On Friday nights, in the warm months of Minnesota, I would walk down the gravel road to wait for my dad’s car to appear on the highway’s horizon. He was only home on weekends as his work in the construction trade took him to various locations throughout the state. Sitting in the grassy ditch gave me plenty of time to observe nature and ponder life from a child’s viewpoint, and offered a blessed reprieve from my brothers. There were some nights I’d wait for hours before he came along, but once his headlights appeared I’d jump up and down and wave with excitement. He’d stop the car and I’d dive in. The car always smelled of my father…a bit of construction dust and a hint of Old Spice. Such limited exposure meant the world to me and I’d hang on Dad’s every word for the next two days.
Dad was raised in a large rural family during the depression. Fish and deer meat meant the difference between getting by or going hungry back then, and he wanted better for his children. No matter how late he arrived on Friday night, Mom would hold supper so we could all eat together. Dad would tell us stories about his work and the people he met at the various construction sites. In some ways it was a bridge to life beyond the farm for me, and I never doubted what he said was gospel truth.
Thinking back on it now, those moments paved some important roadways into my consciousness about relating to people and using manners. For instance, on the farm my dad, my brothers, and even my mom, wore a hat when working outside. Woe be it to my brother’s if they came inside and didn’t take off their caps. My dad would launch into a lecture about showing respect and the need to be mindful of one’s appearance. We always dressed for church on Sundays. Dad wore his blue suit, Mom a dress, my brother’s wore their “good” clothes, and I—depending on the time of year—wore a dress, tights, gloves, and a hat with ribbons running down the back. Again, it was about showing respect in God’s house. I learned to say please and thank you and to mean it. At the table we didn’t say, “Pass the potatoes.” We said, “Please pass the potatoes.” Once passed, a thank you was offered. All those lessons from my youth stuck.
Today I feel a sense of loss when I observe the lack of manners in the general population. Men seldom remove their caps anymore upon entering a home, place of business, or church. Parishioners, while attending church services, wear everything from suits and dresses to sweat pants and shorts. And don’t get me started on thank you notes, or the lack thereof.
I’m not trying to be all preachy about behavior, but I do think the concept of showing respect towards others has faded, and I miss it. On the NBC Today show I listened to etiquette experts talk about emailing/texting thank you notes versus hand writing them. The consensus– a hand-written note was always the heart-warming way to go, even if verbal gratitude was offered at the time of the gift exchange. I agree. Imagine my delight when a thank you note arrived in the mail from my son after he shared Thanksgiving dinner with us. I told him later that it meant a lot to me. “Mom,” he said patiently, “You spent the whole day preparing a great meal for the family. It took me sixty seconds to write a thank you note. It’s the least you deserve.” I almost cried.
Thank you Dad, for teaching me respect. It seems to be bearing fruit in the family tree.