I was a boy. We were in a supermarket parking lot. I held my mother’s hand. We saw an old woman walking into the store ahead of us. She was frail, with a scarf wrapped around her white hair.
My mother pushed me toward the door. I knew what she wanted me to do.
“Be a gentleman,” she said.
And somehow, I knew what this meant. It meant I was to rush ahead of the woman and open the door for her. And when the woman thanked me, I knew which two words my mother wanted me to say.
Supermarkets did away with swinging doors a long time ago. They replaced them with automatic doors and the age of chivalry suffered another blow.
Today, the only way to open a supermarket door for an approaching female is to jog ahead, wave your hands in front of the electronic sensor, and shout, “Hurry!”
If she’s feisty, she’ll slide past you like she’s stealing third.
Being a gentleman was a big deal in my family. I never knew exactly what a gentleman was, per se, but I knew what he was supposed to do.
For starters, a gentleman always washes his hands before supper.
My mother never even had to say the words “wash your hands.” Instead, she would wear a stern face and say, “Hands, Mister.”
And that was enough. I knew if I appeared at her table with dirt beneath my fingernails I would be dragged behind the porch and shot.
My mother also believed a gentleman should walk on the curb-side of a sidewalk when accompanying a woman, or when letting her pass.
This was an odd rule. I never understood it until years later, strolling through Atlanta. I was with several of my friends. A young lady was approaching on the sidewalk. She wore a yellow dress.
I could hear my mother’s voice in my mind. “Be a gentleman.”
I moved to the curb and let the lovely pass. It was at this exact moment a truck raced past us. The truck hit a puddle and my jeans got sprayed with water.
My friends laughed, but I realized something very important that day.
My mother was brilliant.
I was also brought up to believe that a gentleman never wore a hat indoors. And because of this, I still can’t do it. You can’t unlearn old habits.
My father never passed through an entrance with his cap on, and I guess I take after him. My father also used his hat to greet females. He would either pinch his bill and tip it downward, or lift the hat clean off his head.
I wonder what happened to hat tipping.
But there was a sin more grievous than wearing a hat indoors, and that was wearing one to Mama’s supper table. People have been skinned alive for less.
I remember once, after I’d been riding the range, I galloped home for lunch. It had been a long day. I’d defended a small border town in Old Mexico, and prevented the stage from being robbed. But these feats didn’t impress Mama.
I pulled up a chair and waited for my cheese sandwich. But my mother would not serve it.
Mama only cleared her throat and said, “The last man who wore a hat at my table still eats his lunch through a straw.”
I removed my ten-gallon hat, along with my holstered iron, and plastic spurs. I reached for my sandwich.
Mama cleared her throat again. “Hands, Mister.”
And thusly, I would once again visit the bathroom to polish the old bar of Lava.
Anyway, I’ve grown up some. I don’t wear plastic spurs anymore, and I don’t eat cheese sandwiches. But I still do what my mother tells me.
A few days ago I took my mother out for breakfast. We met in the parking lot and walked to the cafe together.
Before we reached the door we were cut off. A man ran ahead of us. He was wearing a business suit, tapping on a cellphone. He opened the door for himself, darted inside, then slammed it behind him.
Right in Mama’s face.
He didn’t even notice her. I know it’s not the end of the world. And certainly, that man meant no harm by what he did. But if you ask me, this planet could use a few more gentlemen and a few less text messages.
I opened the door for Mama, then removed my cap.
She looked at me with a soft grin and patted my cheek. She gave me a glare.
“Hands, Mister,” she said.
Toni Tucker Locke - April 17, 2019 7:58 am
I love your mama! Thanks for sharing her with those of us who have lost our mamas who were Southern ladies like she is.
Kelly - April 17, 2019 8:15 am
We definitely could use more gentleman (and ladies!) right now. Thank you for sharing your Mom with us and thank you for taking your hat off at the table! One of my Mom’s golden rules…miss her everyday.
Cathi - April 17, 2019 9:45 am
Yes, that’s the South I grew up in and still love…when I can find it. It still exists but is harder to see most days. Thank you for that smile & the lump in my throat. Your mama raised you right!
Elizabeth - April 17, 2019 10:16 am
Yes, yes, yes….thank your Momma and you. Sorry about the rude dude in a suit. I held the door for 3 kids yesterday and only 1 said thank you!
Jean - April 17, 2019 10:38 am
Yes sir….that is the way we were taught and it is still with me. oh and no singing at the table either I found out. I don’t think it ever hurts to be nice or polite.
