Manners, Obsessions, and Other Family Matters

I grew up with a Dad who loved life and saw the funny side in almost every circumstance. If I close my eyes and think about it, I can still hear the sound of his unique laugh and the tunes he whistled while he worked.

Dad had his softer teddy bear side, but in some circumstances he could be a bear. This meant that his reprimands were sometimes stern and that he had some rigidly established guidelines his children were expected to follow.

When I was young, household rules were usually instituted and monitored by mothers, and that was true in our home: close the door; wipe your feet; cover your mouth when you cough; wash your hands before eating; don’t make fingerprints on the walls; pick up after yourself – the whole drill. But Dad was the one who sometimes had precise techniques and firm guidelines for specific things.

When I watch people in restaurants, I think about Dad and know that he would have gone nuts trying to fix the habits of some of the diners. Dad wasn’t a scientist, but he had studied eating habits and created rigid guidelines for successful eating.

According to Dad’s “Principles of Eating,” the position and angle of the body with relationship to the table while one is eating are of great importance. By his calculations, a diner should sit about six inches from the table’s edge. A diner’s back is to be held stick-straight, and his/her body must lean slightly forward before taking each bite. As the eating utensil comes to one’s mouth, the chin should be aligned directly above the edge of the table. Dad’s method, we were promised, ensured that food arrived safely in the mouth without mishaps or spills.

Elbow placement while eating was equally precise. An elbow was never to stray more than about an inch away from the rib cage. Getting food into one’s mouth was, according to Dad, the function of the elbow joint, and was never to involve the extension of the arm or elbow into another diner’s space. And, of course, an elbow was never to make its way to the tabletop. If this should happen, we would hear the rhyme: “Mable, Mable, if you’re able; get your elbow off the table.”

An additional requirement, once food arrived safely in one’s mouth, was related to chewing. By Dad’s standards, food was to be thoroughly pulverized before being swallowed. And he seemed to know if swallowing occurred while the food still contained any particles distinguishable from pureed fruit.

Table issues were not the only things about which Dad was fanatical. The Bibles in our home never, and I mean never, had anything on top of them. I was educated concerning this issue very early in life. There simply was no such thing as inadvertently placing something on top of God’s Word. An infraction of this rule meant a one-on-one teaching session with Dad concerning the sacredness of God's Word.

Dad would have been the first to admit that his tools were not sacred, but he did have some explicit rules that applied to their use and care. (Maybe this is the reason no carpenters or decorators are listed in the numbers of his offspring.)

I’m actually grateful for the early training I received in my home. But some of that training may just possibly contribute to the fact that I can be a little obsessive. (Are there degrees of being obsessive? I’m not sure.) If you want to see obsessive in action, you might observe what happens when . . . on second thought, maybe I shouldn’t tell.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot to this day lay something down on top of the Holy Bible. Worse, I get annoyed whenever I might see something on top of a Bible; and I hate being annoyed. (And yes, I know. I was the one most apt to be chastised for the elbow thing.)