I can remember it near and close, still, not like it was forty+ years ago. Our kitchen phone, the only one in the house, wasn’t on the wall. It didn’t have that long, long cord like so many homes did.
Ours was an awful color. Some pinkish tank color. It had an oval base and sat close to the plug. You could sit at the kitchen table and speak on it, but that was about it.
My Dad was a very talented commercial artist at a small firm. When they decided it was time for me to learn proper phone etiquette, I was given instructions on what to say and how to say it. Several afternoons that summer I called my Dad at work:
“May I please speak with Mr. Swanson?”
I still do that today.
I can remember when I was barely driving and I thought it a good idea to bring home an entire litter of kittens. They squirmed out of the box and they were jumping all over the car. Soon underfoot and collecting near the gas pedal, I could not brake in time before bumping into the car in front of me. Unfortunately, it was an older gentleman driving his prized, lifelong dream car. Egad.
My parents took me to the Police Station and, as I was answering questions by the officer, my Dad was very sharp with me in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I answered, “Yeah” and my Dad shot me a glare, “Yes, sir!”
My parents were adamant about please and thank-you. They were diligent and relentless about impeccable manners and they installed and instilled kind waves and nice nods and gentlemanly ways of conduct.
Our neighbors were part of a vast conspiracy which collectively held all of us kids to a common ideal when it came to telling the truth and sharing food and toys and clothes. I can remember an uncle teaching me how a young, classy lady should demurely shake a hand. I can remember my basketball coach, Jan Sander, teaching me how a strong, confident woman does it.
I can remember being in New York with my friends in the 80s and, at every turn, saying “Please” and “Thank you” to food servers and taxi drivers. Slow, Midwestern Kara there in the Big Apple with the millions rushing and bumping by me as I barely made my way. “Excuse me.” “Pardon me.”
My friends laughed and rolled their eyes.
Yesterday, when I was coming home, I sat waiting to turn on three separate occasions as young people sauntered across busy roads, bringing the afternoon progress to a screeching halt. They didn’t hustle to cross when the cars started backing up. They didn’t offer a wave of appreciation. Nothing.
I was in line at a drive-thru window and there was someone blasting their horn behind me. As I slowly passed the car in front of me, I leaned out to tell her it wasn’t me blasting. She just looked at me and flipped me off.
I can remember fondly, decades ago, when it was commonplace to connect with the driver coming towards you. The two of you would help each other get through whatever crowded sidestreet or obstacle you were commonly facing. Helpful waves. Smiles. Nods.
We used to help each other.
I can’t remember the last time someone waved back when I cast them out a friendly hello. A smile and a nod. Letting them go first. Helping them get by.
When I announce sporting events at my old high school, I’m constantly observing young people who refuse to remove their caps during the National Anthem. I’ve seen kids talking and laughing all during our Anthem, even with their parents who are standing right there with them. There I am after the anthem, stumbling over bleachers to remind these kids what it means to stand with respect for the National Anthem. They look at me like I’m an alien.
As I approach each young person through the course of an event, I’ll look them in the eye and smile and offer up a greeting. Some days I am lucky if, out of ten, I may get one hello and two inaudible grunts. When a young person looks me back in the eye and actually smiles and returns a true greeting, I just want to grab up that kid and give them a hug. LOL.
Standing in line near any store counter or seated in earshot in most restaurants, I overhear, “Gimme this, gimme that….” I don’t hear, “May I please” much of anything.
A little after Mother’s Day. A few weekends before Father’s Day. I’m heading out today to go see my parents’ grave site. I’m sure the gold foil on their name plate continues to fade. I’ll bring scissors to trim the grass growing all willy nilly around the edges. I’ll wash off the plate and leave my Mom some flowers. Bring my Dad a small American flag to honor his WW2 service in the Navy.
I’ll tell them about their grandkids, Charlie and Samantha. I’ll tell them how my brother, Craig and his wife, Sue, have taught them an etiquette that they would be proud of. When I see the kids, they say “Please” and “thank you.”
They have no idea what a positive difference they make. A light in this world. I look in those young faces with their bright eyes and brilliant teeth and healthy skin and bodies running all over playgrounds and ball fields and I feel…
I pray that, one day, they will look back at these seemingly small lessons with grateful hearts.
Thank you, Mom and Dad. Thank you, Craig and Sue. Thank you, Charlie and Samantha. People say, all the time, how this next generation is doomed to snarky, selfish, even criminal behavior.
I’m not going to buy it. Not with the wonderful hope seeds growing all around me.
Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Father’s Day to all the great people out there working so hard to bring up responsible, peaceful, polite young people. If nice or polite make me hopelessly passe, I’ll live with that.
Hang in there. You rock! You keep doing what you’re doing, great parents. We need more and more light to chase away a growing darkness. I’m not convinced that the answer is simply teaching “please” and “thank you” and a respectful decorum during the National Anthem but I will always believe that’s a road sign on a positive path.
Cheering and saluting all the terrific parents out there. Happy Spring, Happy Every Little Thing.