Good Manners

These are just a few things our mothers taught us...

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 But I am starting to think these outdated ideas don’t matter to younger generations.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.

27 comments

  1. Meredith Smith - October 14, 2019 10:47 am

    Oh Sean!! Bless you for this writing about this topic! I’m not crazy after all!! I won’t divulge my age but I’ll do the next best thing…I’m probably somewhere in the neighborhood of your/Jamies’ generation. I grew up in a middle class family where manners were taught and enforced with the fear of our maker. My parents had that midwestern way of getting the message across without laying a finger on you. Words matter, as you well know. Now, as a married but childless adult, I frequently find myself wondering what happened to today’s generation and the manners WE learned as kids?? I still use ma’am, sir, I hold doors, I treat people with respect and employ all of the examples you mentioned in today’s column. Today’s kids are running wild by comparison. I wonder aloud where things went awry, when did home training stop being essential?? I fear for our future Sean. If these kids weren’t taught manners ~ then they (obviously) won’t teach them to their kids and so on… I weep for our lost art Good Manners. I can only be thankful that I was taught to do the right thing during my lifetime.

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  2. GaryD - October 14, 2019 11:04 am

    Many years ago before most stores installed automatic opening doors I held the door open for a young woman. Instead of saying thank you she looked at me with disgust in her eyes and told me she was capable of opening the door by her own “durn” self. But she didn’t say “durn”. I’m glad most doors automatically open now.

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  3. C.F. David - October 14, 2019 11:18 am

    I’m pretty sure you could sing this to You’ve got Trouble Right here in River Ciy

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  4. Susan Tolley - October 14, 2019 11:56 am

    My grandkids are being taught the basics of good manners but it’s an uphill battle. They will fight like junk yard dogs over the last piece of pizza. My oldest grandson who is 7 will proudly hold the door for me at the store, my youngest grandson will tell you ‘tank yew’ when you hand him anything. The sweetest sound in the world is my three year old granddaughter asking the blessing before we eat, but she’s still struggling to add please when she wants a popsicle. I ask her what’s the magic word? She rolls her eyes in a world weary way and says PWEASE!!! Maybe all is not lost….

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  5. Cheryl W. - October 14, 2019 12:38 pm

    And then there is the incorrect use of pronouns such as, “Me and her went to the store.” I have a reaction not unlike fingernails screeching down a blackboard.

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  6. Connie Havard Ryland - October 14, 2019 2:07 pm

    I’m afraid good manners are going the way of dinosaurs. It’s disheartening.

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  7. Steve - October 14, 2019 2:08 pm

    I always open the door for elderly black women because I know there was a time in their life when that would’ve never happened. But my biggest pet peeve is young children & teens responding to me with “what?”. I don’t have to have a “yes sir”, I’m only 53, but is a simple polite “yes?” would be so much better than “what?” I hear that all the time when addressing youth by name. Usually said with a “why are you bothering me” tone.

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  8. Edna B. - October 14, 2019 2:16 pm

    I’m from a much much older generation. My children were all taught manners, and most of their children were taught these same manners. I cringe at bro and brah. What’s wrong with our names? Or nicknames? It’s sad to see what’s happening to our beautiful English language. I do love it though, when I see how many of our young ones are still using beautiful English and awesome manners. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

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  9. MermaidGrammy - October 14, 2019 2:41 pm

    And, please God, why in the world have people – young and old – begun saying “like” all the time? I overheard a dad asking his son, “So, are those, like pancakes?” His wife answered, “They are pancakes. They’re not ‘like’ anything. They’re pancakes”. So good for her!! I know that has nothing to do with manners, but this next one does: Why is “no problem” a response to “thank you”? When did a simple “you’re welcome “ become obsolete? My favorite is the very generous “my pleasure”. How marvelous to hear that doing something for me is a pleasure for someone else?
    My pedestrian complaint is not funny like your story, but – what is? You put a spark in my day that helps me get going. The reading world loves you, Sean. I love you, your momma, your sweet patient wife, your daddy and all the people I’ve met through you. Happy Monday! Happy Indigenous People Day

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  10. Jan - October 14, 2019 3:10 pm

    I don’t know if the colonoscopy story actually happened, but you sure got an LOL from me! I took a day trip for a medical appointment with my 39-year-old son last week, and loved that he always opened all building doors for me as well as going around the car to open my car door for me. I must have done something right. And I know he is doing right by his three children who are 6-11. So, all is not lost. However, the teenage years are ahead and I sure hope it sticks.

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  11. Robert Chiles - October 14, 2019 3:13 pm

    There was a wonderful woman at our church (who has since passed away) who was originally from Toledo. Instead of saying “what?” she said “please?” She said it was a Toledo thing.

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  12. Keith Whitfield - October 14, 2019 3:46 pm

    My mother grew up in Baker, FL (just across the state line from Andalusia, AL). We three boys — now middle aged men — were raised just like this. To this day, I can’t take the last ANYTHING. And I dang sure still open doors for women.

    Thanks for the waltz down memory lane.

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  13. Linda Moon - October 14, 2019 3:51 pm

    I’ve often taught my children and grandchildren that there are private manners and public manners. Private manners can be very subjective in my very silly family. Public manners, however, were written down for us by people like Moses, for instance. No doubt, T-shirts, flip-flops and the use of “Brah” in church would probably annoy Jesus Himself. Wear those in private, Pastor. And for the rest of you, do NOT open the door this THIS formerly beautiful young woman. I don’t need any assistance from you young “brahs”…..yet!

