Helen Ryan waited. The wait turned to worry. Weeks, then months went by with no word, not a clue. What could have happened?
A good 14 months later, it finally arrived: the thank-you note for a wedding gift.
"All that time I kept thinking if the wedding gift I had brought to the reception was stolen. It was unsettling," said Ryan, who's an attorney.
"I generally don't bring the gift to the reception, so I had convinced myself it was lost or stolen. My husband, Dan, kept telling me to call. But it would have been a source of embarrassment to both parties."
When the Ryans finally got the long-overdue acknowledgment of the wedding gift, the note was of dual purpose: "It thanked us for the wedding gift and to announce the birth of their baby daughter," Helen Ryan said.
Today, she can laugh at the situation. But for Ryan, and millions of others, thank-you notes are serious business.
Thank-you cards --heartfelt expressions of gratitude for gifts, services and general kindness --seem to be rare in an age when the Internet continues to erode human interaction.
Although our society has changed remarkably over the past century, the etiquette of thank-you notes has not. They are still required to acknowledge gifts (especially wedding gifts), stays at the homes of friends and parties given in your honor.
While most people would agree that thank-you notes under these circumstances are a necessity, there are still those who forever procrastinate or are inexplicably forgetful.
"The situation is simply that some people write them, and some people don't, and it's egregious when they don't," says etiquette expert and author Peter Post, the great-grandson of etiquette legend Emily Post. "Are we writing more today or less today? I have no idea. What I do know is that it's always been a problem."
And at no time of the year are thank-you notes more visible (or wanting) than June, the month of brides and graduations, and the beginning of summer parties and house guests. While summer invites a loosening of shirt collars, it is no time to ease up on manners, etiquette experts say.
"It's very important with these young people who are graduating and getting married to write thank-you notes," etiquette doyenne Letitia Baldrige says. "It's a must-do thing. A real thank you does not come by e-mail. They come in the mail in an envelope. And what comes out of an envelope is a beautiful thing to touch and to handle and to pass around for everyone to read."
Don't think for a second that Baldrige is old-fashioned. Handwritten thank-you notes --any handwritten correspondence, for that matter --have taken on an air of extra importance and dignity in this e-hyper world.
Cindi Samol, who calls herself a life-long thank-you writer, says cards, especially for gifts and dinner-party hosts, are essential.
"I write them as an extension of my gratitude because I know how much work and effort is put into doing something in your home for someone," says Samol, who works as a marketing director for a financial-planning firm in Farmington, Conn. "They should be something creative, something personal. Something that makes you laugh about the time you spent together or a pleasant memory."
And while Samol believes that thank-you notes are a lost art, Baldrige remains hopeful that the art may be enjoying a renaissance.
"We're actually getting better, we're rising up," Baldrige says. "More young people are aware of the need for thank yous and aware of the tremendous impression they make."
Even if you weren't brought up learning to write thank-you notes, you are far from doomed, Baldrige says.
"You can learn. It's never too late," she says, adding that the concept of etiquette seems to be embraced by a new generation. "The subject of manners in general is being discussed more. Go to any bookstore and you'll see thousands of books on etiquette, which suggests there's a lot of self-help going on. There is hope."
Yet many people still have stories of wedding gifts gone unacknowledged. Few things irk gift-givers more than a bride and groom who have failed to write their thank yous.
"It is absolutely required," Post says of thank-you cards for wedding gifts. "The note is important. It acknowledges the gift and the thought put into the gift. Even if you think the gift is atrocious, you absolutely must send a thank you."
Baldrige suggests that brides and grooms get their cards out in two weeks "if you can; four weeks if you need to." But carrying it on three to four months "is unconscionable," she says.
Why, then, does it often take that long or longer? "They pile up and all of a sudden it becomes a monster pile and the couple gets overwhelmed," Post says. "They haven't kept up with it and suddenly they're behind the eight ball. And suddenly they think, 'Gee, do I really have to do this?' And the answer is yes."
Both Post and Baldrige say thank-you notes are a shared responsibility for newlyweds. "So many (women) work just as hard as their husbands," Baldrige says. "It's not just a bride's responsibility."
"It's a shared responsibility," Post says. "The male should be saying, 'Listen, I want to be helping you. I'm a part of this wedding, too.' Split them up."
More than simply obeying rules of etiquette, thank-you cards are a sign of caring. Thank-yous, like other written correspondence, are simply a way of showing your regard for friends and relatives: a tangible sign of gratitude and love.
"I, for one, would like to see more people engage in handwritten communication," Ryan says.
The experts agree.
"They're more important now than ever," Post says