An only child and the oldest granddaughter I was overindulged and sheltered by adoring parents and relatives. And when things went wrong for me, I just picked up my toys and went home.
That didn’t work so well as an adult.
And things aren’t going so well these days. Political turmoil, war and poverty, mega fires, devastating floods, social upheaval, financial instability. And I must admit, my first reaction isn’t to charge headlong into the battle, but to hide, the adult version of “picking up my toys and going home.”
I hear a lot these days about people fleeing the country in desperation. I understand and share their frustration. We have a huge drug problem, our infrastructure is failing, our schools are falling behind, the middle class is struggling, our immigration policies don’t work, our racial divide is widening. Not to mention mass shootings and natural disasters. I hear all that.
But I have to wonder how many of those thinking of leaving the country have lived in or visited other countries for extended periods of time. One look at the nightly news shows us that these are not problems specific to us; they exist the world over. No country is exempt from problems and even if there were such a Nirvana, there is no way to hide there. Our community is global.
Besides, we have so much to fight for, so much we take for granted. Our public education, flawed, but still a route out of poverty for (I’m a case in point). Freedom of speech. No one is imprisoned for criticizing the government or attending religious services. Our cities have clean water and our children are vaccinated against deadly diseases. Our breathtakingly beautiful national parks are open to everyone. For starters.
But it’s not free. To quote Edmund Burke,
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. “
And it all counts. Every thing we don’t say, every seed not planted, word not written, neighbors’ pain ignored, adds to the turmoil, desperation and fear around us. It might be uncomfortable, even dangerous to face our problems. But we can’t afford to pick up our toys and go home.
When I left home for a visit, my mother’s parting words were always “Mind your manners.” Except for the basics such as, don’t chew with your mouth full or reach across the table to take the last biscuit, she wasn’t talking about table manners. At our house, we weren’t concerned with the etiquette of fine dining. She was talking about behavior: “Say please and thank you, don’t interrupt your elders when they’re talking, wait your turn, be polite, pick up after yourself, say “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir;” when addressing adults. In other words, simple courtesies.
Some of my non-Southern-born-and-bred friends tell me that “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir” makes them feel old. OK, so maybe it’s just a Southern thing. And, really, it’s not such a big deal with me. But it is not OK with me when the teenager with green and purple spiked hair, decked out in four inch platform boots and a T-shirt with ” NOPE ” in block letters across her chest yells across the hair salon, “Louise! Ready for ya!” It’s not about her attire; that’s her space and I respect it; I only ask that she respect mine. We call that being polite.
Although Southerners are nothing if not traditional, my mother’s insistence on good manners was not just about tradition. In our rural farming community; short on funds, long on pride; manners were much more than that. Poor manners signaled “poor breeding.” There was no shame in being poor, but to be poor and poorly brought up was unacceptable.
But that was then and this is now. There has been a dramatic shift in our societal norms. Rudeness seems to carry little if any stigma. Adults interrupt their conversations to answer the whining toddler tugging at their sleeve, drivers honk their horns and yell obscenities at the slightest provocation. Lyrics of popular songs are laced with profanity.
Sadly, we have allowed, even welcomed this, for whatever reasons; entertainment, vicarious revenge, the love of a good fight, or just plain apathy. Between 70 and 80% of respondents in a recent survey (1) believed that lack of civility in our society has risen to crisis proportions. And yet in that same survey, over 90% believed that they are “always or usually” respectful and polite to others and 75% said they are” willing to set a good example by practicing civility. ” Hmmm. Somehow the math doesn’t work. In the words of the immortal Pogo: ” We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The fix is so simple as to be embarrassing. Any first grader could tell you the answer; The Golden Rule, plain and simple:
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you. (2)”
How hard is that, really? And the best part? Good manners cost nothing.
(1) Civility in America VII: The State of Civility, 2017 Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate
Southerners love to cook. Especially we love those community gatherings where everyone brings their favorite dish and we all sample “just a bite” of everyone’s. My earliest memories of this were “Dinner on the Ground,” and it literally was on the ground. Thinking about it now, I’m amazed we kept the kids from stumbling into the spread – and maybe we didn’t..
I have such wonderful memories of that food – and no matter how many times I try recreating their recipes, they just don’t come out the same. Uncle Henry’s fried chicken, Miss Nina’s coconut cake,
Miss Ethel’s peach cobbler, Aunt Minnie’s chicken and dumplings, Miss Edna’s buttermilk biscuits, and of course, Aunt Annie’s fabled deviled eggs.
