Whenever I think of the quintessential southern belle, Julia Sugarbaker comes to mind. Yes, I know she is just a character on my all-time favorite television show, “Designing Women,” but she is still my hero.
As a four-year-old, my first hero was Batman. I loved him not only for his super cool appearance, but also because he was humble, determined, and intelligent, and he had a strong moral code. Being like Batman seemed possible because he didn’t possess superhuman traits that weren’t available to normal people. He used the abilities he was born with to rid the world of evil. Aside from being wealthy, he was a regular guy who took a stand and fought for those who were unable to defend themselves.
Julia Sugarbaker is much the same. Though she has means, and education, and style, she always fights for the underdog, and believes that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. (Forgive me for speaking of her in the present tense, but I feel like in some ways we’re kindred spirits and since I can still watch her on television, I like to believe that she and Suzanne, Mary Jo, Charlene and Anthony are still designing and decorating in Atlanta).
At times, my friend, Julia, can be a bit fiery when she stands up for her beliefs and for others, but she expresses herself with dignity, and pride, slamming the wrongs of society with a velvet hammer. Like everyone, Julia Sugarbaker has her limits, and when the vulgar and inexcusable behavior of a group of people who were on the Parade of Homes tour in her residence became more than she could handle, she snapped:
Julia: We Southerners have had to endure many things, but one thing we Southerners don’t have to endure is a bunch of bored housewives turning historical homes into theme parks, not to mention ill-mannered tourists with their Big Gulps, Mistys, Slurpees, and Frosties, their dirty feet overflowing rubber thongs, and babies who sneeze Fudgesicle juice! Out, out of my house! As God is my witness, I will burn it down myself before I let you in again! Mary Jo: Julia, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but I don’t think you’re going to be invited to be on the tour of homes next year. Julia: Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
In real life, Dixie Carter, the actress who played Julia, stated, “The purpose of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable.” And she was spot-on. Being mannerly shouldn’t make others feel inferior, uncomfortable, or awkward. When you consider the feelings of others, and make them feel important, you not only have manners, but you also have class.
Undeniably, the very best definition of CLASS is given by Ann Landers who wrote:
“Class never runs scared. It is sure-footed and confident. It can handle anything that comes along. Class has a sense of humor. It knows a good laugh is the best lubricant for oiling the machinery of human relations. Class never makes excuses. It takes its lumps and learns from past mistakes. Class knows that good manners are nothing more than a series of small, inconsequential sacrifices. Class bespeaks an aristocracy that has nothing to do with ancestors or money. Some wealthy “blue bloods” have no class, while individuals who are struggling to make ends meet are loaded with it.
Class is real. It can’t be faked. Class never tried to build itself by tearing others down. Class is already up and need not strive to look better by making others look worse. Class can ‘walk with kings and keep it’s virtue and talk with crowds and keep the common touch.’ Everyone is comfortable with the person who has class because that person is comfortable with himself. If you have class, you’ve got it made. If you don’t have class, no matter what else you have, it doesn’t make any difference.”
As I write this blog, I hope that I don’t come off as condescending, judgmental, or uppity. However, I’m about to get on my soapbox, so grab your favorite drink and snack, put on your comfy clothes, and get ready for my tirade!!
I think being mannerly is immensely important. If every person on God’s green earth practiced good manners, our world would be a much kinder, gentler, and neater place. Everyone isn’t gifted with intelligence, athletic ability, creativity, or talent, but all individuals can learn to be mannerly and kind. It is a choice, and if manners and kindness aren’t taught at home, as educators, it becomes our job (whether we like it or not) to model, teach, and reinforce how to behave in a polite fashion. It’s a daunting task, to say the least.
Sadly, manners and appropriate conduct in public seem to have gone by the wayside, and as I write this, I feel somewhat like a dinosaur, because these are things that I always thought only older people discussed. I guess that makes me officially old (and maybe I should go ahead and fill out that application for AARP that relentlessly arrives every few months to remind me of my eligibility status).
With that being said, I strongly believe there are some rules and things that just SHOULD NOT be messed with–
2. real Coke
4. wearing appropriate socks that don’t stick out of your shoes, especially when wearing flats, loafers or ankle boots (they make these on purpose and are called NO SHOW for a reason).
5. not wearing white after Labor Day or before Easter
I’ve always tried to practice good etiquette, and I’m sure there have been times when I wouldn’t have passed muster with Mrs Post, but manners are a part of my everyday life. The fact that the book, “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” is now in its 18th edition, supports the point that society is changing and we must not only keep the well established rules, but also should adapt, and add standards in order to continue to coexist in a civil and respectful society.
I’ll never forget when my boys were young, I always looked for teachable moments to help me in my quest to raise them to be upstanding citizens and polite young men. One day, when Charles was around three, we were riding in the car, and I asked him as well as his brother Christopher a question, to which neither of them answered with “yes ma’am or no ma’am.” It was at that moment that I explained the importance of good manners, and Charles exclaimed, “Minners are yucky,” thinking I said minnows instead of manners. I was horrified and aghast that my son sounded like he resided in Dogpatch USA, but in my defense, he had recently been fishing at PaPaw’s pond, and had “minners” on his mind. When I explained what I meant (after nervously wondering if I actually pronounced the word in such a way as to cause the confusion), and I asked how they should answer the question, three-year-old Charles, quickly rebounded and said, “You should always say yes ma’am and yes sir, and you should never say DAMN!” I nearly swerved off the road, gasping at his revelation. But, he did make a good point.
