Speech: Don’t Forget to Say “Thank You,” by Jeff Harman

 

If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times from my mother when I was growing up.

Good ol’ Mom. “Don’t forget to say THANK YOU”, she reminded again and again.

Don’t you hate having to say THANKS for stuff you don’t want, especially when you’re a kid?

I didn’t WANT to thank Aunt Mildred for the six pairs of socks she gave me for my birthday.

Or thank Grandma for those fuzzy Christmas slippers with the reindeer on top.

After a few years of that, it makes you not want to thank anybody for ANYTHING.

“Don’t forget to say THANK YOU”. Well, I actually wish I would have remembered that advice later on. In 1979, I was 25 years old. My Mom called me on the phone. “Your dad’s gone,” she said. That’s all she needed to say. I knew what she meant.

While reflecting on those times, I realized that I hadn’t thanked my Dad in YEARS. I was NOT going to say that I never had the CHANCE to thank him, because that’s not true. I had plenty of chances.

What would have I thanked him for?

Well, I don’t recall that he ever explained to me the mysteries of life. He never passed on any unforgettable words of wisdom to me that I remember.

I would have said thanks for just playing catch with me when I knew he really didn’t want to. That was important to me. Or thanks for fixing up and painting my brother’s old bike before giving it to me for my birthday. That meant a lot. But, if nothing else, I would have thanked him just for being there.

With that, I had finally learned that lesson from Mom.

Mom lived until she was 85. In her later years, she lived about 300 miles up the coast. I’d call her on the phone every week. We’d talk about this and that, politics, and the state of the world. Sometimes she’d get depressed. Whenever that happened, I’d come back and say, “Well, Mom, you sure raised a family of good kids, didn’t you?”

And she’d laugh and say, “Yes, I did.” And I was so happy that I could thank her like that many times in the last few years of her life.

Last year, I was attending an adult baseball camp in Las Vegas. One night, there was a banquet and the keynote speaker was Maury Wills.

Maury Wills played shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers when I was 10 years old and growing up right over here in North Hollywood. And I loved the Dodgers. And Maury Wills was my favorite player. He was short, skinny, and spry, just like I was in those days.

Back then, I was such a huge baseball fan that I neglected a lot of other things in life. Like school.  I hated school, but most of all, I hated to read books. Especially the kind of books that had lots of words and no pictures. I read comics like Superman, Batman and the Green Hornet.

The one day, my friend Bob, brought a book to school. And the title of the book was, “It Pays to Steal.” Not really the type of book you’d expect to see in Catholic School. But the book was an autobiography written by Maury Wills. The title had to do with his skill at stealing bases. And although I hated reading books, this one was written by my hero. I had to read this one.

And I did. And it was wonderful. He talked about how he grew up in the projects in Washington DC, played ball as a teenager with no shoes, used flattened paint cans as bases, drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but knocked around in the minor leagues for 8 years before his major league debut in 1959.

It was a great story. But the result of all that was that books weren’t so bad! I could actually read a real book. And it was fun! I even got a library card, went to the library, checked out books, and started to learn all kinds of things. It changed my life.

So fast forward 45 years later, to last year in Las Vegas. And there was Maury Wills at the lectern talking baseball. And when he had finished speaking, there was a question-and-answer period.

So my hand shot up. He called on me. I stood up and said, “Mr. Wills, (I couldn’t call him Maury!) I said, “Mr. Wills, I don’t have a question for you. I just wanted to thank you for something you did for me a long time ago.” And I told him and the audience the story about reading his book, my first real book, so many years before.

He was just thrilled. You should have seen the look on his face. I’m certain that no one had ever thanked for something like that before.

Have YOU ever wanted to thank someone who influenced your life in some way, but you never did? You know, it might not be too late.

Perhaps a brother, a sister, a teacher, an aunt or uncle, a former boss, maybe even a baseball player would love to hear from you.

Can you imagine how thrilled they would be to hear a THANKS from you?

If you did that, you wouldn’t just make their day, you might just make their life!

So do what MOM says: Don’t forget to say thank you.

About Jeff Harman

Jeff is a Distinguished Toastmaster and the current Sergeant-at-Arms of Renaissance Speakers.