Basic manners are seldom overrated

We are past due for a review of basic manners and civic responsibility.

Such reviews used to happen every nine weeks when schools sent report cards home. At the bottom of the report card was a box titled “Citizenship.” Teachers placed check marks indicating “satisfactory” or “needs improvement” for categories like: courtesy, self-control, works well with others, and shows respect for rights and property of others.

As if the national headlines aren’t enough to warrant revisiting common courtesy and personal responsibility, I was again reminded of the need while scrolling through my NextDoor app, which is sometimes useful for knowing the best company in the area for cleaning dryer vents or removing trees, and recommendations for dentists and doctors.

But this day on my feed was a video of a little old lady walking her dog. She paused, looked over her shoulder and waited for a car to pass by, then shook the contents of her doggie’s plastic bag onto a neighbor’s driveway and scurried away.

A few days later, there was a video of a young man (or “little jerk” as the homeowner referred to him) stealing a bike from an open garage. In both cases, comments were filled with outrage along the lines of: “What’s the matter with people?” “Is that old lady crazy or evil?” “Doesn’t that kid have any respect for other people’s property?”

On the old report cards, citizenship was divided into two parts: citizenship as an individual and as a member of a group. Evaluation as an individual included: makes good use of time and material, depends upon self, shows self-control and does his best.

If I were wielding the black ink pen, I would give the little old lady “needs improvement” on making good use of time and material—although she did make good use of time as she was swift about dumping the doggie bag.

The young man stealing the bike might rate “satisfactory” in “depending upon self” as he worked alone; but he bombed in “shows self-control.”

It’s what you do when you think no one is watching that constitutes character.

Of course, these days we are so lapsed in judgment that some people enjoy recording themselves, or others, behaving like Cretans.

The outlook darkens considerably under “citizenship as member of a group.” The little old lady and bike thief both get “needs improving” for “respects rights and property of others.”

It’s interesting that the evaluations started with citizenship as individuals, followed by evaluation in a group. You can’t experience the stability of good citizenship as a group unless you first have it as individuals.

Where do people learn basic courtesy, self-control and respect for the rights and property of others? Where all learning begins—in the home and in the family.

Because there will be no report card coming in the next nine weeks evaluating our personal behavior, some self-evaluation on civility and citizenship might be in order in our homes and families. Satisfactory or needs improvement?

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On the count of three, everybody lift

This is one of those situations for which you could never fully prepare.

We are waiting for a grocery pickup order. Our oldest daughter, who has been pulling carpet from stairs, is slumped in the driver’s seat riddled with exhaustion. I’m in the front passenger seat, offering commentary on the happenings around us, and three granddaughters in the middle seat of the SUV are downing dried fruit snacks that taste like the sole of your shoe.

Other cars have wheeled into numbered parking spots, received their orders, and peeled out. Our daughter says she hopes someone comes soon, as the order contains conditioner, and her hair is a wreck.

I suggest she lean her head out the window so they can see what a mess her hair is and maybe that will speed things up.

Just then, a soft voice from behind says, “Grandma, I need help.”

I look over my shoulder and the 11-year-old, the most peaceful, pliable one in the group, appears to be levitating.

She is in a plank-on-your-side position, her head extended toward one car window and her feet toward the other, hovering just below the top of the middle seats.

“I’m stuck,” she says, giggling.

“What do you mean?”

“I stretched over the seat to get something from the far back and I think the belt loop from my jeans is stuck in part of the shoulder strap.

“Girls, free your sister!” I snap.

Arms and legs fly, accompanied by shrieking, screaming and laughing.

“We can’t get her free!” one shouts.

I lunge between the two front seats and into the middle seat for a closer look. Her belt loop has slipped between a small opening on a plastic guide piece harnessing a shoulder strap to a middle seat. The weight of her body is pulling the belt loop impossibly taut in the plastic guide piece.

I announce that on the count of three I will lift her, which will take the pressure off the belt loop, whereupon her sisters should dislodge the belt loop from the plastic guide.

As planned, I lift her.

As not planned, I can’t hold her. I drop her. But gently.

More screaming and laughing. “Lift her again, only longer. We need more time!”

I lift her again and drop her again.

“What do you weigh, girl?”

“Seventy-five!” she says.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but it feels like a whole lot more!”

The jeans have twisted and pulled so tight the child will probably have rug burn on the weight-bearing side of her torso.

We regroup and take another run at the mess. “I’ll put one knee under her, you two lift from your ends. It should lessen the tension enough to get the belt loop out of there.”

Everyone strained, moaned, groaned, carried on and bewildered the store employee confirming the pickup order with our driver. The belt loop was finally free and the child was tethered to nothing but gravity once again.

After we all calmed down and finished congratulating ourselves, we agreed the most amazing part of the ordeal was the strength of that denim belt loop in those jeans.

I wonder if they make them for adults.


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Favorite shirt dangling by a thread

Given the option—and social acceptability—the husband would wear his favorite shirt every day of the year.

