I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the little courtesies of life—all those niceties that used to lubricate human interactions, like holding a door open for someone with their arms full or who is disabled or older than you; like expressing gratitude for a favor or a gift; or reciprocating, when possible and appropriate, the kindnesses extended to us by others. Not because they’re required but because they aren’t.
Excusing a burp. “Blessing” a sneeze. All these little courtesies are fewer and farther between than they once were; gone the way of penmanship and the subjunctive, I suppose, into the burgeoning museum of the curious and the quaint. I expect there’s a room there reserved for me. So you can credit (or blame; you decide) Clara Frances Markiewicz Ramsey, my grandmother, for whatever social skills of the antedelivian sort still cling to me.
Following my parents’ divorce in 1953, I essentially became the ward of my grandmother—a woman born in 1891, the third oldest of thirteen children in a working-class immigrant family from the very small town of Lemont, Illinois, where you were either Polish and Catholic or Swedish and Lutheran. I imagine the cultural cleft in that community extended to what car you drove: either a Ford or a Chevy. Shades of Lake Wobegon.
[There is, by the way, another fictional community near Lake Wobegon that I may write about some day. Imagine the citizenry of Lake Ilbegotten and all their eccentricities. I can.]
Clara tutored me in ways that were already antique when I learned them: saying “please” and “thank you” and being defferential to my elders. Well, now I am one of those elders and feel pretty odd when I hold that door open for “older” people.
Even Agincourt isn’t immune from the 21st century’s erosion of social skills. Though “erosion” may be too strong a word; perhaps they are simply morphing into twitterable bits and bites below my radar. I am after all a computer nitwit; a novice in the ways of the interweb, barely distinguishable from Dubyah. My friend Howard is more adept on that score than I, but he seems as distraught at the passing of civilized life as we knew it.
How this is manifest in Agincourt, I haven’t yet heard…but it has something to do with this picture.