Bread & Butter Notes

A friend mentioned recently that she had received a lovely “bread and butter” note from a colleague and was warmed by how special it made her feel. She wondered if I knew what a “bread and butter” note is, and though I haven’t heard anyone else use the expression in a while, it’s one I have always loved and wanted to write about. According to the website, Writing Explained, a bread and butter note is, “A handwritten thank you note to someone who has hosted you, for either an evening or overnight visit. This phrase is a turn-of-the-century expression that means a letter of gratitude is expected after hospitality has been given.”

For years, I have been telling my students that they should never underestimate the power of the words, “Thank you,” and I have encouraged and even forced them to write thank you notes, or ‘bread and butter’ notes to speakers who have come to our classes and to individuals and business professionals I have made them interview. Most of my students have never, ever had to write a thank you note, and even less of them have ever had to address an envelope. Honestly, if I polled them, I suspect that less than ten percent of my students can even sign their names in cursive because cursive writing is simply not taught anymore.

All of this has me thinking about how important it is to show appreciation, and I’m thinking about how cool it would be if I just made an effort during this pandemic to zip off a quick note to let someone know how much I appreciate them. In the past, I’ve done thirty days of gratitude journaling, and I have loved that. Other times, I have engaged in thirty days of gifting without asking anything in return, which I loved even more. Both of those things have served as a reminder to me of the importance of physically showing appreciation, and maybe the conversation with my friend yesterday was a good reminder of how special someone feels when they receive a ‘bread and butter’ letter, thank you note, or just a little “I’m thinking of you,” card.

Let’s face it, when I get a package in the mail from Amazon, it’s like a mini-Christmas for me, especially when it’s something I’ve wanted for some time or have been delaying the purchase of because of financial concerns. And I remember with such fondness the birthday cards from Aunt Emma, which always arrived exactly on my birthday, not before or after unless there was a weekend in the mix. Those little expressions of kindness are so special, and they mean so much.

Last week, I got an email from a former student, thanking me for being the best professor/teacher she’d ever had, and enclosed in the message was a photograph – a selfie I’d forced her to take with me on the first day of class because she had been nervous about school and I’d happened upon her loitering outside the classroom with her mother, unsure of whether or not to go through the door and what horrors awaited on the other side. Seeing that photo and the frightened and mortified look in her eyes as her professor grabbed her mom and insisted that she, too, be in the selfie, meant even more when remembering how poised and confident that particular student appeared by the end of the semester that year.

Today, I have a lawn to mow and a floor to clean and two different pieces to write for an upcoming magazine, but before I do that, I’m going to grab a note card, find a functional pen in this house, and put down a few sentences of kindness that I can toss into the mailbox later today to be delivered to someone whose day will be brightened by my words and gesture. I think I’ll just keep the stack of cards on the end table right next to the couch, and maybe when I’m sitting down for a small break, I’ll make the time to jot a couple of lines to someone whose day I think might need brightening, whose spirits may be flagging, or for whom this time of quarantine is becoming more difficult. It isn’t going to cost me more than a stamp and a notecard – and if I run out of notecards, which I doubt will happen, I can fold a piece of printer paper in half, quarter it, and use that, too. I suspect I won’t singlehandedly revive the US Postal Service, but I do think I’ll maybe help to bring a few extra smiles into the mix and warm a few hearts along the way by re-invigorating the ‘bread and butter note’ in my own little corner of the world. And who knows? Others may decide to join me, too. If they do, I hope they’ll let me know, so I can send them a quick bread and butter note of gratitude and cheer.

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