As a teacher/counselor, I have seen the decline in manners over my thirty plus years in public education. And just this past week, while teaching summer school, I nearly came undone when a young lady, instead of asking if she could be excused to the restroom, screamed out, “Can I go pee?” Oh! My! Stars! What in the world? I would have been grounded if I ever said that in the presence of my mother! Or anyone else, for that matter. I was to always be ladylike, and never do anything to sully the family name!
Another thing that is common these days is for young ladies to openly and unapologetically belch in public! Never in my life would I have been caught doing that! Again, because I didn’t want to be sent away to boot camp or reform school, or even worse, receive a lecture on proper decorum. One day while I was in the JH office, a high school girl came in to visit with the secretary. As soon as she walked in, she opened her mouth and let out the loudest, most obnoxious and disgusting sound I’ve ever heard! She burped like she had downed 50 cans of Coca-Cola and 20 corn dogs in some sort of eating/drinking extravaganza or competition. I was simply aghast, because this young lady is beautiful, and smart, and talented, and should know better! So I immediately, and without hesitation, exclaimed, “Oh, my goodness! Don’t do that! It’s so rude! You should know better!” She jerked her neck back, looked me up and down, spun around and left the room. She didn’t speak to me for weeks, until one day, she walked in and exclaimed, “I love your purse, Mrs. Keith. Where did you get it?” And I happily replied, “It’s Draper James. You know, Reese Witherspoon’s company. I bought it online.” (I should have added, just like manners, this purse is classic and won’t go out of style). I knew striking up a conversation was this young lady’s way of getting back in my good graces and mending the bridge that had been slightly burned. I just hope that she remembers it isn’t ladylike to burp or make other bodily sounds in public.
And that brings me to my next point. These days, when I’m pondering manners, and etiquette, style and grace, I seem to ask myself, “What would Reese Do?” I think Reese Witherspoon is just fabulous, and she exudes class and style in a simple and elegant way. I recently read her book, “Whiskey in a Teacup,” and found her and the book to be completely charming! I have ordered no less than a half dozen copies of the best-seller and have given them as gifts, sometimes along with a fancy teacup (and maybe a tiny bottle of whiskey). Reese is obviously younger than I am, but it’s so refreshing to read her take on the things that are important to her–family, traditions, and even how to use hot rollers!
So, as I try to tie these thoughts together I’ll end with a list, which is entirely appropriate since I’m known by my family as being the (evil) “list-maker.” I thrive and survive by writing a “to-do” list every day, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I have a list of things that I try to encourage students to always do, and I also believe that these will answer the question WWRD?
1. Always greet people, and use their names. Everyone loves to hear his/her name–it makes them feel important and special.
2. If someone speaks to you, respond. It’s also nice to ask them a question, too, like, “How are you doing?”
3. Open doors for others.
4. Clean up after yourself.
5. Don’t litter. Anywhere. Ever. Refer to #4
6. Don’t give too much information (TMI) We don’t all need to know everything about you. Case in point. When Christopher was in first grade, the mother of a girl in his class blurted out to me at the Valentines Party that she had a “tilted uterus.” I could have lived my entire life without that knowledge.
7. Don’t discuss inappropriate things in public.
8. RSVP—this is a biggy for me! Adults don’t even do this anymore! It beats anything I’ve ever seen! Oh, my-lanta! Be like Nike, and Just Do It!
9. Write thank you notes when people do kind things for you! Hand-written notes are the best, but any kind of response is appreciated.
10. Put your napkin in your lap, and don’t talk with your mouth full. And please, chew with your mouth closed, and do so quietly.
11. When at social events, don’t pull your phone out! And definitely, don’t have your phone out when eating at the table at home (hopefully you do eat at the table), or in a restaurant.
12. Excuse yourself if you accidentally burp, sneeze, cough, snort, sniffle, or make any other sound with your body.
13. Always say please and thank you.
14. Smile. The world needs more smiles.
As I close, I’d like to say “Thank you” to Julia and Reese for being examples to me. And thank you to my mother, who began teaching me manners as soon as I arrived in this world. She drilled into my brain proper behavior, and I fondly remember a book, “Manners for Moppets,” that we read on a regular basis. Every time I RSVP, write a thank you note, or make a casserole for someone who is ill or has suffered a loss, I am reminded of the many lessons and examples my sweet mother modeled for me.
I know I’m not alone in my crusade for a more mannerly America. It’s gonna take a village of parents, teachers, and employers, as well as a whole lotta consistency, and effort. I believe if I can impart the importance of “minners” to at least one person, it will change that person’s life in a positive way, and hopefully it will have a ripple effect.
I’m not naive, and I know, without a doubt, we have a hard road to hoe, y’all, because just today, in between my writing, I was at the grocery store and witnessed a car pulling out of a spot and almost hitting another vehicle. The vehicle that was almost hit, honked loudly, blaring on the horn for a long while. The woman driving the other car had what appeared to be a teenage boy riding shotgun–a lovely (sarcasm inserted here) teenage boy with his window rolled down, who emphatically raised his arm outside the car window, and in an extremely rude and belligerent manner, flipped off the driver of the other car and basically everyone who was in the grocery store parking lot. All I can say is “Jesus, take the wheel.”
Yes, at times the crudeness of our society as exhibited on television, and in real life, is appalling and makes me want to drink whiskey, but at least I can rest assured, that if I’m driven to drink alcohol, I will sip it from a teacup, with my pinky pointed out, as a true lady should. (And please, do yourself a favor and read “Whiskey in a Teacup.” I don’t want to give any details away, but the meaning behind the title is just awesome!)
Thanks, y’all! I appreciate your kindness, encouragement, and support, and am thankful you read these blogs. (Please consider this my proper thank you note….)