Manners Matter


By Jane Brown

For years, we rode the #77 yellow school bus for a half-hour from the end of the lane to elementary school in Calvert and then to high school in Rising Sun, MD. In the morning, we said “Good morning” and in the afternoon, “Thanks for the nice ride” to Mr. Mendenhall, the driver who owned the gas station in nearby Blue Ball. He never missed a day, no matter how icy the road or how late he’d been up towing a wrecked car.

Mr. Mendenhall must have thought we were a bit robotic after 12 years of the ritual, but he always played his part, saying “Good morning,” and “You’re welcome” every morning and afternoon.

We were also taught to write thoughtful, specific thankyou notes for any gifts or generous gestures. It was not sufficient to just write “thank you for the nice handkerchiefs.” No, we had to say what was special about those unwanted handkerchiefs. “I like the trim.” “They will fit perfectly in my pocket.”

I thought this was what everyone was taught. So I was surprised and embarrassed by my favorite college professor’s reaction to my thank you note for a family dinner at his house. He said, “That is such a middle-class thing to do. I thought you were a campus radical. What are you doing writing thank you notes?”

Thank you notes and acknowledging service people probably are old middle-class values. But I’m thinking maybe we need to resurrect the best parts of the manners we learned growing up in the middle of the last century.

At the heart of the matter, it is about respecting and acknowledging each other for small acts of kindness. When I read about the climate of disrespect created by some of our recent leaders, I’m wondering if they ever learned to say thank you to their school bus driver (or their limo chauffeur?).

I’m glad our grandchildren are learning the “magic words,” as we used to call them. The other day Darby, 4, asked for mango juice. I said, “Do I hear a please?”

Darby huffed and then said, “Yes.” “Please.” “I love you.” “There, those are my manners.”

Our grandchildren are writing thank you notes, too. Specific enough for me at this point. Poppy, 8, wrote recently: “To Mema: Thank you for my new mug. I LOVE it and I love you. Love: Poppy.”

What could be better?

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