Feb 20 2011

 

 

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Growing up in rural and isolated America in the 1950's didn't give you much chance to learn all the intricacies of good manners. Yet, my mom was a stickler for them and often said someday we would be grateful to her. She made us write hand-written thank you notes. We had to stand up if a lady came into the room. Mom desperately wanted us all to escape into a better life and was determined that at least she provide the foundation.

We never had enough money to sometimes meet even our basic needs yet a copy of Emily Post sat on a shelf. That book symbolized my mom's hope that we would know 'fine people' and be invited into their homes. When times were very tight you could see just two dresses hanging in her closet but that was not an excuse for bad manners. If we wanted to get out into the world, we had to know the rules and abide by them. No elbows on the table and don't you dare pick up the soup and drink from the bowl no matter if you were in a hurry to finish dinner.

My first real crisis in the manners department came in 1969 in Washington, DC. Up to that point I had always been this young organizer. I wore Levi's, blue work shirt, Levi jacket and cowboy boots topped off with my cowboy hat. That outfit (kinda sexy back then!) served me well in living that persona. As a result cute David was never challenged in a serious way about his manners and 'fine people.' There was no question that I adhered to the basics of opening car doors, standing when elders entered the room and taking off my hat in front of ladies!

Gtd-globe-artichoke-765299 Then in the Washington, D.C dining room of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara I met that artichoke. You wouldn't think that a simple artichoke would be the source of my potential downfall. However it caused me to break into a cold sweat. The McNamaras were famous for their Sunday morning brunches where the elite of Washington, DC would gather to discuss and decide the world issues. Despite being one of the leaders of the anti-war marches in that time, being a friend of their daughter, Kathy, warranted me an invitation.

As I approached the table there were more knives and forks than they had in all the Russian Army. Enough glasses at each place setting to handle any possible liquid that would ever be put in a container. Then in the middle of it all sat that fucking artichoke. Staring at me like it was my sworn enemy. Determined to take me down and humiliate me in front of all these powerful people. Trust me, I had no idea what the prickly green ugly thing on my plate was - never in my life had I seen one. Surely we weren't going to eat that tough rubbery sad-sack excuse for a vegetable. My first thought was that some stupid decorator thought it would be a good decoration for the plates before real food was served.

Sitting down, I just stared at the green monster. Next to me the McNamaras had placed Alice Roosevelt Longworth (picture at top). She was the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt and had married the Speaker of the House that now has a Congressional office building named after him. Mrs Longworth had cut quite a 'swath' through society but now was at the pinnacle of it. She was the most-sought after guest in the nation's capitol. She had a needle point pillow that said, "If you don't have anything good to say about someone, then please sit next to me." She was feisty and her one liners were - and still are - legendary.

Seeing me staring at the intimating green sicko, she leaned over and whispered to me, "You have no idea what that is do you?" With a stricken and pale face, I murmured, "No Mrs. Longworth, I do not." She patted my leg, smiled and said, "Just watch and follow me. I have no idea why they serve these damn things, but here we are..." And with grace she tackled the artichoke as if it was her best friend. As she proceeded slowly, I followed step by step making my mom proud. Mrs Longworth knew of my anti-Vietnam War activities and she hated the war. At the end of the meal my new-found tutor gave me her number. With several visits to her famous home, she schooled me in DC social graces. At least she did to the best of her ability given that she had a real challenge in me.

For years I loved her for rescuing me from the artichoke.

Before I forget, "Hey Mom, thank you for making us know how important good manners are in a civilized society. Love you for it and you were right I am grateful."