I've never been that attentive when it comes to written correspondence. When I was a kid, my mother would make me and my brothers write the inevitable thank you notes to the relatives that sent us the Christmas gifts that year.
Because I was a standard male cuss, I would do anything I could to escape the chores I hated. When I was unable to evade those chores, I would try to figure out ways to make them take less time. Escaping the letter writing chore was a near impossibility. One birthday, after receiving a rosary from my godmother, I did manage to put off writing the thank you letter for several days. I had a very good reason too; my hands hurt like crazy because blisters and red splotches covered them completely.
Of course, when my mother caught me outside rolling up wads of poison ivy between my fingers, she smacked my ears. Then she gave me a sharpened pencil, three sheets of paper and an unopened bottle of Calamine lotion.
Over the years, it became a bit of a production line trying to write a thank-you letter. I developed a form letter just for thanking people I rarely saw for gifts I never used.
Consequently, I wrote a series of letters to my godmother that all began with,
“Dear Aunt Juanita, thank you for the [insert name of gift here].”
Now the thing is, because these gift-receiving events usually revolved around birthdays or Christmas, I was usually hyped up on several pounds of sugar, and could barely remember my name, much less what a relative might have given me. Sometimes writing a letter to my aunt was a bit of a crapshoot. When I was eight, she gave me a tie. How many eight-year-olds wear ties, much less know how to tie them? I would look at the loot I managed to receive for Christmas or my birthday, choose the item that I would never have picked out for any reason, and thank her for it. I'd be willing to bet there were several years when I thanked her for gifts she never actually gave to me.
But my letter continued:
“Your gift is a really [insert an adjective that isn't the word 'really'] gift that I will [cherish/use/appreciate, or enjoy).”
The one year I said I “really-really” liked the prayer book she gave me, she became a little sarcastic when we visited and I said she made really great chocolate chip cookies. She looked at me over the rims of her glasses and said, “You like those cookies? Really-really like? Do you think you might use that prayer book to really-really pray to God so you can really-really get more of those cookies?” My godmother was wicked smart and I could see where this was going, so I just grabbed another cookie and ran out the door, a “Thank-you-Aunt-Juanita-bye-bye” trailing behind me.
I learned in school that it is polite to ask questions when you write a letter, so I always had the next line in every correspondence.
“How did you know that I needed a [insert name of gift]?”
I know how she picked gifts for me. She was pretty much convinced that I was an ornery rascal who would sell his soul to the devil for a wet firecracker and a book of used matches. She always picked out gifts that would either save my stained soul or at least help me to behave long enough so that my parents wouldn't murder me for setting the house on fire...again.
When I turned 13, she gave me the book, “Miss Manners Guide to Etiquette for Successful Teenagers”. I think I used the book to prop up the corner of my wobbly desk for a few years.
I would save the last line of my letter to send back my own subliminal messages to my well-meaning relative.
“Well, I have to go now. After I've [studied/used/worn] this amazing [insert name of gift], I have to start mowing lawns so that I can earn enough money for the [motorcycle/poisonous snake/hang glider] that I hope to have soon.
“Your loving nephew.”
Unfortunately, my subliminal messages were about as effective as my aunt's futile attempts to change me into a polite upstanding young man.
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