Etiquette Lost

 

“Yes, ma’am, No, ma’am, Thank you, ma’am, Please!”  The little ditty echos inside of my head like basketballs rebounding off of walls.  We’re tryin’ to help our daughter and son in law teach our grandbabies to consistently say “Yes, ma’am, Yes, sir….”  My bride, Grandmommy Linda, is big on this little saying which is why it is repeating over and over again like a never-ending loop.

In the world we presently live in, the learning process is somewhat tougher than it used to be.

Etiquette is not a Southern exclusive but there was a time when Southerners of any class, race, or religious affiliation displayed good manners.  It was a priority.  Our good manners were a badge of pride.  Remember “Southern Hospitality?”  We seem to be less hospitable these days, displaying poor manners.

I don’t mean knowing which spoon or fork to use, outside in folks, but the polite, “good” manners which seem to be eroding as I write this.  Some folks would ask, “Who died and made you Lord of the Manners?”  It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

When I coached, I periodically admonished my charges to “Remember where you come from (your parents), who you are representing (your parents, your school, me), and what you stand for. (Truth, Justice, and the American Way?)”  In other words, “Don’t disappoint your mommas and daddies.”  Disappointing momma was a big deal.  Good behavior was an expectation and most of the time it was realized.  That included baseball caps taken off inside the building and worn with the bill pointing forward.  I am old school.

It seems we have misplaced our manners and please don’t think I’m denigrating today’s generation; I’m not.  They are not the guilty ones.  Erosion takes place over time and today’s generation reflects what they are being taught and those who taught them…or didn’t.  Some of us are failing our charges, failing the next generation, and this has been going on for multiple generations.

Please don’t point a finger, blow out your chest, and pontificate, “Not me!”  We can all do better and there is no one cause.  That being said….

I happened upon an article in Southern Living, “20 Unspoken Rules of Etiquette That Every Southerner Follows.”  Should have said, “used to follow” but to their defense, it was an old article.

Using today’s world view some of these seemed Draconian.  If you read the article one might think most Southern manners revolve around eating and they do.  I learned most of mine while eating fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and washing it down with sweet tea so sugary it set my teeth on edge.

I’ll come back to the article in a bit, but I just had a thought.  The undermining of Southern manners may have coincided with the rise of fast-food eateries specializing in fried chicken.  KFC, Chick-fil-a, Popeyes, Spinx…wait…Spinx?

Spinx is a glorified gas station founded in South Carolina offering gas, oil and about anything else you might need to outfit a wilderness trek through the Australian Outback.  Offerings also include slow service but pretty good Southern fried chicken.  You know the kind, crisp and greasy at the same time.

The problem is not Spinx but what I call “stand up food”.  The food rests on waxed paper and you stand around eating out of cute little pasteboard “boats” in red and white checkerboard.  Greasy fingers wiped on dirty jeans; baseball caps still perched backward on heads kind of food.  There’s the problem.  There isn’t a table to learn your manners around and the people you are eating with have no better manners than you do.

Once upon a time, Grandmamma went out and chopped the chicken’s head off, gutted it, dipped it in boiling water and plucked it clean.  All before she got around to cutting it up, dipping each individual piece in the batter of her choice and frying it to a golden brown.  You damn well were going to sit at a table, “minding your manners”, while you ate it.

If you didn’t mind your manners, you might find yourself going to bed without your supper instead of waiting for the adults to be served so you could get your chicken wing.  I was twenty-five before I evah got a pully bone.  Manners have eroded with the death of the sit-down, family meal.

Matching the world we live in, we have become grab and go consumers.  I am just as guilty of grabbing a piece of pepperoni pizza after gassing up my truck…having never left the gas station.

Let’s look at the article, shall we?  I won’t hit all the points because I am assuming you can read as well if not better than I can write.  These are just some “manners” that were hammered into my head…or beaten into my backside.

“Never eat with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full”  Son, you are sprayin’ food everywhere!  At least cover your mouth.  Alternative reminder, “Children should be seen and nevah, evah heard.”

“Get your elbows off the table!  If you are that tired you can go on to bed.”  As I stood in line at the local Chick-fil-a, I saw a bunch of folks who needed a nap.

“Never wear a hat to the table…or inside a building.”  This one…!  For some reason this is the pinnacle of rudeness for no other reason than my father, who worked in a greasy, lint filled cotton mill weave room, always removed his hat when he entered the cafeteria.  It was the polite thing to do and if I didn’t remove mine it might be nailed to my head ala Vlad the Impaler.

Addendum, “Always take your hat off in the presence of a lady…and all women are ladies until proven otherwise.”  If the sun was particularly bright and hot, one might get away with a simple tug on the bill or brim and a nod.  Sunstroke and sunburn trumps manners.

“Never sing or whistle at the table or talk about unpleasantries.”  This one was tough if asked, “Did you behave at school today?”  Sometimes the answer might prove to be unpleasant in regard to the response.  I didn’t understand the singin’ or whistlin’ but never did I….

Addendum for the next eight months, “Nevah, evah talk politics at the supper table.”  Definite unpleasantries.

It seems like there are many Southern manners related to gender, doors, and entries…”Ladies and girls first”, “Always open the door for a woman, a girl or your elders”, “Adult ladies first in the food line”, “Always stand when a woman enters the room (and when she sits, stands or leaves the room} and pull out the chair and help her seat herself.”  Not that she needs help, it is just the gentlemanly thing to do.  I think assisted seatings dates from the days of corsets and layer upon layer of petticoats and crinolines.

