First of all, I must confess I am very pleased to NOT be living like great grandma right now. As we speak, my very favorite new household gadget – the one that will save a thousand housewives from cleaning drudgery – is cleaning my floors for me and terrifying my dog. My Roomba has set to its task most avidly and flits about the floor, sucking up dog hair and other rubbish while I lounge on the sofa, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather wafting through my open windows.
It’s been a long time since the wedding, and yet here we are, still chipping away at the thank you notes. We could make it easier on ourselves. We could print generic thank you cards or write a canned message in each card that incorporates the gift that was given by each guest. But I really wanted to do them up right (which, given how much time has passed, has led me to do them wrong by taking months and months to complete them).
Emily Post says, “IN writing notes or letters, as in all other forms of social observance, the highest achievement is in giving the appearance of simplicity, naturalness and force.”
I can’t imagine what she means by force, but she makes a good point about simplicity and naturalness. Her 1922 book on etiquette has a whole chapter on notes and shorter letters and specifically goes about declaring the best approach to letter-writing, even claiming that a man should be able to select the most excellent, organized wife by screening his paramour’s letters.
The letter you write, whether you realize it or not, is always a mirror which reflects your appearance, taste and character. A “sloppy” letter with the writing all pouring into one corner of the page, badly worded, badly spelled, and with unmatched paper and envelope—even possibly a blot—proclaims the sort of person who would have unkempt hair, unclean linen and broken shoe laces; just as a neat, precise, evenly written note portrays a person of like characteristics. Therefore, while it can not be said with literal accuracy that one may read the future of a person by study of his handwriting, it is true that if a young man wishes to choose a wife in whose daily life he is sure always to find the unfinished task, the untidy mind and the syncopated housekeeping, he may do it quite simply by selecting her from her letters.
When asked if he chose me for my neat and tidy letters, my husband replied, “Yes. Was there another measure I was supposed to use?”
Oof. Just don’t tell my husband about all the sloppy mistakes I let through on the notes I worked on today. (Alright! You caught me! My linens ARE unclean!)
As I read Mrs. Post’s chapter on letter writing, I became aware that there are a great many letter-writing mores that I was ignorant of. Apparently, the appearance of envelopes is of utmost importance.
There’s a whole protocol for stamping stationary that I not only didn’t know about, but am struggling to even understand. If one is in mourning, it is apparently very important that you use the proper stationary, lest someone suspect you of not being grieved enough.
Persons who are in mourning use black-edged visiting cards, letter paper and envelopes. The depth of black corresponds with the depth of mourning and the closeness of relation to the one who has gone, the width decreasing as one’s mourning lightens.
“If I die, it better be a whole page of black and an inch of writing,” my husband most seriously informs me.
As for letters of thanks for wedding presents, Emily offers this advice: “Although all wedding presents belong to the bride, she generally words her letters of thanks as though they belonged equally to the groom, especially if they have been sent by particular friends of his.”
It seems that we have all made missteps on that accord. My husband wrote maybe half of the notes and I feel fairly certain that the “Bottom’s Up!” bottle opener from his cover band was not chosen with only me in mind.
As ridiculous and arbitrary as some of her advice seems on the subject, Emily Post’s sample letters are the epitome of kindness and graciousness, if not a little gushy.
Dear Mrs. Worldly:
All my life I have wanted a piece of jade, but in my wanting I have never imagined one quite so beautiful as the one you have sent me. It was wonderfully sweet of you and I thank you more than I can tell you for the pleasure you have given me.Affectionately,
Mary Smith.Dear Aunt Kate:
Really you are too generous—it is outrageous of you—but, of course, it is the most beautiful bracelet! And I am so excited over it, I hardly know what I am doing. You are too good to me and you spoil me, but I do love you, and it, and thank you with all my heart.
It has become evident to me that I am punctuating my letters wrong. I must place a period after my name. Otherwise, someone might become confused, expecting my letter to go on when it is in fact over.
ONE LAST REMARK
Write the name and address on the envelope as precisely and as legibly as you can. The post-office has enough to do in deciphering the letters of the illiterate, without being asked to do unnecessary work for you!
…Duly noted, Emily. Duly noted…
Armed with this advice, I shall carry on with my own thank you notes. Even though they are now six months late. While Emily’s 1922 book does not even deign to acknowledge someone waiting to send a thank you note, the Emily Post Institute website has this advice to offer, from Emily’s great-grand-daughter-in-law herself, Peggy Post.
Contrary to popular myth, the happy couple does not have a year’s grace period in which to write their notes. All thank-you notes should be written within three months of the receipt of the gift.
While Emily Post is probably rolling in her grave in horror at how long our notes are taking us, I am heartened by Peggy’s reference to a popular myth that we have a year to send them. Who came up with that myth? It is an excellent myth and one which I am very interested in perpetuating…