“Good manners reflect something from the inside – an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.” – Emily Post
Fred Astaire once said that the hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any. I have to say, that hit home for me, as I reflected upon the years I spent raising my three sons. Had I taught them manners only to ignore them myself? Or had I followed through by being a fairly good example to them of how to behave?
My parents made sure my sister and I said “yes ma’am” and “yes sir,’ kept our elbows off the dinner table, and used the words please and thank you frequently. That was a great start, and I hope that parents are still working with their children of all ages on these basics.
I think back on some of the women I was raised around, women who lived out what my parents were trying to teach me about good manners; women like JoAnn Smith, Lynda Whitfield, and Lois Miller, just to name a few. These women were some of the many ladies who taught me through the years at Beach Baptist Chapel on St. Joe Beach, and I think of them fondly and frequently. They showed me that manners aren’t just about saying “yes ma’am,” but it’s also about how we speak to one another, and how we make each other feel. Mrs. JoAnn was our beloved pastor’s wife, and lives in my memory as one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever known. She opened her home to us, she taught Bible study groups for us, and she even exercised with us in an aerobics class in her home. She did all of this after teaching school all day, too. How gracious of her!
I recall very specifically one day in 1976 after my own family had just moved to the beach from North Carolina. That was an election year, and the presidential candidates were Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. I had heard about both men and retained some of it, though I was only 9 years old. I knew Mr. Carter was a peanut farmer and Sunday school teacher from Plains, Georgia, and that Mr. Ford was our 38th president. All the adults were talking about Election Day and doing one’s civic duty. At church the next night, I saw Mrs. JoAnn walking outside toward the fellowship hall. She smiled her lovely smile in my direction. In my youthful enthusiasm, and since Ms. Cash had been teaching us about the election at school, I said. “Hi, Mrs. JoAnn! Who did YOU vote for?” with sincere interest.
Mrs. JoAnn, being the well-mannered lady that she was, smiled at me and winked, and put her fingers to her lips to let me know that who one votes for is a personal matter, and that it wasn’t polite to ask. What a sweet way to teach me that lesson, when some might have scolded or lectured. With her smile, wink and simple message, I still remember what I learned from her 45 years later.
Mrs. Lois Miller was another kind lady who taught me in Sunday school for several years. She worked with our classes in reading groups at Highland View Elementary, as well. Mrs. Miller had a ready smile for us, and she always spoke to us with kindness. I never heard her get angry with any of us silly kids, much less raise her voice at us. I will always remember her gentle spirit and fun sense of humor. She was consistently there for me with encouragement, and I went to her for advice through my growing-up years more than once. She never seemed to mind.
Finally, Mrs. Lynda Whitfield, whom I met when I was a middle schooler, was another woman I remember with great love and respect. Mrs. Lynda was one of the most genteel and soft-spoken women I’ve ever known. She had lovely manners and a sweet smile, and was hospitable to us young folks when we came to her home to watch movies as a group, or to visit her girls, Kim, Leslie, and Laurel, who were my friends. I can honestly say that I never heard her speak unkindly of anyone. How many of us can say that these days?
Hospitality, gentle speech, kind words, friendly actions, and willingness to serve are all traits that these women taught me. I am guilty of not living up to those high standards sometimes, that is for sure. Our digital age has provided us with excellent and far-reaching ways to communicate and learn, but it has also made us less tolerant of views that are not our own, and the people who hold those views. We say things we shouldn’t say, and we are rude to people who don’t agree with our beliefs. We call names, we ridicule, we even hate. Is that who we want to be?
I am writing this because I need a reminder to mind my words, and to guard my heart. Proverbs 15:1 says that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Later in that chapter, it says that “a soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.” Even people who don’t consider themselves religious can learn something there; what we say matters, as does how we say it.
Finally, there is one verse on this subject that we learned in Sunday school that has stuck with me all these years: “From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” which is found in chapter six of the book of Luke. That’s very similar to the saying from the technology world, “garbage in, garbage out.” We have available to us an overflow of helpful things at our fingertips via the internet at all times now, including excellent teachers, music, great articles and all the research material known to man. But we also have at our disposal a culture of angry, name-calling rants that expose our society’s dark and selfish leanings, especially in today’s political climate. We have to be careful not to let that rub off on us. “Mind your manners,” as grandmothers used to say, even when we’re online and on one can see us.
I am ready to hold myself to the standard I saw modeled by Mrs. JoAnn, Mrs. Lois, and Mrs. Lynda. They were imperfect humans, as we all are, but they knew that there was wisdom in speaking gently and kindly. The lessons they taught have stuck with me for decades, and I want to be like them. Are you encouraged to do a reset of your tongue, too? We can do this together, and make our world a better place to live for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren in the process.
Now, y’all know I can’t leave you without a recipe this week, so since we are talking about sweet words, let me share with you a sweet recipe to enjoy.
Lemon Sour Cream Cake with Strawberry Sauce
* 1 cup sour cream
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
* 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
* 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
* 3 large eggs plus 3 large egg whites
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (see tips, below.) Line bottom with parchment cut to fit, and butter parchment. Dust with flour, and tap out excess.
2. Combine sour cream, vanilla, zest, and juice. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.
4. Add eggs and whites, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Mix in sour cream mixture.
6. Reduce speed to low, and mix in flour mixture until just combined. Transfer to pan, and smooth top.
7. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.
8. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out cake onto rack to cool completely. (Cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature overnight.)
Tip: I used my 9-inch tart pan and the cake rose above the sides; I’m afraid that if you use an 9-inch cake pan you may have some overflow, so you might consider using a different pan, like a 9 × 9 brownie pan. If that’s not available, perhaps use a cupcake pan to make individual cakes.
1 pint of strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Hull and wash berries. Slice in half. Place in saucepan over medium heat, and add sugar and lemon juice.
Stir to mix ingredients; simmer for seven minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, letting it cool to room temperature or just slightly warm before drizzling on individual slices of cake.
Store leftovers in a container in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she’d love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on The Star: What Southern Folks Eat: Mind your manners