It is the season of giving -- and depression. It is not just the lack of sun as the nights grow longer moving closer to the winter solstice, but the lack of resources that makes us unhappy. Those who have give and those who have not . . . say nothing and hide. People never realize how little it takes to say thank you and believe that giving something of less cost would be rude. The best thing, many people believe, is to do and say nothing and nothing could be farther from the truth. Manners and kindness cost very little.
Who among us would but put out or frown when receiving a letter from a friend or acquaintance, something that did not for once contain a bill, but a piece of someone life shared in a few lines of type or handwriting? I always smile when I go to the mailbox and find, instead of bills and a mountain of catalogs and advertisements, a card or a letter. That someone took the time to write -- or type -- a letter means so much.
I prefer to write my notes and letters longhand, although I have in the past typed up letters and sent them. I carried on long correspondences with many writers, friends, and family. Sadly, many of those pen pals are gone, but I still keep writing. It costs very little to write a letter or send a card, a few pennies for the envelope and paper and 45 cents for the stamp. A small cost, but a very big reward in strengthening the ties of friendship and sending a bit of our lives and memories into another's safe keeping. If you cannot afford a computer (rare these days), there are lots of libraries around that will let you use their computers and the cost for printing out the letters is about 10 cents a page, at least at our local library. I have often used the library for research and when my computer is being repaired and I wanted to get something out as soon as possible. Add 45 cents for the stamp and instant happiness, or as instant as it ever gets with the U. S. Snail.
If someone in better financial circumstances sends a gift at birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays -- like the holidays coming up -- I was taught a thank you card is the best way to say thank you, and yet gifts are sent and the recipients seldom even acknowledge the gift with a text message, IM, or mention on Facebook. A handwritten or typed card is obviously out of the question, and yet good manners cost nothing.
Perhaps the recipient is unable or uncomfortable with writing. A phone call works as well. In a small way, it is rather like going to the doctor for a biopsy or tests and because there is nothing wrong the doctor never calls, thinking that if the news was bad you would expect a call. No news is good news. In the matter of a personal gift, no news is quite simply no news . . . and pretty rude. Don't get me wrong. I often prefer rude, but only when polite responses are ignored. There is a time for rude and a time for thanks. Telling the difference is fairly simple.
Yet, what if you cannot respond in kind to a friend's gift? Isn't it better to stay silent than to expose your poverty? No. Not ever. Think how you would feel if you sent a friend a gift -- or gifts over several years -- and received neither a thank you nor a gift in exchange? How would you feel?
Inexpensive gifts are just as precious as ostentatious and expensive gifts. So you can't afford that 250-foot yacht or the diamond studded toilet seat with the built-in warmer and cell phone charging station, there are lots of other options.
Homemade gifts are the best, be it food for friends and family nearby or a handmade card. A gift of found items fashioned into jewelry or Xmas tree ornaments is always acceptable. Some of my favorite ornaments are those made by friends or even ones I made in more difficult times. One such time, I made a set of ornaments for Beanie, my youngest sister, and she still uses them on her tree every year. I made the ornaments out of scraps and bought 12 grapevine wreaths for about $1.00 and the result was more than 20 years of memories -- for both of us. A homemade gift card for housecleaning for someone who is working extra jobs or shifts to make ends meet or someone having health problems is a wonderful gift, rather like offering to do chores for a brother or sister in exchange for a favor later. In that case, the favor would be a heartfelt thank you for a gift you received from them instead of a night off doing dishes because you want to go to a movie or on a date. Different times, different reasons, but the result is the same -- everyone is happy with the swap.
A $5 or $10 gift card for coffee or lunch is a wonderful thank you and gift. You might even consider such a gift card for soldiers who will spend their holidays overseas. I'm a big fan of Cup of Joe at Green Beans and budget a little to send a hot cup of coffee to say my thanks for all the soldiers do standing in harm's way on foreign shores.
There are times when a phone call and a chat that lasts more than 5 minutes is a welcome gift and a wonderful way to say thank you. These days, the call costs next to nothing, and hearing a friendly voice is always welcome, even if it is just to offer thanks or catch up. If there is time for watching television, there is time for a phone call. My Uncle Bob doesn't write letters, but whenever he receives a letter from me, he calls and we talk and catch up for a little while. I cherish those moments and the thought behind the call. I haven't seen him in a very long time because I don't get back east very often, but we keep in touch, me with my letters and he with his phone calls. Memories like that are priceless.
In this day and age with all the wondrous methods of keeping in touch, it is sad to say that we have lost touch with simple manners. There really are no good excuses, just excuses. If you can't write, type. If you can't type, call. If all else fails, let the people that matter to you know their gifts, their caring, and the time they took to remember you with a gift or a card or a letter means something to you. Keep in touch.
As Reese Witherspoon says, "Good manners cost nothing but are worth everything," a sentiment I hope we all will remember during this holiday season. Make this a season of thanks.