Even though I loved and respected my family members, I knew that none of them were my best buddy because they were adults and lived in a different world from me, and I was a kid in training to be a responsible adult, and yes, I needed a lot of training.
I never heard a kid call an adult who was not a family member by his or her first name, and adults did not suggest that kids do this.
My neighbors were the Dunnes, the Grissoms, and the Bournes. I addressed them as Mr. and Mrs. — or, in the case of the Grissoms, Dr. and Mrs.
Shaking hands with adults was mandatory. I was taught to shake hands readily with men, but to shake hands with a woman only if she extended her hand first.
I was told never to extend a wet-fish hand. If my hand was damp, I was to wipe my hands on my pants before I shook a person’s hand. Also the shake I gave had to be firm but not to the point of trying to out-muscle the other person. When shaking hands, I was told to look the person in the eye and tell the person that I was either glad to meet him or her or glad to see him or her again.
I was instructed to stand when a woman entered the room and sit only when the woman sat. Opening doors for women was also part of my good-manners schooling.
My family also instructed me in good table manners. I was told not to talk when my mouth was full of food, to remove bone or fat from my mouth with a napkin and not to reach across the table for a helping of food.
At the dinner table, I said, “Please pass the potatoes” and not “Give me some spuds” and “Please pass the meat” and “Not give me a slice of cow.”
I also learned to use cutlery only for the purpose for which they were designed. I was told more than once to never take more food than I planned to eat and to eat every piece of food that I took, and when leaving the table, I was expected to excuse myself.
When someone gave me a gift or did me a favor, I was told to thank him or her, and if the person lived away from me, I was told to write a thank-you note to the person.
When I was preparing to go to college, I was told four life lessons by Mr. George Bruckert our family lawyer:
Practice your religion faithfully.
Prepare your work to the best of your ability and do not cut corners.
Do not entertain arrogance because when a person believes they are hot stuff, they will fail.
Listen to older people because they have been there, and you will profit from their advice.
Over the years, I have learned that good manners and the four life lessons presented to me by Mr. Bruckert have served me well.