July 3, 2019
“Thanks to Miss Polly, and a strict mother, thank-you notes became second nature.”
What gives this grannie the most delight is watching her grandchildren take on the manners mantle.
As a child growing up in a small Louisiana town in the 1960s, I am from an era when manners were essential virtues for a young girl or boy to have.
My parents expected me to say “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir” to elders, and to not only make eye contact when I shook a grown-up’s hand, but to also make a slight curtsy.
My mom was a stickler for the “Southern Lady” thing, which is funny since she was from New York.
Manners were such a big deal that my mother enrolled me in a manners course one summer — Miss Polly’s Charm School. Classes were taught all the way across town at a local community center. I could ride my bike there without fear of being mugged, kidnapped, or run over. Times were simpler then.
Miss Polly had curly red hair, dressed to the nines, and taught us such skills as which fork, knife, and spoon to use and how to hold each properly. Thanks to Miss Polly, and a strict mother, thank-you notes became second nature.
She also taught us unique life skills, like how to get in and out of a car without showing our panties. This was harder to achieve when I was barely 4 feet tall and could hardly reach the car without using a ladder.
We spent part of each class walking around balancing a book on our heads in the hopes that we would walk more gracefully. Trust me, it didn’t work.
I haven’t thought much about Miss Polly in decades, although her skills have helped me in my many awkward moments. It recently occurred to me that I’ve been teaching my own kids and grandkids some of Miss Polly’s lessons all my life.
Passing of the torch
I’m now on my second generation of manners neurosis with Rylan and Amelia. Their parents do a good job in this arena, but I’ve added my own spin to it. I don’t insist they use “ma’am” and “sir” in conversations, as sadly, it isn’t a New Orleans thing.
However, I do want them to know the proper utensils to use, to stand when a lady comes to the table (even that is negotiable these days) and to be able to conduct themselves in formal settings.
The message about manners is simple: It’s about showing respect for other people and traditions. Good manners never go out of fashion.
Amelia, 9, has become an expert in setting the table. I can always depend on her to set it properly and to fold the cloth napkins in a variety of shapes. She has an artsy bent to her and could give Martha Stewart a run. She also loves to dress up and go to nice restaurants or to the theater.
Rylan, 12, admits he’s not too keen on dressing up and would rather be in his soccer clothes than a blazer and tie. He has an adventurous appetite, and satisfying that is often the lure when we go out to eat.
The other night we had two birthdays and an anniversary to celebrate, so we took the family to Arnaud’s, one of our favorite special occasion restaurants. Rylan sat next to me, pulled on his necktie and said, “Lollie, you know I never like to get dressed up for fancy nights, but once I get there, the food is always so good that I end up having a good time.” Life has its compensations.
The eight of us had a stellar time that night. But I got the most pleasure watching our grandchildren order confidently from the menu (no kiddie menu for them), use the proper utensils, and talk with the adults about serious and fun matters alike.
They felt right at home under the massive chandeliers and in a grown-up, sophisticated world. I think Miss Polly would be very proud.