her husband had to hightail it to Atlanta.
Unfortunately, she was correct. Her father passed away that weekend.
Immediately, I went to the drawer of the secretary in our bedroom containing my stationery.
I can promise you one thing and one thing only. If a friend’s family member dies, I will sit down and write that friend before I can even shed the first tear. It’s what I was taught to do. It’s all I know how to do to aid the afflicted.
I will pull out the stationery.
I will pull out the blue ink pen.
I will sit at my kitchen table and allow the tears to guide the words.
During that one horrible weekend, I sat down and wrote to my neighbor. I then wrote her name on the outside of the notecard envelope along with her address. I then wrote “By hand” in the lower left hand corner of the envelope. I then marched myself down the street to slide the note in her door. The urgency required it.
When my neighbor and family returned to Charleston from Atlanta after the funeral, the note was waiting for her.
About a week later, she was able to tell me without tearing up just what that note meant to her. She still has it. She says it was the most meaningful note she received when her father died.
I wrote it on my engraved stationery. But, I could have written to her on the back of a brown paper bag, and it would have been as effective.
I implore you to write it down.
Write it down.
Please write the sympathy letter to the sick, the condolence letter to the friend, the thank you note to the giver of the presents, the hostess and host of the party, the provider of the feast.
In 1992, when I was in college, a family friend died unexpectedly of a heart attack while watering bushes in his front yard. I could not get home for the funeral. I did write to his new widow and his children. The new widow mentioned the note to my mother for years.
I am great friends with a brother and a sister in the same family. When their papa died after a long, long, long illness I wrote both of them. They compared their letters to make sure I was not just copying. Of course I wasn’t.
Another friend’s father died in 2009. I barely knew the man, but his son was, and is, a great pal. Again, I wrote the note to my friend. He and I were talking about the importance of writing the other day. He said that he now writes to express his sympathy the moment he hears of a death. He claims to have taken that page right out of my playbook.
However, the play book is not mine. It’s my mother’s and father’s.
They modeled by example, as I have seen them put pen to paper for decades and decades.
Every year at Christmas, after birthdays, after any graduation, after any type of kindness, our parents made us sit down and write a thank you note.
The note written thusly was destined for the trash:
Dear So and So,
Thank you for the Rubiks cube. I like it a lot. Thanks, again –Hamlin
(Rubik’s Cube Exemplar, No. 1)
Tear it up.
“That’s not very thoughtful, Son. So and So went to the trouble to get you that Rubik’s cube when they were in New York. I think a few more lines would be appropriate.”
Nothing quite like parental guilt.
We were edited and required to write legitimate notes with legitimate vocabulary and wording and true thoughts. Even at the age of six, such writing skills were demanded of me. I am beyond glad that they were.
The following would have been acceptable:
Dear So and So,
Thank you for the Rubiks cube. I look forward to solving it. They are more difficult to solve than they would appear. Thanks for pounding the pavement in New York to find one for me, too. There was a story on the news about them the other night. Did you know that the man who invented them is an architect from Hungary? I hope I can live up to his creation. I hope to see you soon. Gratefully –
(Rubik’s Cube Exemplar No. 2)
In the South, note writing is a big deal.
We still write the sympathy card and the thank you note.
We still write to the sick.
We still write to say congratulations.
We give our children calling cards and stationery from a young, young age and make them learn to write a well penned epistle.
I have sent my daughters back upstairs to their desks to start over when they write more of the Rubik’s Cube Exemplar No. 1 instead of Rubik’s Cube Exemplar No. 2.
Back in my 20’s, I remember my parents remarking about notes received from young couples thanking them for wedding presents.
My father and my mother would critique the quality of the writing.
“Hmmm….seems like they just filled in the blank on this one.”
“I don’t think we even gave them a silver spoon. George, did we give them a silver spoon?”
“Now, Yancey, you know I don’t remember what we gave them.”
“Well, they wrote us a three line note for what was more than a three line present whether or not it was a silver spoon.”
They also took notice of the couples who never wrote.
I have a good friend whose mother actually keeps wedding invitations until such time as she receives a thank you note from the happy couple. She has a stack of invitations of brides and grooms who still have never written her a thank you note. Believe me, she knows exactly who has not written her. To a person. Some pushing thirty years later.
I can’t imagine not writing notes to people at the best of times and the worst of times.
I have the tools to do it. It kind of is all about the paper, even if I said the brown paper bag would work.
Luckily, we have access to the best of stationers. Literally, the best: Arzberger Stationers in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Look them up, please.
Back in 1997, Mary Perrin’s dear friend and Davidson College roomie Alex Faulk Jones worked at Arzberger. She hooked us up.
In addition to helping with our wedding invitations, Alex helped with our personal stationery, calling cards, note cards. I only just ran out of my personal stationery some nineteen (19) years later.
When we had to re-up, we contacted our pal Elizabeth Edwards who is now one of the creative directors at Arzberger. She hooked us up. She hooked our children up.
See…here’s the proof:
When I say that Arzberger is the best, it’s not an opinion. It’s fact at this point.
Arzberger has been engraving, embossing, printing, cutting, and pressing since 1922.
They know what they’re doing.
They have re-made our engraving plates more than once.
They even put our stationery on their website, which is way cool.
(That should earn me at least a 60% discount on all future orders. Right, Elizabeth Edwards? Right?)
I highly recommend some good stationery, whether from Arzberger or a local stationery store or even an office supply company.
I highly recommend using it.
When the time comes for a thank you, a condolence, a celebration, write it down. Mail it. Don’t text. Don’t email. Write it down.
Make it thoughtful. (See, e.g., Rubik’s Cube Exemplar No. 2)
Make it timely.
In May, we received a thank you note from a friend thanking us for coming to a party. We had already written to that same friend thanking them for hosting us at said party.
All of those notes back and forth reminded me of the old joke about Junior Leaguers not participating in certain group activities …too many thank you notes.
Seriously, write it down. Send the note.
Who still does that?
We Southerners do.
Who should still do that?
Write it down.