I ran afoul of the “opening the door” thing back in the late Sixties when I opened the library door for a cute, little coed.  There was an ulterior motive.  This was during the “burn your bra” period of history.  She burned me a new one and it wasn’t a bra.  Turns out she needed no help from a man.  I knew such but old habits are hard to break.  I still open the door for my wife, and she seems to appreciate it.

“Never go to a gathering empty-handed.”  The South is the casserole and banana puddin’ capital of the world for this very reason.  It doesn’t matter if it is a house warmin’ or a funeral, bring something other than yourself.

Politeness, civility, and graciousness seem to be the casualties of today’s war on political correctness.  Bullying, apathy, and indifference have replaced our good manners.  I don’t know we will ever get them back.  In lieu of manners, just be kind.

Please feel free to add any you are enamored with, in the comments section.  I’d love to hear from you.  Y’all hurry back now.

***

The article may be accessed at https://www.southernliving.com/culture/unspoken-etiquette-rules

Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Roots….

As we grow, if we are fortunate, we put our roots deep into the deep, rich soil of life.  We anchor ourselves in the lessons we have learned.  No matter how far away the branches of our limbs reach, we are still anchored, still attached…to home.

As I’ve gotten older, old, I find myself slowly meandering back toward my roots, the memories, the lessons, the people of a place that no longer exists.  Not true, it exists quite clearly in my mind.

I was triggered by a rerun of an episode of The Waltons.  John Boy reads an editorial he had written that spoke to family roots and the destruction of an old home in the name of progress.  Before the quote was completed and fully formed in my mind, I was wondering why progress seems to create so much destruction.

Once more, my broken kaleidoscope of a mind sent me down a pathway toward home, a home that only exists in my mind.  A home that was destroyed in the name of progress.  A dusty dirt road, a white clapboard house with hip roofs sitting on a hill, a wide front porch, gently rolling fields of hay and stands of pine trees, people and places gone but not forgotten.

The often-quoted African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to my mind.  It was true in the 1950s and 1960s as I grew up and may still be true in some isolated areas.  Unfortunately, the villages have been swallowed up by a monster named Urban Sprawl and the changes in the world we live in have destroyed extended and nuclear families and the pearls of wisdom they might have imparted.

Growing up on my particular wide place in the road, I was surrounded by family on all sides…it seemed I was related to everyone.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins from one side of the family on a hill beside us, aunts, uncles, and cousins from the other side of the family on the hill opposite.  My grandparent’s home sat on a hill above us…looking down to protect and teach lessons for a lifetime.

Further on up or down the road, more family.  On a five or six-mile stretch of highway between my grandparent’s home and my great grandparent’s home it seemed every other house was occupied by a family member, some distantly related, others more closely.  Cousins, aunts and uncles, family friends, all intent upon raising all the village children.

As I moved into my dating years a discussion of who might have been on my family tree was a must it seemed.  Even then I sometimes went out with distant female cousins.  The pool of eligible consorts was very, very small.

The area east of a western meander by the Catawba was sprinkled with small villages.  Most took the name of the church that was close by…or maybe the opposite, the church took the village’s name.  Belair, Pleasant Hill or Pleasant Valley, Osceola, Steel Hill.  In addition to the church, usually, there would be a small general store to serve the smattering of homes around it. These communities tended to overlap and were a part of a bigger area named Indian Land.

There were names like Yarbrough Town or Camp Cox and six or seven miles to the southeast, a true village, Van Wyche.  Northeast there was the town of Fort Mill and right across the river, a true city, Rock Hill.  Additional family members had settled there, raising us too.

When I was young, I didn’t appreciate the “village raising the child.”  It seemed any news of trouble I might have gotten into traveled at light speed, alerting my parents or grandparents before I got home.  Punishment would be quick and decisive…more often than not, it was well deserved. “Whatever you get at school, you’ll get double at home.”

I’m sure time has softened the focus of those days…maybe my memories are of a time I wished to be rather than was.  The front porch probably wasn’t quite as big as I remember but the roots of my family tree have dug deeper into the fertile ground I remember.

The villages are gone, and family dynamics have changed.  Monsters and socioeconomics have changed them.  Few parents can make ends meet on a single salary; others find themselves working multiple jobs.  Latch key children and helicopter parents are a rule, no longer the exception.  Child care is expensive and does little for family dynamics.

Grandparents are working longer and can’t provide or are unwilling to provide the safety net my grandparents provided.  We are unable to go back to those “thrilling days of yesteryear” but must somehow realize children don’t raise themselves.

I’ve got to do a better job of imparting my own lessons.  Actions over words, practice what you preach.  I have grandchildren who are growing up too fast.  I feel I have been somewhat absent, an absence they can’t afford…I can’t afford.  I’m not a village but I have lessons to be taught, stories to be told.  I hope there is still time to teach and to tell…time to impart wisdom and lessons.  Past time to help them put roots into fertile ground.

“Work for a cause, not for applause.  Remember to live your life to express, not to impress, don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt.”     —Gail Lictenstein

***

Don Miller, a retired teacher, and coach writes on various subjects.  His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The interesting image is a drawing by Jillian Deluca and may be purchased at https://www.saatchiart.com/print/Drawing-Deep-Roots/985383/3619990/view