The favorite shirt is a faded burgundy corduroy, old enough to vote, buy beer and maybe even apply for Medicare. The favorite shirt looks like large, angry dogs used it as a toy.

The shirt is miraculous. The miracle is that each time it goes through the wash, and I hang it on a hanger, it stays in one piece.

The collar alone may be one of the seven structural wonders of the world. Thread bare and disintegrating along the top, scraps of the collar remain more-or-less (mostly less) bonded by worn and ancient bits of fused interfacing. And you thought Gorilla Glue was powerful.

The shirt has an air of postmodern despair due to paint splatters, rips and tears and numerous places where it appears the wearer was snagged on barbed wire.

The elbows are fully aerated. The owner of the favorite shirt says that is why it is such a good work shirt. Thankfully, he doesn’t aerate the elbows on all his shirts.

I half-heartedly looked for a corduroy shirt last year, hoping to find a new one to use as a bargaining chip for retiring the corduroy relic, but nobody was making them. I’ve seen a couple this year, proving fashion does indeed go in 40-year cycles.

A Pinterest post featured ideas for repurposing old shirts. Like the husband would enjoy finding me crafting with his favorite shirt. “Look what I did to your favorite work shirt with the glue gun and sequins, Honey!”

Pinterest suggestions include turning old shirts into plant hangers or using them as macrame or yarn. The poster was female, and the post implied she was repurposing her husband’s old shirts. I’m assuming she is now single.

You don’t mess with a loved one’s favorite shirt. An old shirt, maybe; a favorite shirt, never.

There is a difference between the two. An old shirt is just that—old.

A favorite shirt comes with memories and history—oil changes, plumbing disasters, painting projects, cutting firewood from a fallen tree, laying a brick pathway with a four-year-old shadowing your every move, and pouring concrete for the kids’ basketball goal in the driveway.

Yes, the favorite shirt may be hideous. Yes, the neighbors may talk. Some may even leave cash in the mailbox. But at the end of the day, step away from the favorite shirt.

Don’t even think about it.

Don’t even ask about it.

You can live without a plant hanger a lot easier than a loved one can live without a favorite shirt.


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Leveling the field between youth and age

We are enjoying the aftermath of an all-grandkid weekend: fatigue, muscle cramps and a blue bucket filled with cicada shells by the back door. We will rebound shortly. Thanksgiving sounds about right.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak—especially when you are outnumbered 11 to 2.

Our strategy is to wear them out before they wear us out. In intense heat, this means water, an inflatable pool, hoses, sprinkler heads, water blasters, water balloons, races and relays, whatever it takes. There’s nothing like blistering sunshine and high humidity to level the playing field between youth and age.

Step one is to borrow our daughter’s three-tiered inflatable pool because our pool has been trashed. She crams their pool in the back of their vehicle, hauls it to our house, where we drag it out of her vehicle, lug it through the garage into the backyard, unfold the monstrosity, then call for a search party to locate the electric pump.

The pump is in the driveway filling basketballs. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The neighbors love our get-togethers.

Meanwhile in the backyard, kids are filling water balloons. It is going as planned; they are all expending energy.

Little ones howl that they don’t have any water balloons because the bigger kids are hogging the hose. Older ones, now armed with water balloons the size of watermelons, target beloved cousins as well as grandparents.

Balloons burst spraying dime-size metallic discs into the air like Roman candles on the Fourth of July. It is raining metallic confetti. The entire yard sparkles. We have a backyard with bling. I wonder if they can see this from the Space Station. It shouldn’t be long before the starlings and red-tailed hawks arrive.

Silly me. I put out a call for balloons and someone sent confetti balloons. I will absolutely return the favor.

Water balloons spiral out of control at the same time someone asks for bug spray, another yells she didn’t get sunscreen, another needs bandages and someone else wants me to look at a red welt on her shoulder from a water balloon.

“It’s not bad,” I say. “I’ll dig that confetti out later.”

We begin a game where kids divide onto teams and compete to pick up the most marbles with their toes from a large tub of water. This buys us four, maybe five, minutes – enough time to resume normal breathing.

Water balloons commence again. Someone in the pool yells that someone deliberately splashed them. Two starlings and a hawk position themselves in a maple tree eyeing the yard and perhaps some of the smaller children.

Somebody tugs on my shirt and asks, “When’s lunch?”

They’re gaining on us. We pull out the big guns—the frozen T-shirt contest. You drench an adult T-shirt in two cups of water, fold it into a square, place it in a plastic bag and freeze it for 48 hours. Each team must unfold the frozen T-shirt and put it on a team member.

They are expending incredible amounts of energy. Look at them struggle! They’re pulling, straining, and clawing at the frozen shirts. We’re gaining on them now!

Why, yes, I would enjoy a refreshing glass of iced tea while sitting in the shade.

It was a good day and an exhausting day.

They say I nodded off 10 minutes into the movie after dinner.

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