I have come to the conclusion that good manners and appropriate language are never out of place.
In the house where I grew up we answered our father in the affirmative by responding, “Yes, sir,” and in the negative by saying, “No, sir.” Likewise, we answered our mother in the affirmative by saying, “Yes, ma’am,” and in the negative by responding, “No, ma’am.”
It was a serious infraction to respond to a command or request by either of our parents by saying “No.” It was considered a blatant act of rebellion and was simply not tolerated. It was fine to answer by saying, “I would rather not,” or “I don’t want to,” but you said that while doing what you were told.
My late mother, who was valedictorian of the Class of 1941 at Smith County High School, had a wonder grasp of English grammar. And she saw to it that her children used proper English in our conversations.
Toward the end of her life I asked to what she attributed her skill in the use of the mother language.
“Two things,” she answered. “My eighth-grade English grammar book and my teacher, Mr. Ervin Smith.”
Inappropriate language was never tolerated by either of our parents. I can only think of a very few occasions when my brothers, my sister or I got our mouths washed out with soap as a de-incentive for saying an “ugly word.” I, for one, can say I know what hand soap tastes like.
I made some new friends, Mike and Michelle Wade, in Kansas a few years back. Mike told of how a 2-year-old stepson came along with his second marriage. He soon found out that the little boy’s uncles had taught him to cuss. Mike said his stepson could say things that would “turn the air blue.”
One afternoon the little boy let out a string of bad words in Walmart in front of an audience. Serious action had to be taken. Mike decided to wash his mouth out with soap the next time it happened. He didn’t have to wait long. It happened again later that day when they were at home.
“I walked in the kitchen and filled three fingers with dishwashing liquid and headed for the boy. As I grabbed him by the arm, he put up more of a fight than I was expecting. When I started toward his mouth with my fingers he jerked his head and my fingers went in his eye!” Mike related
Then Mike smiled a wry smile and said, “I didn’t know tears would make bubbles. Bubbles were coming out of his eye!”
“Of course, the boy had messed up my plan. I had planned to say, ‘The next time you talk like that I’m going to put soap in your mouth.’ I couldn’t say that. So I blurted out, ‘The next time I hear you talk like that I’m going to put soap in your eye,’” Mike continued.
“That stopped the cussing cold!” he said with a smile.
I was watering a row of trees in Hartsville’s City Park a few summers ago as part of a Rotary Club project. One day as I worked, a little girl, about six years old, wandered over from the playground with her grandfather in tow. She was bright and engaging in her conversation, asking all kinds of questions. And she was handy with “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” as she answered my questions.
“You certainly have wonderful manners,” I said. “Who taught you to say ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir?’ ”
She chuckled. It was a most pleasurable kind of chuckle.
“My Aunt Sophia!” she chirped. (That was not her name. I changed it to protect the innocent.)
After that exchange, she blossomed like a flower, her conversation sprinkled with “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome.”
And I felt better about life. But my little friend was not finished.
She followed me around and never stopped talking, almost to the point of getting on my nerves. As I was concluding my work by picking up the last water buckets, she stepped closer to me, turned her head to one side and said, “I’ll bet God appreciates you watering His trees.”
Deep in my spirit I felt refreshed. And I thanked Him for this bright little girl, for the aunt who had taught her good manners, and for the person who had taught her to be comfortable with talking about God.
And I thought of Hebrews 13:2: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”