Minding your manners, past and present

Editor’s note: This column was originally published in 2004. Harry Sanford Queener Sr., 94, died on March 22, 2011.

My husband’s grandfather, Grandpa Queener, never misses a chance to educate me. During our visits to Geneva, he always tucks a few books in my arms just as we are leaving on topics ranging from Native American folklore to politics and culture to media coverage in America.

However, his most-fascinating gift to me was a book I’ve found to be both entertaining and nostalgic. It’s a book about manners.

It’s not just any book about manners, though. Grosset and Dunlap published “Modern Etiquette for Young People” by Olive Richards Landers in 1936.

The inside book jacket contains a specific stamp: “This book, while produced under wartime conditions, in full compliance with government regulations for the conservation of paper and other essential materials, is complete and unabridged.”

If there is a way to capture the changing of cultures and values within a society, studying a book of manners is a good place to start. The Practicing Etiquette chapter captures the early ’30s well when describing how to “entertain a boy who calls” on a girl. “First of all, be sure that some of the rest of the family, preferable one or both of your parents, are in the house all the time he is there and that one, or more, comes into greet him,” the chapter states. “If there is a radio program on which you know he likes, that will help you entertain him; you might roll up a rug and dance to some of the dance orchestra music offered.”

Table manners are addressed in a chapter all its own and might even change the way you eat your dinner tonight.

“Put gravy on your meat or vegetables, as you prefer, but not on a piece of bread placed on your plate for that purpose, unless you are eating alone at home. Do not mop up remnants of gravy or other sauces or dressings with a piece of bread.” In other words, slop it up only when you are in the privacy of your own home.

The chapter titled “Be Interesting in Conversations” offers young people examples of “slovenly” speech verses proper speech.

The book states that young people often say “mount’n instead of mountain, a-nour instead of an hour, rekkanize instead of recognize and Feb’uary” instead of February. Also, the book recommends substituting going to, want to, had to, let me, give me, don’t you for gonna, wanna, hadda, lemme, gimme and don’cha, respectively.

Finally, there are a few tips included that address how a person should leave a dance or party appropriately.

“Wait for the car to be brought to the door before you go out to it. Preferably have your escort take you straight home, and then, after telling him what a good time it has been and how you have enjoyed it, let him go home.”

To review, this book of manners from 1936 explains how to speak clearly, how to eat properly and how interact with others appropriately in social settings. Although some might bring you a reminiscent sigh or chuckle, these expected manners have merely adapted over the years, not disappeared.

You don’t believe me? Think about it. Manners are the most-easily forgotten, yet most-noticed trait a person can show to others.

People are more likely to forget the person who cut them off while driving and more likely to remember the one who shared an unsolicited kind word.

Therefore, I’m encouraging you to be a rebel. Yes, don’t let the manner-less people rule the world. Call out those pleases. Mean those thank-yous. And most of all, remember that your choice to do so reflects your own personal character toward others.

A book from 1936 captured the attention of a woman from 2004. To Grandpa Queener, I can only say those two words he loves to hear: Thank you.

Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com

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