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BBHQ Boomer Essays:

Remembering “Thank You”

Our Boomer-In-Charge at BBHQ, Hershel Chicowitz, writes about boomer memories and current events... from a boomer’s perspective. He is sometimes funny, sometimes provocative, some-
times a little of each. We hope you get a kick out of our Boomer Essays.

Often I hear boomers ask what they can do to help put their kids on the right path. Oh there are so many things.... but let’s start here: if your children received holiday gifts from friends, please make certain they exercise basic rules of civility. This is not the responsibility of the school, or the government, or the daycare center. It is your responsibility.

This essay is available in its entirety to all visitors. Enjoy!

Well, I managed to get through another Christmas without receiving a Chia Pet. Although it was close; I was told by several people that I bear an eerie resemblance to “Chia Guy.”

Of course, I did receive custody of the family fruitcake (the perenial gift named after my old Uncle Coot... but that’s another story). I guess it was my turn. So I'll use it as a doorstop, and then pass it onto my nephew next year.

But thinking of gifts, and this being the week after Christmas, I am reminded of another indication that I’m apparently on the far side of another social issue. Is it middle age creeping in, or am I slowing losing my mind? Or both? I guess the two kind of go together.

That was Then

When I was growing up, one of the things that my parents taught me was how and when to write thank-you letters. Every Christmas, I received a small present from Mrs. Stroh, one of my mother’s childhood friends. Mrs. Stroh lived half way across the country, and I never met her. But each year I knew that another gift from her would be under the Christmas tree. And each year, I spent the week after Christmas struggling to write her a thank-you note. To do so was not just a nice, thoughtful, pleasant thing to do. In our house, it was the law.

Each year, I also received a Christmas present from Mrs. Bonin. (My mother had a lot of friends from her childhood.) The Bonins lived on the other side of town, and in this case, I had a choice. I could write Mrs. Bonin a thank-you letter, or I could call her on the telephone, and thank her over the phone. Those were the only two options. And no matter which I chose, I had to exercise my option by the end of the year - seven days. (As an extremely shy youth, I chose the letter.)

This is Now

Now, as an adult, I have a few friends, but I don’t have any children. Nonetheless, during the last decade, I have received ten wedding invitations. Generally, they have been from my former students, and the children of my friends and colleagues. I don’t “do” weddings. But dutifully, I have sent ten wedding gifts, each addressed to the bride, following tradition (as I understand it). One invitation was from the daughter of a business colleague. I barely know the colleague, much less her daughter. In fact, I had no idea that she had a daughter. But of course, I sent a gift, noting carefully to ensure that I spelled her daughter’s name correctly. (It was Chanel, or Chantal, or Chartreuse, or one of those other designer-names.)

And out of those ten gifts, I have received exactly two thank-you notes in return. One was from my neighbors, Barbara and Don. (Apparently both Barbara and Don were raised on the same planet as I was.) The other was from my niece, Jennifer. Apparently Jennifer’s mother had given her a rudimentary understanding of the unofficial laws of inheritance: write, or be written out. Fair enough.

But of the other eight – not a word. Not a phone call, not a note, not even an acknowledgement of receipt from the bride or groom. Chanel’s mother (or whatever her name is) told me that her daughter was thrilled with the gift (without acknowledging whether she even knew what it was). Apparently, she and her daughter thought that that was enough.

It is not. As far as I know, Chanel doesn’t even exist.

Bewildered, I asked a friend what was going on. She informed me that my experience was not unusual. These are different times, different values. Young adults do things differently these days, she explained. Don't worry about it.

Well, I’m not worried – not exactly. I am offended – and angry. This kind of behavior does not represent different values – it represents an absence of values. And you may accuse me of trying to force my values on society. Well pardon my language, but damn right I am! I am offended that we live in such a rude society that we have disbanded common rules of civility.

Today, we have express mail, e-mail, voice-mail, cell phones, smartphones, call forwarding, call waiting, Blackberries, IPhones, IPads, Kindles, answering machines, text messaging, MagicJack, and Skype – not to mention the simple, first-class letter. Can you hear me now? (No; Facebook and Twitter do not count. You cannot send a proper thank-you note in 143 characters. No!)

But apparently, we’re too busy, or too involved; or maybe we just don’t know how to write any more. Maybe it’s just another sign of the failure of the Reagan-Bush-Bush administrations.

I think that we can – and must – do better. We are spending too much time teaching our kids how to use condoms, and not enough time teaching them how to act like responsible citizens.

By the way, I no longer receive a Christmas gift from either Mrs. Bonin or Mrs. Stroh. But I send them each a Christmas card. And they send me one, too.

John Kralik has written a marvelous book describing the unexpected benefits of expressing gratitude.

From a review of the book:

Mr. Kralik finds that the act of expressing thanks changes not only him, but his circumstances as well. He doesn’t exactly call it karma, but the goodwill he engenders seems to reverse the trajectory of his life. He even finds himself literally at the door of a church (after a bad fall while running) and he decides to go in, regularly. I suspect that had something to do with his turnaround as well.

In the end, Mr. Kralik realizes: “With the help of my three hundred thank-you notes, I had examined the life I had viewed as perfectly awful and found that it was a lot better than I had been willing to acknowledge.” And that's a great lesson for all of us to learn.

“A Simple Act of Gratitude” is available in hardback, paperback, and for the Kindle.

Click here to learn more about the book.

The Last Word

Often I hear boomers ask what they can do to help put their kids on the right path. Oh there are so many things.... but let’s start here: if your children received holiday gifts from friends, please make certain they exercise basic rules of civility. This is not the responsibility of the school, or the government, or the daycare center. It is your responsibility.

Thank you.

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