Be nice. Eat your vegetables. Arrive early for appointments. Use the word ma’am often. And never, EVER, unless you want to wake up strapped to the roof of your family’s Ford station wagon, leave the toilet seat up.
These are just a few things our mothers taught us, along with many others. But I am starting to think these outdated ideas don’t matter to younger generations.
One of the cardinal rules of my boyhood was to open doors for females. This was such a big deal that whenever my buddy Gary and I were in public and noticed a female approaching a door, we would race to see who could open the door first. Gary had longer legs, so he definitely had the advantage speed-wise.
I remember one time when he raced to hold the door for a beautiful young woman. She batted her eyelashes at Gary while he was trying to catch his breath.
That’s when I appeared out of the blue and said, “Gary! The doctor said you shouldn’t be running after your colonoscopy! Just look at what you’ve done to your pants!”
Whereupon Gary chased me for six miles.
Our mothers taught us to be polite. To listen more than we talk. To say please and thank you. To never take the last serving of ANYTHING.
Anyone who had a mother like mine doesn’t need clarification on that last sentence. Still, I’m going to explain it just in case a young person is still busy trying to Google colonoscopy.
Food. I am talking about food. Biscuits, deviled eggs, Swedish meatballs, muffins, or the last piece of casserole. If you take the last serving of any sort of food you will go straight to hell. Do not make any mistake about this.
I once knew a kid who took the last piece of cornbread at a family reunion. He was dragged into the backyard and beheaded with a pair of salad tongs.
But I suppose times have changed. Just a few nights ago, I was at a covered-dish party. A kid in the food line took the last biscuit. His extremely young mother used a classic move straight out of the parental playbook and said, “PUT THAT BACK! YOU CAN’T TAKE THE LAST BISCUIT!”
So he put it back.
Then, when nobody was watching, THE KID’S MOTHER TOOK THE LAST BISCUIT.
I’m not sure what to make of this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that my generation was a shining example of etiquette, wearing white choir robes and escorting little old ladies across busy intersections. But I am worried that we are losing our manners.
We from the earlier generations had all sorts of polite customs drilled into our heads that are sort of dying away. Things like:
—Removing hats indoors.
—Usage of the phrase “May I?”
—Stepping curbside when a woman passes on a sidewalk.
—Shaking hands firmly.
—Blaming recently passed gas on the family dog.
And something else that deserves its own paragraph is the current trend of young guys calling each other by names like “bro” or “brah.”
Just yesterday, I visited my friend Gary’s church where the pastor wore a T-shirt and flip-flops and called everyone “brah” at the door.
After service, he shook my hand, slapped my back, and said, “Thanks for coming today, brah.”
“Brah?” I said.
“Yeah,” said the young man. “Brah.”
So Gary and I did what most level-headed men might do in this situation. When we went to brunch after church, we started calling everyone in the restaurant “brah” just to see how it felt. What we discovered was that this word annoyed the bejesus out of Gary’s wife, Karen, and caused her to seriously entertain the idea of divorce.
By the end of brunch, Gary’s three sons picked up on this word and were saying it right and left because—remember these are boys—“brah” sounds just like an article of female underwear.
Even our waiter at the brunch place was in on the game and called us “brah” when he waited on our table. Which was about the time Karen threatened to make us walk home if we didn’t knock it off.
Gary finally had to explain to his sons that we were only kidding, and that it’s not polite to use nicknames like this. The boys were good sports about it, but I think everyone was a little crestfallen that the word brah had died such a lackluster death.
After brunch, we adults were walking through the parking lot, talking about how things have changed in the modern world. About the manners our mothers believed in, and about where they went.
That’s when we saw an elderly woman walking toward a cafe. I was about to go open the door for her, but I was too late. Gary’s youngest son (10 years old) beat me to it. He raced ahead to open the door. It was the sweetest thing you ever saw. The woman thanked him.
Gary almost cried.
Then, my friend knelt down to face his son. He was beaming with a special glow that comes from being a father. He placed a hand on his son’s shoulder and told his son how proud he was.
His son only smiled and, in what can only be called an intimate father-son moment, he said, “Dad, what’s a colonoscopy?”
Remember what I said about the toilet seat, brah.