Saturday, January 1, 2011

Yes Ma'am, we are on the Titanic.

Yes ma'am and yes sir:  I aim to talk about manners again.  I'm sure ya'll think that my repetitiveness stems from a shallow topic pool, but I can assure you that's not the case.  An attorney can talk and argue about absolutely nothing for hours on end and, as long as we sound like we know what we're talking about and employ attention grabbing hand gestures, we're golden.  I can furthermore assure you that, as a criminal defense attorney, the fodder is endless.

No, my hope--although it is surely in vain--is that, if I talk about manners enough, it has to stick between at least a couple of ears by default.  I fully realize that what I am about to say makes me sound like a little 'ol grandma sitting in a rocking chair, but it needs to be said:  "Kids these days aren't raised to respect anyone, much less their elders."  (I know, I know, I'm applying for early admission to the AARP right after I finish this entry.)

I'm not even talking about manners in general, but a little subset that we in the South believe is oh-so-important:  "Yes ma'am," "yes sir," "please" and, for God's sake, "thank you."  Such tiny little phrases that, when uttered, immediately transform someone from giving the impression that they were raised in an outhouse to a respectful and useful member of society. 

I was raised in a home that considered the aforementioned phrases sacrosanct.  As a matter of fact, if a Culbreth child failed to use those phrases when required, we were ignored until we caught on and said what we were supposed to say.  (As Baby Belle 1 would say:  "For realsies.") 

It wasn't a big deal and it certainly taught us how to conduct ourselves, but friends who came over to our house to play could run into trouble on occasion.  If my brother and I weren't there to give a clue as to the reason for the parental silence that brought to mind crickets or tumbleweeds blowing down the street in a ghost town...well, let's just say that things could take a while.  When I was in elementary school, a friend of mine suggested that my parents were mean for employing what the friend perceived to be a hard line practice and I snapped that I would rather learn it young and have it when it counted.  Yes, yes, I was more than likely repeating my mother, but the sentiment was there nonetheless.

Ironically, it was the employment of my excellent upbringing that caused me to lose my cool a little later down the road.  I shared a very, very, very small apartment with three other girls during my junior and senior years at Chapel Hill.  Fortunately, we all got along for the most part--until my bedroom mate started dating some dude from California who lived in a basement apartment in our complex.  Let me assure you that the tiny bedroom we shared was small enough without adding the 6'2" 200 lb Brad to the mix and the boy never stayed at his own damned place.

Brad became such a fixture in our wee little mouse hole that his mother actually started calling him at our place instead of his.  His mother called a lot.  As a matter of fact, his mother called so much that the three of us not dating Brad started to feel like Brad's unpaid answering service.  Brad's mom (or BM, if you will) called very early one Sunday morning when Brad and my roomie had yet to crawl back down the hill from the Franklin Street bars.  I was half asleep and getting really fed up about the entire situation, but--in the beginning--I admirably managed to hang onto the manners that had been drummed into my head since youth.  The conversation went a little something like this:

ASHLEY:  (Drool...snort)  Hello?

BM:  Yes, is Brad there?

ASHLEY:  Um...(taking a moment to actually check the five square feet of our room) no ma'am, he's not here right now.

BM:  (Cackling laughter)  Ma'am!  That is just so quaint!

ASHLEY:  Actually, ma'am, I was just respecting you as an elder, but nevermind--CLICK.

In case you were wondering, I did not give Brad the message that his mother called when he came in smelling like Boone's Farm and cigarettes and literally had to crawl over my bed to get to my roommate's side.

It never ceases to amaze me how I have to stay on my juvenile defendant clients to use the most rudimentary of manners.  I can't think of many times where it would be more important to say the ma'am/sir than in front of a judge.  If for no other reason, at least give the appearance being penitent and redeemable!  Merciful Lord.  I've actually had parents get mad a me for telling their children to answer politely in court, but I quit caring about that the time that a mama crack dealer decided to conceal her product on her twelve year-old son in the hope that he would be less likely to be searched.  Mind you, the son was the one who had the court date that day.

I don't even push the little darlings to be polite with me...mostly because it is an endeavor reminiscent of captaining the Titanic and I only have so much energy. 

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