Thursday, February 05, 2009

White Gloves and Party Manners

I've been sick and a little tired today. It was also a Kylee day. Once a week, our granddaughter comes to spend the evening because both her parents work on the same night.

My boy got a Valentine's coupon from Zaxby's with a free cookie for him and a friend. ZBoy decided that he wanted Kylee to have the other cookie, so I packed the kids up and took them to Zaxby's for dinner.

Well, I thought I took kids. As it turns out, I took a couple of crazy animals. They ran and made too much noise and I had to be very stern with them to make them sit more or less quietly in our booth until our order number was called.

ZBoy settled down to the business of eating dinner rather quickly and quietly, while Kylee kvetched about her fries, her sandwich and things in general. I opened her chocolate milk for her and told her to eat.

I can hardly describe what happened next.

A moment later, I looked up from my own dinner and across from me, Kylee had stuffed her mouth with french fries so full that she couldn't even close her lips over them. It was disgusting.

"Are your table manners always this atrocious? Are you this rude to other people you eat with?" I demanded (remember, I wasn't feeling so hot and when I feel like that, blunt is my middle name).

Tears started welling up in her eyes, but I was having none of it. I waited until she managed to swallow that mess, and asked her where she learned her manners. "From my dad. And my teachers are always trying to teach me," she whispered. Well, that explains a lot. Her dad is NOT the poster child for good manners of any sort, much less table manners.

Trying to reign in my irritation, I explained to her why having good table manners was important. And as I did, I remembered...

I don't know how old I was, maybe ten or eleven, when my mother announced that she had signed me up for a course in manners at a local department store. I was aghast. Why on earth did I need manners? Why should I have to take a COURSE in manners???? On Saturday mornings, no less? Off she dragged me, kicking and screaming (figuratively, of course - I would never have dared to to it literally) to the White Gloves and Party Manners class at Gayfers Department Store.

My instructor was a trim, older (like 40) woman with the most amazingly fluffy, gravity-defying blonde hairdo ever. Ms. Townsend was a Southern Lady and she was going to turn that class of about 15 little ruffians into ladies if it killed her. We were required to wear proper dresses, be clean, and wear white gloves to class.

I thought I was going to die.

She drilled us in how to sit down and stand up, how to walk, how to curtsey (!), how to meet people and shake hands. We had to introduce ourselves over and over, using good diction and proper English. We had tea and luncheons and practiced not leaning on the table, sitting up straight, how to keep a napkin from sliding off our laps. Sipping not slurping. No clattering silverware or knocked over glasses allowed at her table!

I grumbled every week when I had to go to class, grudgingly getting out of the car and going in for my latest lesson on how to walk.

But for all my resistance, I learned.

Oddly, the graduation was a fashion show for the department store, where all of us suddenly turned into little models. Our outfits were picked out for us (and we got to keep them!), and we had to walk straight and tall and confidently down the runway, smiling and at ease. That turned out to be a hell of a test. When it was all over, we got little diplomas tied with a white satin bow.

What I actually got was so much more.

I am not the most outgoing person in the world, but I know how to meet people, put them at ease and hold a conversation with them. I can eat barbecue out in a field or have high tea in some fancy restaurant and feel confident of my ability to do either one without embarrassing myself. I stand up straight, sit up straight - and my napkin rarely falls off my lap.

And I still have my book somewhere. I was telling all this to Kylee over chicken fingers. Her eyes got wide as she listened. And I told her that I would be willing to teach her table manners every Thursday when she came to visit. If she did well, we would get dressed up and go somewhere for our very own special lady lunch one day. She nodded slowly as she thought about it. And decided to do it.

Guess I'd better dig out that book!


HoosierGirl5 said...

OMG!!! I went to "White Gloves and Party Manners" too, when I was a little girl!!! My grandmother took me - to a fancy department store in Louisville every Saturday.

Boy, you really sent me down memory lane!

Alice in Wonderbread said...

That is too cute. Kylie will be glad and grateful later.

Jan said...

I love your story and what you're going to do with Kylee. I bet there's a lot of demand for your "service", on a wide scale. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. Uncle John did the same thing for me when I was 18. "The Officer's Guide" did the rest. It makes you so much more comfortable with the world if you know how and when to put others at ease.


Pamela said...

our culture has left good manners behind, I fear.

Patience said...

Excellent! Our society could definitely use better manners, table and otherwise.

Manners are yet to be written for some of the more high-tech situations, such as when and when not to use a cell phone!

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful idea. I remember doing the same thing can't recall what mine was called. I wish it would work with boys. Believe me I have tried with mine. I think they get some of it but blow me off on the rest.


Mrs. Really Long Last Name said...

I took the same class! Mine didn't have a fancy title or a spiffy book though... and we didn't get to keep the outfit.

Swampy at Home said...

First of all, hope you are feeling better !
Second of all, once again I want to thank you for taking the time to meet AnodeMan, Bubba, Bug, and me for lunch. That was a hoot. I will post about it as soon as this organized chaos in my life settles down.
Fourth of all, my girls took a "Little Miss Manners" class, too.

Now I'm thinking back to our day at the Fish Restaurant hoping that I didn't shove 6 or 7 hush puppies in my bouth at once. Giggle Giggle.

Anonymous said...

My generation had "Deportment" class at the Woman's Club. White gloves, dresses and HATS!! But, I know which fork to use and how to set a proper table, not that I need those things.
Thank you for helping that darling. You may be the only one who knows how to teach her.

HoosierGirl5 said...

Yes, she DID have poofy hair and a southern accent. And she seemed to know my grandmother really well. They were probably in cahoots to try to shape me up! (it didn't work!)


PS. You've been tagged!

Bobbie Leigh said...

Holy shit, I think your grandkids are hanging out with my kids. We don't even go out to dinner anymore- strictly carry out and delivery.

Janis said...

It is so disheartening to me to see all the young people without respect or manners. Our society has let them down, for we don't demand or expect it anymore. In the long run, it's the kids that lose. You are doing Kaylee a great service to teach her the social graces, it will serve her well in her adult years.

jill said...

this is awesome. I admit I'm not that classy of a lady, but I hate it when kids are downright rude at the dinnertable. we were schooled each night on how to eat properly. of course we learned to sit up straight in church. i still slouch at home, but in public I tend to do a little better. now i have a little one and you better believe please and thank you and proper etiquette for a little miss will be on the agenda!

Anonymous said...

I took "white gloves and party manners" as a child at Ivey's dept store in north hills mall in Raleigh NC. I still have my book and we are going to start a class based on it with our Girl Scout Troop this coming year.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, does this bring back memories!! I grew up in RI in the 1960's and was a real tomboy. My Grandmother insisted that my parents send me to "charm school.' So for several years I was dragged off the ball field every Sunday and forced to put on a party dress, Mary Janes and a pair of white gloves! In my opinion, it was tantamount to child abuse! I do laugh about it now though, and I must admit, I do believe I have impeccable manners. I have the yellow & white book too, to prove it! ��