Thank you for the lunch. I liked it.
By David Wantz, University of Indianapolis
When I was 14, my parents put me on a bus and sent me to Uncle Jackson’s for a week. He was not really my uncle but rather a friend of the family. Being a Marylander and, therefore, an inheritor of some Southern customs, I was bidden to call him uncle. It was just part of my rearing, like saying yes sir and yes ma’am.
Uncle Jackson lived at Swan’s Haven on the Tred Avon River in the heart of old-moneyed Talbot County. I was supposed to spend the time painting his dock. He had other, harder work for me as well.
Daily, he interrupted the scraping and painting to drag me off to visit his friends. We sat outside in the shade of hundred-year-old boxwoods or on screened porches overlooking the river. We looked at Mrs. Fischer’s jade collection. We considered the needlepoint and the artwork. I, an ever-hungry teenager, was given these little skinny sandwiches with nothing more inside than cucumbers and mayonnaise. It was just dreadful.
As soon as we arrived back at his house, Uncle Jackson sat me down at his desk and told me to write a thank you note. “Thank you notes were for Christmas presents,” I argued.
“It’s just lunch,” I complained.
“That’s not the point,” he replied. “They were gracious. Now you be gracious.”
The host extends the invitation, spends the money, prepares the meal, sets the table, arranges the seating, and clears the dishes. They give; we receive. Against the host’s generosity, we accumulate the debt of gratitude. Hospitality creates an equation that needs to be balanced.
It didn’t matter that it was just lunch or even that I found it boring. Social symmetry required that I respond to such gracefulness by taking a few minutes to pen a word of thanks. In my case, it was many minutes and several drafts to find a few acceptable words.
That’s it, just a few words. No flowers required. No bottle of wine. No quid pro quo invitation. To balance the scale again, only a few hand-lettered words of gratitude were required. I am sure I wrote the barest of sentiments, “Thanks for lunch. It was good.” To Uncle Jackson, the fact that I wrote was achievement enough.
It takes no talent to dash off an email or a text message. Symmetry demands something more durable in response to hospitality. The next time you are invited to dinner, send your host a thank you note. Take some time to think about what to say. Write it down in your own hand. Lick the stamp. Mail the envelope. It’s nicely symmetrical that way—a hospitable response to the hospitality received.
For discussion: Do you write letters of gratitude. If so, why? If not, why not?
In this year’s Spirit and Place Festival, we are spending some time with our theme Food for Thought. These blogs are written to stimulate your thinking about food and eating. I hope you will join the conversation during our celebration from November 5 through 11. Spirit and Place is an annual civic festival exploring the intersection of art, humanities and religion. I am David Wantz and serve on the S&P advisory board. Please make plans to join us.