The yellow envelope in my inbox didn’t look like the usual. Odd color. Had a silver star by my name. Odd design. I saw the word “Thanks” in the upper-left corner, in red. Can’t be one of those letters from prison, I thought.
Yes, I stupidly once thought I could judge a letter by its envelope. Say, that envelope addressed in pencil? That’s the one from prison, containing an inmate’s plea, written in all caps, all even, from someone who is, of course, innocent, or has uncovered a conspiracy, or maybe just wants some credit for time served.
This wasn’t like that.
I opened it carefully. Usually I just rip through them thinking, OK, what did we do now? This comes from years at The Sacramento Bee of reading complaints, hate mail, missives of grave disappointment. (OK, the last ones were notes years ago from my father to call my mother.)
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I unfolded the three letters. One was a handwritten note from a woman I had met a week earlier, and the other two were in a youthful scrawl. A Christmas tree decorated one of the notes. A heart adorned the other. “Thank you so much for helping us find our car. You were so helpful.”
Thank-you notes. Old-fashioned, unexpected thank-you notes. Almost made me call my mother, she of the old-school, write that note to your (blank) for the (blank) gift.
Sure, we still write thank-you notes, and post them on Facebook, thanking everyone for birthday wishes. Or you can turn to Bond, a New York City company with an army of 200 robotic arms that write personalized notes. People like the personal touch, with paper, writing, envelope, stamp. Bond does it for you for a price. Special.
It’s not the same.
I met them a week before. I was walking my dog on a Saturday evening as folks were leaving the Fair Oaks Christmas festival. A woman, exasperated, with three girls, stopped me and said she couldn’t find her car. She had a street name and a description – new homes, in a cul-de-sac with Christmas lights. So, that pretty much describes every suburban street in the country. Strangely, I had an idea of the location. I suggested, because it was a bit of a hike in the opposite direction, that I drive them. As my father and mother taught me, we all at times have been lost; we all at times need help to find our way.
We walked couple of blocks, I unleashed the dog inside my house. In my haste, I stepped on one of the dog’s bones and turned my ankle. Badly.
I was in pain, nauseous and sweating. Great. That would inspire confidence.
I limped to the car and navigated to where I thought the woman’s van might be. We approached the new homes, in a cul-de-sac, with Christmas lights.
“There it is,” the woman said. I gave her my business card, they all said thank you, I drove home and iced my ankle. That was that. I thought little about it, except, as I looked at my swollen ankle, that no good deed goes unpunished.
And then the letters found their way to me. With the notes was a gift certificate for See’s candy. A nice gesture, but the truly exquisite deed was already done. The letters took all of seconds to read. I lingered over them for longer than that. And they have stayed with me since.
I think I will write my mother a note.
Scott Lebar: 916-321-1182