I’ll admit when I chose this challenge I was concerned I wouldn’t have much to say about such a simple topic: HOW TO PROPERLY SET THE TABLE. Crafting a relevant essay about proper table setting that anyone might find interesting seemed beyond my abilities. What I found was that parental guidance, in regard to manners, is a universal topic. Many people, not all related to me, shared aspects of their childhood dinner table expectations. One of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog, is that it allows me to spend time thinking about things I rarely give thought to. Childhood memories are often linked to larger occasions or memorable events but with the focus on table etiquette I found myself envisioning the daily meal routine of my childhood.
Table manners and general etiquette were obviously important to my mom. Like blue eyes and long arms, many of the expectations I had for my children were inherited from my parents and passed down. Just as the folk tale Boy Who Cried Wolf demonstrated the dangers of lying to generations of kids, there remains one singular figure from my family lore to illustrate the importance of good manners. Her name is unimportant, but my siblings all know to whom I am referring. The poor child has served as a living example of how NOT to act for decades. I don’t know any of the specific details, only that a young guest in our home, elementary school-aged, drank directly from the milk container. Opened the refrigerator, picked up the milk carton, placed lips to spout and took a drink.
The act in question occurred before my birth but has lived on through telling after telling. No one wanted to be called by the name that had become synonymous with bad manners. We knew not to drink directly from the milk carton but any similar infraction might call forth that name, like the ghost of Christmas past, and cast you in the role of Scrooge, himself. This was not a mean-spirited activity, it was always offered in a joking manner, but the lesson was understood. It served to impress upon us that our behavior, especially outside our home, reflected on our family as a whole. The implication was that the child was not at fault, but her parents, for not having taught her any better. Hence the repeated manta of every parent, “What’s the magic word?”
Maybe that is why I feel like I need to clarify something. When I said I gave up on my kids having to excuse themselves from the table, you might have envisioned young Suttees pushing back and leaving the table anytime they wanted. In reality, there was no asking to be excused. No need to ask. We treated dinner table chairs like airplane seats. Until the fasten the seatbelt light was off, no one was going anywhere. Although I like to think we offered our kids independence in thought and action when possible, that did not occur at the dinner table. Much like my own childhood, dinner time was more dictatorship than democracy. I’ll acknowledge freedom is a better teacher than control, but as many young parents come to realize, the illusion of control exercised in a few select areas, keeps a person sane. Go ahead and judge. While you are judging, I’ll give you a great example to boost your argument.
When our basset hound, Luke, was a potty-training puppy we lived in a base-housing duplex without a fence. The living and dining areas were at opposite ends of a large room. The door to the back yard was near the dining end of the room. If you opened that door fully, and someone was sitting at the head of the table, you would hit them. It was not a large place. One night, we were all seated at the dinner table, and Luke started to whine at the door to be let out. Rachel asked to get up to let him out and Lee said he could wait until we were done. In rapid succession, Luke pooped. Three-year-old, Andrew, vomited then cried. Everyone yelled. We were all excused.
Luckily, nothing like that happened at the ball. No one pooped by the table, no one sat on their feet, and no one vomited. Years ago, at the next table, someone did indeed vomit at the ball, on his salad, during grace. His name is also unimportant but his message is clear. You will not be remembered for all of the good things you did over your career, if you puke during dinner at the Marine Corps Ball. You might, however, be remembered in the blog of an acquaintance you probably wouldn’t recognize anymore.
This post has taken a rather disgusting turn, my apologies. Back to the ball.
I drank from the correct glasses and used the correct fork. Whether you can credit BMW or bd for that, I cannot say. Wasn’t hard due to the fact that there was only one fork. Frankly, I was also confused about what I believed, according to BMW, to be the dessert spoon because, sadly, no cake was ever served at our table. Only through keen observation and advanced tracking techniques were we able to spot and retrieve cake for ourselves, from a table tucked in the corner of the ball room. Forks were provided at the cake table. Why the spoon?
I will leave you to play which one of these is not like the other.
Thanks for sharing your etiquette memories and tips! I appreciate you spending your time, and a bit of your head space, with me. Knowing you are reading helps me keep writing, so if you wish I’d just stop already, it’s your fault
In case you were wondering:
Before you go…I can’t find anything that says you can’t remove your shoes to dance at a formal event so apparently no etiquette rules were broken.