This week, I’d planned on writing about the decline of manners in our society. On the national level, most political discourse now seems to be the verbal equivalent of a two by four to the back of the head. On the local level, a lot of the common courtesy that used to lubricate social interactions seems to have gone missing.
That was the tack I was going to take until I had one of those "mote in my brother’s eye" moments.
Cora Wells was my maternal grandmother.
She was also one of those women southern men referred to as "a force of nature."
Born in southern Louisiana in1890, she grew up there, married, and had three daughters. She then raised them on her own during the Great Depression after her husband died unexpectedly.
Things like that will either break your spirit or make you strong.
She got strong.
"Granny Wells" lived with my family while I was growing up and, since I’d been named after her husband, she made it a point to ensure that I was raised "proper."
In her world, terms like "Mister" and "Miss" as well as "sir" and "ma’am" were required in all conversations with adults. "Please" and "thank you" were always expected as were "excuse me" and "I’m sorry" when appropriate.
Come into the house with a hat on and she’d ask if you were "coming on a cold." You wore one to the table at risk of dismemberment.
Standing was expected whenever a woman was introduced, entered a room, stepped up to or left a table. Giving up your seat was a given. "Only no-accounts do otherwise," was her explanation.
It was an ongoing education punctuated by her threats to "take a switch to me" if I didn’t "mind what I was being taught."
On the subject of switches, whenever I did something she didn’t think "proper" (and her list was long), I was sent to "fetch" a switch.
No matter what I returned with, she’d send me back to get a bigger one. After about the third trip, she’d ask, "Now, do I need to use this?"
"Then go play and don’t ever let me see you do that again."
Switches were her nuclear weapons. Always available, but never used.
One lesson she constantly drilled into my skull, though, was to never "impose" on others – especially friends. Most especially, you were never to take them for granted or put them in a position wherein they might be forced to tell you "no."
"Causes nothing but embarrassment when you do that."
Which is the subject of this column.
You see, recently, there was something I needed to get done and I needed a place to do it quickly.
The details don’t matter, but it was something that could only be done at a desk and I was miles from home.
"No problem," I thought. "I have a friend nearby. I’ll just stop by and see if I can use his computer for a few minutes."
I drove over and knocked at the door. He came out and we passed a few minutes talking. I then explained my problem and asked if I could use his computer for a short time.
He kind of hemmed and hawed and, being a bonehead, I completely missed what he was trying to say.
I pressed a bit more and still missed the clues he was giving me.
On my third try, he just said, "Larry, I’m sorry. We’ve got a problem going on and I just can’t help right now."
And, right there, I heard my grandmother as if she were standing next to me.
I was behaving "poorly." Worse yet, I was "imposing."
I’d put a good friend into an uncomfortable position because I’d forgotten what she’d tried to pound into my thick skull.
At that point, what I was thinking (and I’m cleaning this way up) was, "Just how dumb can I be?"
All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole.
Now I’m worried because, if there are switches in heaven, I know - assuming I ever get there - I’m going to be "fetching" one and Cora may actually use it this time.
I’ve already apologized to my friend and I plan to do it again to make sure he understands that I still feel like an idiot for putting him into an awkward position.
So, if anyone sees a line forming for a refresher course on manners, hold me a spot right up front