Baby Etiquetteer with Dear Mother, 1964
Etiquetteer came to a much better understanding of his own dear mother when chancing upon Miss Behavior: Popularity, Poise and Personality for the Teenage Girl. This peppy little volume, alternating between wisdom and naivete while attempting to sound "hep," was published right around the time Etiquetteer’s dear mother graduated from high school. Let’s just say it was after the war . . . and no, Etiquetteer does not mean the War of Northern Aggression!
Miss Behavior takes us back to a time when teenage girls made their own clothes and wore suits to school, when fathers worked outside the home and mothers kept it, and when people of all ages still listened to the same music. This was a time before Elvis Presley and rock music, and LONG before fashions like extreme body piercings, tattoos, and "grunge" would ever have been permitted in the middle class. This was a time, in other words, when teenagers were expected to behave like adults.Indeed, the idea of being "respectable" was even more important thanappearing respectable, but both clearly went hand in hand. Wholesomeness was seen not only as desirable in itself, but also as attractive to boys . . . and of course nothing could be more important than that! Today’s role models like Lady Guy Ritchie and Mrs. Kevin Federline just don’t project wholesomeness. And indeed, with slang like "ho" and "beeyatch" making their way into white middle-class culture, one can only wonder when being respectable will again be fashionable.
Hilarious anecdotes illustrate these points. One teenage femme fatale from the Big City visits rural relatives complete with off-the-shoulder lounge pajamas and foot-long cigarette holder. All that put-on sophistication loses her a date with the star quarterback from her own high school, visiting her cousin’s boyfriend that same weekend! Another girl, a forward flirt, gets saved from date rape by the "warden of the woods" after her date drives her into a local forest. Of course the situation is all her own fault for not behaving herself in the first place . . .
Girls were exhorted to bypass bottled shampoos with harmful chemicals in favor of grated Castile soap melted over the stove in a saucepan, or warm olive oil to get rid of dandruff. Girls were to spend every Saturday morning going over their wardrobes and mending underwear, darning stockings, and replacing buttons. Spending time every night in a quiet space for homework was essential. And of course one must save time for eight hours of restful sleep! Now that teenage girls are getting their tongues pierced and having babies out of wedlock, wouldn’t you agree this seems quaint?
Into this atmosphere Etiquetteer’s Dear Mother came of age, and she exemplifies all its best qualities. Mother is a mistress of the bread-and-butter letter, a talented seamstress, and superior cook, and a welcoming hostess. Throughout her history – Vietnam, Watergate, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, September 11, and the rise of hoydens like Courtney Love – Mother has retained her wholesomeness, her integrity, her belief that the world is and can continue to be a good place. What better qualities could a mother need today?
Etiquetteer and Dear Mother, Mother's Day, 2006
And speaking of the kind of advice only a mother can give:
My most recent etiquette challenge was sitting outside on the benches in front of a college student center and noticing a young lady who was wearing wide-legged shorts. Her knees were folded up towards her chest and she was giving more of a view than she realized. I did not want to know that she was not wearing underwear and since my companion was male I did not mention it to anyone at the time. In what circumstances and how could I have told her what was happening?
This is the first time Etiquetteer has ever heard about this particular problem with a female; Etiquetteer thought only men "went commando!" Now do you all know why your mothers told you not to leave the house without clean underwear on?Once upon a time, before ladies wore shorts at all, if a lady saw another lady's slip showing she'd discreetly whisper to her "It's snowing down south." Etiquetteer can only imagine what the equivalent could be in THIS situation; reader suggestions are welcome!
You were discreet and wise not to mention anything to this unwitting exhibitionist in front of your male friend, especially since she was a total stranger to you. Had you been on your own, however, you might have approached her quietly and said "Excuse me, you'd probably better put your knees down. You don't realize how much people can see." Etiquetteer thinks these sorts of things are best left between ladies.
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