• Comment

Adams: The line between politeness and good sense

Posted: December 6, 2017 - 1:41am

My first lesson in where politeness ends and good sense begins happened down at the Feed ‘n' Seed when I was 5. Just after the old man sitting on the bench in front of the store reattached his thumb - pure magic to a gullible girl - he offered me a piece of unwrapped, yellow, dirty candy on the palm of his calloused hand.

My mama nodded for me to accept it. But when we got in our car and I started to put it in my mouth, she fussed, "Don't eat that. You don't know where it's been." I did know where it had been. He'd had it in his trousers pocket, but I knew better than to say that to my mama. "It's filthy," she said, reaching her hand into the backseat. "Give it to me." When we were a respectful distance from the Feed ‘n' Seed, she threw the candy out the station wagon window.

This was something new. I wasn't sure what exactly it meant.

My mama spent a large measure of my earliest years teaching me how to behave. She gave special attention to table etiquette. In particular, without question, as the first Golden Rule of Food, I was always to accept a portion of whatever was offered to me, no matter how gross it looked, and eat it without foul face or word. So this trump of good sense (don't eat dirty candy from a stranger's pocket) over good manners (eat the sustenance served without complaint) confused me. Yet, over the years, as I dined at various tables laden with beets and aspic and pork brains, I came to appreciate the point my mama tried to make that day.

Few people gave me opportunity to practice the new nuance I'd learned quite as often as my paternal grandparents, who managed to seriously violate, all the years of my life, the two additional Golden Rules of Food I had learned at my mother's knee.

The second Golden Rule of Food is that Southern women speak the eloquent language of casserole: In short order and with short notice, in the bat of a blue eye, any belle can whip up a mouth-watering casserole out of any ol' thing from her pantry, and have folks coming back for more and asking for the recipe. Granny, however, in accidental opposition to her upbringing in the old city of Savannah, did not speak casserole.

She spoke rum-soaked fruitcake. She spoke overripe, mushy cantaloupe with a pungent smell that infiltrated every corner of the kitchen. And she spoke Green Stuff, her calling-card dish, made with pistachio pudding, whipped cream, gelatin, marshmallows, nuts and grapes, passed off to us kids as a must-eat vegetable at every holiday meal.

Gramps complemented Granny's rebel fever by breaking the third Golden Rule of Food: Any sandwich made by someone else tastes better than a sandwich you make for yourself. I believed this without hesitation until the first time my grandfather served me a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich on Wonderbread.

The furthest thing from my mind at that moment was the Miracle Whip versus mayonnaise debate. Hunger, disgust, courteousness and guilt wrestled in my empty gut while I looked from the fusion of white slime and brown paste to the open kitchen window.

Although my mother would have known what to do, I did not. Quite frankly, if an old man at the Feed ‘n' Seed with a detachable thumb offered me a grimy piece of yellow candy or a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich today, I'd thank him and eat it, because no matter my mama's tutoring, I find that avoiding the plummet into the narrow divide between politeness and prudence is easier than walking the fine line that separates them.

Email Lucy at lucyadams.writer@gmail.com.

 

  • Comment