Eventually we graduated to folding tables and chairs and finally to a real Fellowship Hall equipped with all the modern conveniences. Much more comfortable but in nostalgic moods, I wonder if we were better off in those days. We were blissfully unaware of the dangers of sugar, gluten, lactose, saturated fat, cholesterol, and vegetarians were, well, just weird. There was no guilt associated with a hamburger and a coke for lunch.
We had no idea the trouble we were in.
My rational self remembers how it was to lose relatives to diet-related disease, especially heart disease and diabetes. These could be devastating for a family, since health insurance was essentially non-existent in those days; health care was pay-as-you-go.
Southerners will always love our community food get-togethers, although today we make at least a token effort to prepare healthful food . However, if the occasional slice of coconut cake happened to sneak in, well.. just a bite couldn’t hurt.
I would definitely not light up after dinner in my favorite restaurant these days, but there was a time when..
Smoking was a rite of passage, a symbol of sophistication. Movie stars smoked: James Dean, Elvis, Kathryn Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, to name a few. Smoke rose along the edge of the TV screen from Edward R. Murrow’s ashtray as he delivered the evening news. Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson smoked. Doctors, including the Surgeon General, smoked. Even Fred Flintstone smoked! Cigarettes dominated the advertising market and heavily supported prime time TV, sponsoring such popular family programs as “I Love Lucy,” “I’ve Got a Secret,” and “The Adams Family. All, among many others, brought to us by the cigarette industry. In this vintage Philip Morris commercial, Lucy tells us “how to keep your man happy” by choosing the right cigarette.
Most men, including my father and uncles, in the small Louisiana community where I grew up smoked. Sundays after church would find them clustered on the steps or under a nearby tree, hastily lighting up or stoking pipes, although it was considered immoral by some, and especially on church property. However, it was more or less accepted as a good man’s reward for bringing the family to church. There was no debate, however, on the subject of smoking for women. It
was “trashy” and everyone knew it. I never smoked until years after leaving home and then never, ever, in the presence of a family member. The only woman I knew who was able to escape the ire of the community for flaunting the “smoking ban” for women was my wonderfully eccentric Aunt Ivalee. But then, she was from New Orleans…
I began smoking in earnest in grad school. And I loved it. I loved it all. The ambience, the romance of it, that special camaraderie among smokers. I loved blowing smoke rings. I loved a cigarette with a cup of coffee after dinner. I loved the way it made me feel. And it didn’t hurt that it helped me keep the weight off. And after all, I could always quit…whenever I was ready.
On July 12, 1957, the Surgeon General issued the first official, and greatly understated, warning about the harmful effects of smoking. Seven years later, the American Cancer Society released a slightly stronger warning. However neither acknowledged the compelling evidence of the link between lung cancer being suppressed by the tabacco industry. A virtual war ensued over the next three decades between health care advocates and the powerful Tobacco Institute. Eventually health advocates won an uneasy peace, taxes were levied, warning labels required, and smoking rates declined, as more and smokers attempted to kick the habit. But what no one knew then, was that the power of the nicotine addition is comparable to that of heroin, and for most people, more powerful than alcohol.
I eventually quit smoking in the 80s, my resolve being fortified by the growing public disfavor of smoking. Secondary smoke had been implicated in lung cancer and growing number of restaurants restricted smoking to designated areas. Some airlines banned smoking on flights less than two hours and by 1990 all smoking on airlines was banned.
But breaking the nicotine habit turned out to be far more difficult than I had imagined. A few days (or hours) after gathering my resolve, throwing all my cigarettes in the trash, out the window, giving them away, etc., would find me scrounging for cigarettes under sofa cushions, jacket pockets, even trash cans. Those humiliating experiences gave me a new understanding of the power of addiction and compassion for those under its spell.
Today, with all the knowledge at hand about the harmful effects of cigarettes, smoking would seem to be a game-stopper. However, about 15% of adults and sadly, 20% of teenagers, are smokers today. I would like to think that if my rebellious teenage self had known what I know now about smoking, she would have exercised the good judgment not to light up. But, sadly, good judgment seems to be something we learn by making mistakes, assuming we live through them.
Click here to view a history of the effects of smoking on health.