Carol Heidbreder - April 17, 2019 10:57 am
Well said! Manners seem to be running sort of thin these days but you are right, we can’t unlearn what we were taught. I have gray hair and old lady aches and pains but will still say yes ma’am, yes sir to those serving me even tho they are almost young enough to my grandchild. Will always teach by example and hope it sticks! Your Mama for sure IS brilliant!
Judy Goode - April 17, 2019 11:37 am
Thank you for being a gentleman and for bringing to mind beautiful memories of growing up with a Southern mama who indeed was brilliant!
steve moultrie - April 17, 2019 11:59 am
couple of years ago, I had a 30 minute wait for a table at a restaurant in Huntsville….waiting outside, I decided to conduct a little survey of manners in today’s world. I opened the door for probably 100 people coming and going….less than 10% acknowledged me or said thanks. The way I was dressed, I obviously was not an employee of the restaurant (as if that should even matter) …..it was a very discouraging survey of manners…..might have expected that up north, but was very disappointed in my fellow southerners!!
Kathy Vadeboncoeur - April 17, 2019 12:15 pm
Love your story’s
Ginger Clifton - April 17, 2019 12:19 pm
So much teaching from Mama and Daddy is missing today.Rude is rampant. I am saddened by other people who are so sad and disillusioned that they will not speak or even nod when you speak to them or show them common courtesy. These are the people who are quick to go ballistic when you unintentionally offend them. How can you NOT like someone you don’t even know?
Joe Patterson - April 17, 2019 12:43 pm
Thanks again same rules I had and wish the young men of today had manners ain’t dead just old like us
robert - April 17, 2019 12:50 pm
So true. My daddy told me never to let another man curse around your female companion. I saw him demonstrate this philosophy at the Sylacauga McDonald’s in 1986. We were eating lunch when some teen boys began using profanity. He told them they could either stop the cursing or leave. My daddy was a tall man with a big black mustache. Their response was a soft-spoken and respectful “Yes, sir.”
throughmyeyesusa - April 17, 2019 8:02 pm
That was a more fortunate experience than ours!
We live in a resort community. The condo above ours was being used by the owners’ son and a group of twenty-something males. When the four letter words & “F bombs” began floating down to our lanai, my husband stuck his head up and informed the young men that his wife was sitting just below them and, please, to watch their language!
They, and we, watched it all right….worsen for the week! So did the drinking, bouncing basketballs at 4 AM, loud voices and complete lack of respect for others. There were many complaints from others about their behavior as well, all in vain.
Good training in mannerly behavior sticks with you. Unfortunately, so does NO training!
Judy - April 17, 2019 12:50 pm
I know I am preaching to the choir…slow down, it is the little things that make life beautiful. Like opening doors for others, being a gentleman or with a gentleman, putting down the phone, and listen for answers to the question you asked. “Slow down, you move to fast, you’ve got to make the morning last…..feelin’ groovy!” 😀
Diane Beck - April 17, 2019 12:50 pm
My Daddy was raised during his early years in New Orleans. He said the reason a gentleman walked on the curb began before cars. Gentlemen walked nearer the curb just in case someone was throwing wash water out over a balcony so the lady would be spared the splash! Love reading your daily stories!
Lori Brown - April 17, 2019 1:05 pm
A man who loves and honors his mama has a special place in my heart <3
Connie Havard Ryland - April 17, 2019 1:18 pm
Good manners are fading fast. I raised my son to be a gentleman and he still is. I raised my girls to be ladies. I’m an old lady myself and I still say “ma’am “ and “sir”, to people usually younger than I am. It just seems rude not to. I don’t take offense if some guy doesn’t open the door for me, but if I see any of my kids, male or female, not open a door for a woman, girl or elderly person of any gender, they will get “the look”. I lay the lack of manners squarely on parents. These days most kids are taught to be entitled brats rather than kind and decent humans. But then, I’m old and old-fashioned. Sigh…
Jan Chapman - April 17, 2019 2:04 pm
Yes! Yes, to all of this! God bless you and your mom!
Mississippi Girl - April 17, 2019 2:27 pm
My husband was raised by a Southern Lady like your Mom. We have been together over 30 years and he still opens doors for me, including the car door!
Jack Darnell - April 17, 2019 2:40 pm
I am always proud of our sons and grandsons, they were and are still gentleman. Now go wash your hands mister…. Them keys are dirty. WHAT? You don’t eat cheese sandwiches? My grands were raised on ’em. They expect them from Grandma!
