Thank you, thank you, thank you, a million times over

“I’m one of Irma Potter’s daughters. I want you to know she really respected you and appreciated your help with her vehicles. Thank you for being there for her when she needed work done.”

I handed him a check for the gas I’d just bought.  The owner of this small-town establishment is one of the few who continues that practice; pumping gas for his customers.  He bent down to the window and I saw his eyes fill with tears, and something else~ surprise.

“Your mother was quite a woman. We thought the world of her, too. Thank you for telling me we were of some help to her.”

I knew why he was surprised. Sadly, it isn’t that often a gas station owner is thanked for his service.

Yesterday’s encounter with the man who often gave my mother a ride home when her vehicle was being serviced, reminded me of other mechanics I’ve known.  There was the one we knew when we were two college students struggling to make ends meet.  He ran a small business out of his garage, and we came to trust him. He seemed to enjoy talking to the young married couple with their rambunctious children in tow. His prices were so reasonable I often wondered if he was cutting us a break. Somehow through our conversations it was revealed that he was single and had no family. When we brought him a plate full of homemade Christmas cookies as a thank-you for his honest service, he was flabbergasted. And grateful. He pulled a cookie out from under the tin foil and greedily devoured it before we’d even left the driveway.

Then there was the mechanic who, knowing our dire financial straits at the time, brought a station wagon to our front door, explaining that he couldn’t possibly sell it and had bought it on a whim at an auction the night before. Would we take it off his hands for the same price he’d paid; $500?  Would we? It is an answer to our prayers, I told him. You must be an angel in disguise. He blushed furiously at the idea. If anything, he was known in town as a raging alcoholic, and yet he had been thoughtful enough to think of a young family that lacked a working vehicle. Ten years later, another mechanic who was concerned about the deterioration of the vehicle we were driving, called to tell us he’d found us a van with no discernible rust damage and his customer was willing to sell it for $800.  “I hated seeing a family driving around in a vehicle with such serious rust damage,” he told us when we came to test-drive the white van, which is still a reliable vehicle for us. His wife told me later that he was amazed I’d sent a thank-you note.  A mechanic in Dubuque who’d once helped my husband, told him the next time he saw him that he’d never gotten a thank-you note in all his years of service until mine arrived.  I’d written to inform him that he couldn’t have known that my husband was undergoing cancer treatment when he’d gone out of his way to help; even closing up shop for half an hour while he towed our vehicle. I thanked him for his kindness and for taking care of my husband in his time of need.

It isn’t just mechanics who have been the recipients of my thank you notes throughout the years. I’ve written to former teachers letting them know what their influence has meant in my life. I’ve written thank-you’s to doctors or nurses who were particularly skilled at their jobs. There are times when a simple verbal thank-you has not seemed quite enough, and it is then I have taken out pen and paper to express my gratitude.

So it was with great interest that I stumbled upon this “Note Project” this morning:

The idea of getting one million people to write a thank-you note sounded daunting at first, but when I considered the project is asking for only one note from each of those million people, it sounded like such a small request; just one thank-you note. No one has to go out and purchase an entire package of thank-you notes, or spend an inordinate amount of time composing a flowery-speeched, carefully worded two-page letter.

Just a simple “Thank you,” written on a piece of notebook paper will do.

But who to send a thank you note to?

How about a teacher?  Either one from your own past, or your child’s favorite teacher.  The neighbor who shoveled your driveway sidewalk once. The cashier who never fails to greet you cheerfully, despite your fist full of coupons.  A sibling who has gone above and beyond, an in-law who does so much for your parents.  Or how about dropping a line to your mother who would love seeing something other than bills in her mailbox when it isn’t even Mother’s Day?

It isn’t that difficult to think of someone who deserves our gratitude. My difficulty would be stopping at one.

Even if you’ve never written a letter in your life, a heart-felt thank you doesn’t need to be fancy. It can be as simple as “Thank you for being such a caring boss,” or “I want you to know you how much I appreciated your help during a stressful time. It sure made things easier.”

Perhaps you won’t be able to stop at one note, either.  Maybe you’ll want to pick up a package of pretty note cards and write out one note per week, spending less than five minutes each time.Five minutes of your time, and a stamp.  Think of the pleasure on the other end when your recipient opens up their mailbox to a surprise.

Join me in making this million-note project an amazing success.

And while you’re at it, bake up a batch of cookies for your mechanic.

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