How did the formal wear of my mother’s generation
decay into the shabbiness of my own?
Never would she leave the house
in less than a dress, good shoes, hat and gloves,
hair done, her makeup applied,
handkerchief tucked into her purse—
an item which was, whatever its size,
never worn or torn, but always clutched ladylike.
She would, I think, like me to dress her
more properly, now:
to weed her plot, trim the grass,
plant some small bright flowers,
clean the headstone.
Not to beautify her—
she will always be that—
but to adorn me with my actions.
It is, she knew,
not about what you wear,
but about what you help people
think about themselves
by what you do
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, my generation took pride in ridiculing the 50s as a time of great hypocrisy covered in a thin veneer of politeness and decorum…a world in which racism was rampant (and it was), where war was considered romantic (it isn’t), where women were considered—if they were considered at all—subservient (big mistake that one) and where the overall, arching impetus of life was to show a perfect front, never mind the misery that was behind the facade.
Thus did the Flower Power generation excuse their own excesses as ‘breaking out’, ‘being free’ and ‘letting it all hang out’. Politeness and ‘the proper way’ became stock characters of silliness and hypocrisy. And yes, while the times they were a changin’—and there were things that needed to be changed, and were changed and all for the better—I have long given up the belief that everything that went out the door with the bathwater should have been got rid of.
One of the things that went when it should not have was, I think, a sense of politeness and decorum in our everyday life. A world where there is no racism is a great thing, but if we can work towards equality and do so politely, doesn’t that trump a world where we are all free to treat each other equally rudely?
From the ‘high’ of politics (high in the sense that it is so publicly visible) to the ‘low’ of everyday interaction, rudeness rules. And the motto of the entertainment industry, whether movies, TV or music, might as well be, today: if it’s disgusting, slutty, petty or mean, it stars!
Courtesy is free and yet priceless. So is honesty, trustworthiness, humility, justice and kindness. But—and I apologize for this—it turns out that I’m a greedy person, too…I want it all.
Thank you for reading What matters. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.
© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, http://bookofpain.wordpress.com.