The Simple Art of the Thank You Note

When I was five years old, my parents divorced. My father was in the United States Army, stationed in Heidelberg, Germany where I was born. My mother and I moved in with her parents, sister and brother in Saint Albans, Queens, New York City. I was already reading and writing by then, so my mother began to impress upon me the importance of staying in contact with my father via letters and cards. There was no greater feeling than to receive mail from my father from overseas with my full name in his need script: Master Sean Frederick Forbes. A piece of correspondence specifically for me! I remember my grandfather telling me, “Enjoy it now, boy. Later on, you’ll be getting nothing but bills in the mail. That’s when the headache begins.” I misunderstood him because I knew that “bills” meant dollars, so I couldn’t fathom why getting these “bills” in the mail would one day eventually become a woe. Back then, receiving mail addressed specifically to me was better than eating bowl after bowl of ice cream. It meant that I was being acknowledged.

When I turned seven years old, my father’s eldest sister mailed me a package: a hardcover book of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe. Unfortunately, due to constant moving over the years, this book has been lost, but I can still remember her inscription in the book: “To Sean, I hope you enjoy reading this book. Love, Aunty Lucy.” My aunt admitted to me years later that a few months before my seventh birthday, she had asked me if I liked to read. I emphatically replied “No,” and this saddened her. So, like the good aunt and mentor that she has become, she bought Steptoe’s book for me. It was colorful, with glossy pages, and the storyline captured my attention. My mother read it to me first, then I read it by myself, and later on I would read it to my younger cousins—I had dreams of being a writer and teacher back then. Very soon after receiving the book, I called my aunt and thanked her, but I do remember taking it upon myself to write her a thank you note as well. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, whether it was on white-lined or yellow-lined paper, but I wrote the note, asked my mother for help with the remittance on the envelope and of course for a stamp. I felt good about myself, like an almost adult, especially when I dropped the envelope in the blue mailbox a few blocks away from my house. I trusted that the note would make it safely to my aunt’s house in Teaneck, New Jersey, and it did! Thus began my lifelong penchant for sending thank you notes.

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