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Posts Tagged ‘manners.’

I was reminded of Mrs. Polkinghorne the other day when one of my real estate agents whispered to me to “check out so-and-so’s body language”…

It was awful. So-and-so had apparently never been tutored by Mrs. Polkinghorne or any other expert on body language and “how a lady should sit in proper company”.

We can make fun of Mrs. P. , but she had a serious point. Many years after having been one of the subjects of her charm class, I sat in the audience as a famous speaker called six people onto the platform and summarily dismissed them simply by the way the sat on the stage. I had his back: I immediately identified the woman who sat with her legs crossed at the knee as being the most offensive in “high society”.

Not that I’ve ever been in high society, but Mrs. Plkinghorne made certain that I knew if I was ever in that position, that I would know that if I was, I would know that a lady only crosses her feet at the ankle, *if at all*.

I think we were between fifth and sixth grade, We were Methodists. It was December. Mrs. Polkinghorne was known as a substitute teacher to most of our friends (and a bad one, at that), but she was known to us as an elder in the Methodist church. And she wanted to teach us all how to maneuver in polite society.

We were not in the least interested,

Let me back up and give you an overview of Mrs. Polkinghorne (whom we would never have shortened to “Mrs. P”). She was elderly. She was large. She wore a brown wig that was ill-fitting. Her grey hair showed under her wig. She never seemed to be “all there”. We giggled behind her back. Once, in 5th grade, someone put a tack on her seat and she never felt it. Seriously. The class held their breath and waited for her to stand up and exclaim, and she never did. It was awful.

She was also a church matron, and when she suggested that our 5th grade class be taught “manners”, I suspect it was in retaliation to the tack. None of us set the tack, but we were of that age. And some of us were in that classroom.

She had an artificial Christmas tree: one of those silver-leaved trees with a light underneath that switched from red-blue-yellow-green. It was 1967. I don’t remember who suffered in the class with me.

We learned how to set a table for fine dining. We learned how to unfold out napkin onto our lap. How to sit. How to cross our legs (or not). How to hold a tea cup. How to open a door for a lady and how to get into a car without revealing too much. We learned class.

Let me repeat that: we learned class.

A lot could be said about Mrs. Polkinghorne, and none of it flattering, but there is this: she taught a certain 5th grade class of Methodist students the concept of class. Sit up straight. Look people the eye. Don’t slouch.

She taught us that we were more than whatever upbringing we had. We had CLASS. She knew what we thought of her. She’d put up with that for decades of students. She didn’t care. She just wanted this one generation to understand what would be asked of them in polite society.

Mrs. P. deserves a WIN. I don’t even think I hated her then: I just didn’t understand her.

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