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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Life Lessons Learned

By Janet Thompson

My grandmother, Nana, was the first person I remember who laid down strict rules about proper behavior. About grammar, I've never forgotten that “Can I?” is no substitute for “May I, please? “Thanks” isn't preferable to “Thank you very much.”

My boarding school headmistress, Mrs. Miller, entertained several times a year and chose three well-behaved girls to serve her guests. We learned how to set and serve a proper table and to use all the essential table manners. I was not a regular at this but once in a while I was chosen to help.

The napkin may be handed to the guest from the right if they haven't already picked it up. We learned the drink is always served from the right, the dinner plate and dessert from the left. Taking the plates or soup bowls from the table should be from the left, but taking the glassware, cups and saucers followed the same rules as placing them (on the right). One never reaches across the table or in front of a guest.

We learned never to leave our soup spoon in the bowl, but place it on the soup-plate underneath, nor should we ever tip the bowl toward ourselves, because it looks greedy and uncouth.

The soup mantra I have never forgotten was “As little ships set out to sea, I dip my soup away from me.”

Women always were seated before men and we were never to take the first bite of food in any course before the host or hostess did.

Also, if we were a guest in a restaurant, we must never order anything more expensive than the host. If the host hadn't ordered yet, we should choose from the lower-priced offerings unless the host suggested an expensive item. These etiquette rules were what I later learned would typically be taught in a “finishing school.”

Afterwards, at home because Mother believed dining should be “civilized,” we never used plastic plates, cups or utensils for any meal. My brother and I learned to fight while washing the china dishes, glasses and metal cutlery. We used only cloth napkins, never paper. I learned to iron on napkins.

No one ever left the table until everyone was finished eating. Again, it was “Please pass the butter” and “Thank you” not just, “Thanks.” If Daddy passed me the butter and I didn't take the plate but just reached with my knife, I was shocked when he dropped the dish. (An unforgettable learning experience.)

My first real job was with a childless CPA attorney and his wife who only lacked a few credits for degrees in both.

Hazel was an elegant woman and determined that if I represented the firm, I should be also. She said, “Janet, a proper young woman always wears freshly shined shoes and her handbag should always be more expensive than her shoes. Also, she must own a fur coat.”

It was Hazel who helped me choose a lush, brown, sheared beaver number that when wearing it, made me feel like a queen at 19. When I later owned a brown-dyed Persian lamb jacket with its matching hat, sometimes I was mistaken for a movie star and I felt important.

When I became self-employed, I had a modeling agency client. She, too, was fashionable and elegant. I learned how best to apply makeup and affix false eyelashes so they wouldn't smear or come off at untimely moments.

Another valuable models’ tip is this: If you always tuck your shirttail inside your panties, it minimizes the unsightly bulk between your waistline and hips under your skirts and pants.

Like Mother, Jo also said, “Never go to bed with your makeup on.” (But Jo sold gritty stuff to take it off.)

A dear screenwriter friend was too often grieved because I was flummoxed using “lie” and” lay” properly. Every time I now need to use either, I think twice and fondly remember John, my literate movie-going companion.

Shrinks often counsel us to ignore “shoulds” to better take charge of our lives. Remembering all these old “oughts” have added immeasurably to my enjoying a fulfilling and happy life.

Another non-spiritual lesson I learned early-on and on my own, was to seek for friends, only quality folks with moxie and try to emulate them. That, too, is a winner.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Very nicely written Janet. Perhaps courses in etiquette and manners should replace some of the computer courses in the schools. I find young people generally vulgar and ill-mannered these days.

Thank you for a wonderful column. Wish everyone would read it and learn some really nice life lessons.

Thank you! I learned a lot.

Good story, I learned most of these lessons as a youngster.
I remember the nun giving me the evil eye for handing the scissors to her, blades first.
It's a good thing to know how to do it "right".

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