Sherry & jack
Edna B. - April 17, 2019 3:10 pm
Your Mom taught you good! (I know, bad grammer, but I like it this way.) This world could definitely use lots more gentlemen and gentlewomen. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Sharon Dodd - April 17, 2019 4:13 pm
Your writing always brings a smile to my face. I am trying to remember the last time a man held the door for me. My son always does; he is a gentleman.
Jess in Athens, GA - April 17, 2019 4:17 pm
Sean, you mentioned that you don’t wear a hat inside, especially at your mother’s table. Ever notice how many men/boys wear their hats inside a restaurant and leave it on while eating???? That’s a non-starter in my book. Manners aren’t what they used to be….too bad really.
Janie F. - April 17, 2019 4:32 pm
My husband was raised with a mama like yours. He is a gentleman and a gentle man in the best way possible. Thank God for southern mama’s!
Shelton A. - April 17, 2019 5:02 pm
That’s what big sisters, aunts, grandmas, and sometimes my mom are for!
Mary T. - April 17, 2019 5:03 pm
I remember the first time Alabama played in a domed stadium. Bear Bryant didn’t wear his houndstooth hat. He said his mama taught him to never wear a hit inside.
Mary T. - April 17, 2019 5:05 pm
Of course I meant ……hat.
BJean - April 17, 2019 5:13 pm
Still great lessons for little boys, young and old! 🙂
ponder304 - April 17, 2019 7:28 pm
Gentlemen are rare unless they have a little age…..I hope my 31 year old son has learned some of these same lessons. I taught 3rd grade for 39 years and I know I spent a lot of time teaching manners, especially about caps and hats!!! I am appalled at the men who wear caps inside homes, restaurants and most especially God’s House! Respect is needed!
Mark Moore - April 17, 2019 7:48 pm
Hey Sean-Just wanted to say thank you for such a great story.
Being born and raised in Mississippi, my mother taught me the same valuable lessons. And now I have two sons – ages 25 & 20 – and both of them truly understand the importance of being a gentleman.
Your writing is incredible. Keep up the good work.
HJ Patterson - April 17, 2019 8:06 pm
Manners went away when they took the paddle out of schools. I got many more well deserved tannings at home than at school. They just give the spoiled brats throphies now.
HJ Patterson - April 17, 2019 8:10 pm
Sorry – trophies. Not sure what a throphies is but I’m sure the little snowflakes would take it just the same.
MermaidGrammy - April 17, 2019 10:37 pm
You and Jamie can pass that on to your little (adopted) boy, and by adopting a girl, you can teach her what to expect in her man.
Charaleen Wright - April 18, 2019 2:55 am
Melanie - April 18, 2019 3:18 pm
Loved this Mister! I still enjoy a cheese sandwich as an adult occasionally. Especially with a tasty summer tomato!?
Estelle Sexton Davis - April 18, 2019 9:20 pm
Lovely words for your mother. She was a true southern gentlewoman. She taught her son well and it shows.
John Allen Berry - April 20, 2019 9:30 pm
It goes without saying that your Mamma raised you right. Proud to hear this, and proud to see someone speak about it. These days we’ve forgotten too much of the ways of gentlmanly behavior. Glad that you still carry the torch.
Frankly, I think the business man who blew pass your sweet Momma should be taken out behind the woodshed!
Tina Harman - May 18, 2019 1:11 pm
I love this article! I could picture you, removing your ten gallon hat, your spurs and your gun, and then waiting for your cheese sandwich. Also enjoyed your descriptions of being a gentleman. Manners are fast becoming a lost art.
Will Mooty - May 18, 2019 3:37 pm
I was told once that when Alabama was playing a game in either the Superdome or Astrodome, Coach Bryant wouldn’t wear his hat in the stadium because he considered it indoors.
Mary Ann Massey - May 18, 2019 5:04 pm
Your Momma sounds a lot like my Momma…….maybe we’re kin! ???
Bonnie McKechnie - May 21, 2019 12:18 am
When someone holds a door for me, I say ,”Thank you,. Your momma taught you well. ” I usually get a smile as a response.
Sharon Whatley - May 22, 2019 12:53 am
I raised two sons, and they both knew that it was hats off inside, open doors for a lady, pull out her chair, offer your seat on public transportation, wait for her to pass, and walk the curbside of the sidewalk. Your momma taught you basic courtesy and chivalry, and she taught you well. I expect my sons to teach their sons as well. It’s a lot nicer world when we remember these simple things.