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  14. Linda Moon - October 14, 2019 4:01 pm

    correction: do not open the door FOR this woman who needs assistance typing, apparently. Don’t tell Miss Jane Shell, my former typing teacher, about my typo. I liked her so much that I phonetically named my daughter’s middle name for her: Michelle!.

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  15. Nita - October 14, 2019 5:40 pm

    So many times I have started to leave a comment then realized most everyone else was saying just what I felt about your column, which I adore, but today I just have to comment. I totally agree that good manners seem to be a thing of the past which is really sad. I do think part of the problem is the response when someone is kind enough to do that and is told “I can open my own door!” A simple thank you – a common courtesy – would be so much nicer and certainly wouldn’t discourage the person from helping the next one who probably would appreciate the effort! Better to just keep your mouth shut if you can’t say something nice! Of course, I’m old so what do I know!!
    Sorry to be so wordy. Never could say anything in brief when there are all those words out there just waiting to be used!

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  16. Sheila - October 14, 2019 7:30 pm

    We are failing our children. Manner never go out of style. I grieve the good ole days

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  17. Linda Moon - October 14, 2019 7:51 pm

    To Nita: I wasn’t being rude about opening my own door. I’ve battled and survived cancer for 14 years. Independence is good medicine for survivors. “No Thank You” is the polite way I respond to kind people who try to open doors for me. Thank YOU for the comment, whether it was meant for me or not!

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  18. Sharon Hale - October 14, 2019 8:11 pm

    I always say “Thank you” when someone holds the door for me!

    One day several years ago, I was approaching the door of the post office from the inside while someone else was approaching it from the outside. As he held it open for me, his son walked through it. I just started laughing, but he was mortified. As I walked through the door, I said Don’t worry. You’re going to teach him. He told me he thought he already had. I was still laughing when I got in me vehicle.
    ,

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  19. Linda Payton, Tomball, TX - October 14, 2019 8:42 pm

    I enjoy your posts very much

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  20. Paul W. Chappell - October 14, 2019 9:18 pm

    Dude. Following your blog has inspired me to start my own blog. I used to write before blogs existed, and enjoyed yours so much that I decided to try it. I don’t think I’m a copy cat, but we write about similar stuff. Some of my friends follow you and me, which makes me paranoid about the copy cat thing. Like Sunday night. I started a story about manners. I didn’t finish it, but figured I’d get back to it tonight and post it later this week. Then I got your blog this morning, all about manners. Really? Thanks for a great read. Thanks for reading my mind and using my idea. It was actually creepy that some of our lines were almost too close to be anything but weird. My son opened the door for a lady at a restaurant yesterday, which made me want to write about it. I guess I’ll wait 6 months. One day I may stalk you at one of your shows and say Hi. Keep it up. Not sure how you do it every day. I’m trying 3 days a week and that’s tough enough. Thank you, sir.

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  21. Dawn A Bratcher - October 14, 2019 9:30 pm

    Priceless! 😂💕 Manners keep one civilized.
    Well, I think The Simpsons TV show started a lot of the disrespect we see. Now it means nothing when a child is sassy or smart-mouthed on TV – usually they appear funny or cute and the adults are made out to be dull and stupid. So very bad.

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  22. Shirley A. Barnhart - October 14, 2019 10:43 pm

    YOUR COMMENT ON MANNERS IS SO TRUE….PEOPLE TODAY DOES NOT KNOW WHAT MANNERS MEAN…. I TRULY KNOW THIS…!!!!!

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  23. Jim D Rogers - October 15, 2019 12:07 am

    Sean, since you are hardly “broke in good,” I’ll fill you in on how nature throws us breaking balls as time goes zipping by. My sweet wife and I have been married 64 years and counting, and for the first six decades, she took great care of me. Now she has Alzheimer’s disease and has to wear a catheter with a bag that she empties by standing in front of the toilet with the seat up. At my advanced age, annoyances are plenteous, such as having to wear Depends, which means I usually sit to relieve myself. Would you believe, she leaves the seat up?! I’m afraid she’s too old to re-train.

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  24. That's jack - October 15, 2019 1:14 am

    Imma thinkinhg mama would behead me with something quicker than salad tongs if I called anyone brah!
    But yeah, manners mean less now, for some reason. Probably the same reason there is no need for a comma between City and state .
    Good read anyway!
    Sherry & jack over in a cool NC

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  25. Patty Andes - November 9, 2019 11:28 am

    How about tables manners beyond taking the last piece of anything? I recently sat with several people in their late teens to late twenties for dinner. I was appalled at the open mouth, loud smacking and talking while chewing that occurred. It was similar to feeding the cows and pig on the farm, just missing the trough. No blessing, lots of reaching across the table and no regard for personal space. I called my now 34 yo daughter after and thanked her for her good manners and for teaching her daughter the same manners. She reminded me I used to use the tactic of “how would you expect to act at the president’s table – practice that here.” Seems to have worked. Note: I used Jesus before in that reminder, then my kids shared Jesus ate with his fingers!!

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  26. Donna Howell McPherson - November 9, 2019 12:34 pm

    Yes, women can open their own dang door but apparently some don’t know how to handle curtiousy. If someone is kind enough to do something for you, even if you can do it yourself, the proper response is thank you.

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  27. Lori Rall - November 9, 2019 1:08 pm

    My Granny would have killed us with a broken-hearted sniff if we did not offer an “I enjoyed it” after every meal. I’d give you the last piece of (her) pound cake (recipe) to hear her happy “Gladja did!” once again.

    Reply

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