By Wendy Hodge
I was raised in a time when saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ was as much a part of our way of life as the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer before meals. ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, ma’am’ were the correct answer to just about every question. Boys opened doors for girls and no self-respecting man sat in a seat if there was a woman standing. These days, though, it’s easy to believe that manners in general have become a thing of the past.
Take for instance, phone etiquette. My job requires that I make and receive hundreds of phone calls a day. Literally. And I’ve noticed that more often than not, people end a conversation without a thank you or even a goodbye…sometimes just hanging up abruptly, an unfinished sentence left hanging like a loose thread. A college male called our office the other day asking for samples of a new medication. When I told him I would put some at the front desk for him, his response was “cool.” And then the phone went dead. I heard myself saying ‘You’re welcome’ into the dead air.
I was in a crowded Chick-fil-A recently, hungry folks packed into booths and around tables, eating sandwiches and fries like there was no tomorrow. Directly across from me stood a white-haired little lady with a cane in one hand and her tray of food in a death-grip in the other. A group of middle-aged men (men who ought to know better!) sat not five feet from her, and not a single one of them stood to offer her assistance or to give her a seat. Her eyes were huge behind her thick glasses, and my heart broke a little.
In line at Walmart just this morning, a lady stood behind me holding a child. What looked at first glance to be an angelic little girl turned out to be a 3-year-old with a passion for kicking the person directly in front of them… I was that person. After the first kick or two, I turned and looked at her, even winked and smiled, only to be greeted with a glare from both child and mom. As if I were somehow invading their space by simply being in line before them. The kicking continued. I moved ahead a couple of feet, and so did they. I turned again, not smiling this time, to be met with the same glares. Had I not desperately needed that bag of Snickers bars I would have abandoned them and fled.
And so now I sit here in front of my computer with the phones scheduled to being ringing soon, dreading the very sound of another human’s voice, and it dawns on me that I can choose to react to all those situations in one of two ways. I can allow someone else’s bad upbringing or attitude bleed all over me like a coffee stain on a white satin dress. Or I can remember what my grandmother used to say – “Wendy Lynne, meet a frown with a grin. You’ll never be sorry you smiled.”
I think lately my grandmother has been right there with me because this morning as I was being kicked in Walmart I felt a nudge toward the rack of stuffed animals sitting next to the checkout counter. A jade- green teddy bear holding a tiny soccer ball hung there with a lopsided grin. He looked just perfect for a 3-year-old kicker-in-training. And so I bought it and told the cashier to give it to the little girl behind me.
As I exited the store, I looked back over my shoulder and caught the child’s eye. I smiled. And so did she.
The other day, sitting there eating my cheeseburger and watching the table of men ignore the older lady standing next to them, I know it was my grandmother who nudged me to my feet. I walked over and touched the arm of the lady’s blue fuzzy sweater. She looked up at me with those huge eyes. “Would you like to come eat with me?” I asked.
“I would love to,” she said.
And we sat there talking about the weather and how crowded all the stores were and how quickly Christmas is coming this year. When our meal was gone, I took her tray to the garbage can and helped her to her car. My gift was a hug and a twinkle in the blue eyes behind those coke-bottle lenses.
Today I choose to hear my grandmother’s voice and say Please and Thank You.
Thank you, universe, for the little girl in Walmart who left a bruise on my lower back. Please may she know that she is capable of so much greatness and that the world is a wide and wondrous place. And thank you for the table of men who ignored the old lady in Chick-fil-A. Your loss was my gain. That hug was exactly what I needed. Please may you see the person you’re looking at next time for the gem they truly are.
As for the phone calls that will fill this work day, thank you to the voices that are kind and polite. And please, may those that aren’t so nice understand that when my grandmother says “Smile, Wendy Lynne,” my answer will be “Yes, ma’am.”
Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.