I could wish that every one of us had a boyhood like mine.
My parents were philosophical and scrupulously honest.
The old adage "Be good to each other" was never far from my family's expressed behavior.
Good manners prevailed in every part of our life.
"Please" and "thank you" filled the air.
"Be on time," I was told. "Being late without a valid excuse is immoral, because time is worth money. Steal a person's time and you might as well be stealing his money."
My parents told me to stick to the "unvarnished truth."
How often did I hear, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive?" Surely, often enough to implant Sir Walter Scott's famous words from Lochinvar securely in my mind forever.
"A liar needs a superb memory," I was reminded. "When you tell the straight, simple truth, you don't have to remember some 'version' you may have told before."
"What is a perfect 'man' like, Granny?" I asked.
She said, "A doer. A giver. Kind, direct, correct — considerate of well-meaning people's feelings. Not a schemer or a manipulator, rather an intelligent person of good manners — a gentleman."
Granny pointed out that none of those attributes was beyond my striving for, as a young boy.
"Manners make the man," she told me, explaining that good manners are the "final touch" that identifies a true gentleman.
"To judge a person's character," she told me, "observe how he treats those under him, not the way he treats his superiors."
My grandmother put great importance on the proper manners of a host, and the manners of being a good guest in someone else's house.
"A good guest makes a good host. And a good host ought to be able to make a good guest — but that doesn't always work."
She drilled into me to "be someone they'll want to invite again."
Of course, I was taught always to stand when "ladies, or elders, entered the room."
To this day, I still get up under those circumstances, although I'm having a tougher and tougher time locating anyone who is "older than I!"
Throughout my youth, I followed the rule of giving my streetcar seat to any elder who was standing.
As one who entertains a lot, I can tell you that a great number of otherwise dependable people ignore RSVP, that time-honored and very practical request.
"RSVP" says simply, "Please tell me if you're coming or not."
When people do not respond to your RSVP, it's best to prepare for their coming, but — oh yes — you're never ever inviting them again!
To my grandmother, such people were, at least, "bumpkins" whose proper social life lay outside the boundaries of polite human intercourse.
They were, therefore, not worth fooling with.
Old-fashioned colorful colloquialisms aside, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves how many of our acquaintances may feel that we are not worth "fooling with," as to manners.
Are they right?
I find that writing a note is a good way to convey thanks that stick. A thank-you note after having been a guest at a meal is, to me, de rigueur.
Edmund Burke, the great 18th-century Irish philosopher, said, "Manners are of more importance than laws … Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us …"
Bad manners can inflict something close to pain upon the recipients.
A few pertinent questions:
Have you ever invited quasi-strangers (perhaps someone new to the neighborhood) to participate in a social occasion under your roof, and received no answer?
Are there people who have many times been visitors in your home — and whose home you have never once entered?
Are there people whom you have entertained — perhaps many times for meals — who have never reciprocated in any way?
The matter of reciprocation is a sensitive one both in implication and in fact.
How important is it that we keep close track of our "obligations" and never let our outstanding debts to others be overlooked?
Such obligations should be as real and pressing as those at a bank — no debt should be incurred unless it is going to be repaid.
This applies equally to social, as well as to financial debts.
Any Gentleman or Lady knows this fact.
The handling of such social obligations is rightly seen as symbolic of the true character of the individual.
Today's normal society demands that manners often be curtailed in the haste of getting things done — "The ends justify the means."
Today, many an orderly man, of calm, even manners, could, in public perhaps, be mistaken for a doorman!
Children as table guests are welcome only at the discretion of their parents.
An ill-mannered kid today might be sitting at a table of dinner guests, and suddenly, without permission, leave the table and embark upon an out-of-sight perambulation of the host's home.
Who is responsible for such outlandish manners? The child? Or the parent?
Come to think of it, lots of children today must learn good manners without ever having seen any at home!
Manners are the underlying symptoms of custom and law.
Eight year-old hep-kid Garrett, son of our dear friend Tonya, is inventive: When Garrett's young friends are in his family's home, he takes them into the kitchen and has them read aloud his Rules of the House posted on the refrigerator door. He leaves no doubt as to how youngsters must act if they want to be guests under his parents' roof! Tonya says she neither initiated the list, nor the reading.
Whatever made Garrett decide to do this, it works. Tonya has not had to restrain his friends, and he has plenty of visitors!
In all things to do with good manners, the sensitive person heeds the final arbiter on tap in the depths of his own being: namely noblesse oblige.
This still sweet inborn voice that guides us in the direction of our best instincts should shape the quality and tone of all we think, say and do. Listen to it!