I believe in decorum and conducting oneself in a manner appropriate to the surroundings. Is a bare belly suitable attire at Arlington Cemetery? Courtrooms are full of blue jean wearers. Ties are not often seen at funerals. Ladies are not required to cover their heads in church.

Items of clothing are outward signs of inward respect regardless of the era. If society continues to accept diminishing standards, what happens then?

I was raised in the North in an era of the “liberated” woman. We could bring home the bacon and fry it in a pan. We were independent and tough, aware of our own innate power. Moreover, we were creations of group-think that was foisted upon us by growing mass media. I took an extended trip to the South and had a rough adjustment. My hyper, big-city, rush-to-get-things-done attitude was about to collide with propriety. The people were exasperatingly slow-geared. The wait in grocery store lines was interminable. The clerks chatted with customers, knew them by name and the southern drawl made the conversations drag out even longer. Not only that, the store provided “carry boys” for every female customer! When I finally got up in line and declined adamantly, no one seemed to hear. A tall, young male displaying a wide smile picked up my groceries that had already been bagged by a clerk. With relaxed conversation like we’d been friends for years, while I continued to spout objections, he leisurely strolled to my car with me and carefully placed my groceries in my trunk. I bristled all the way home.

One day, I pulled into a gas station and got out of my car to pump my own gas. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man rushing toward me from the station building. I froze in my tracks. I was alarmed. If I had a gun, I think I would have covered him. He reached the pump before I did and said, “You don’t pump your own gas, Miss.” I was so taken aback, I was speechless.

I was suffering culture shock. It couldn’t have been worse than if I had traveled to a fictional land.

Restaurant service was indefectible. Employees were proud of their jobs and their work and they proved it. Manners and courtesy, dress and civility were unlike the “liberated” North. The longer I lived there, the more I became like them; the more relaxed I became. I even developed femininity. Men were men and women were treated with respect and honor. I never opened a door for myself and learned to enjoy it. We were not objects being fawned upon. Instead, a deeper understanding of the true and positive relation of the sexes evolved and respect was learned because it was taught and exercised as a part of the society. All of us benefited and felt a sense of rhythm and meaning to life. We truly connected with other human beings, with individuals. This was, perhaps, the last surviving shred of gentility before the almost complete destruction of manners in “modern” American society.

There were no pornography shops and kids were safe on the streets. Children were appreciated. And in those restaurants and other public places, I never witnessed a tantrum or a child demanding anything of his parent.

I lived in a “dry” county, no take out liquor. There was a rule about alcoholic drinks – only at dinner – and the limit was three. A man could go into a restaurant and sit at a bar that was located in the dining room. It was there ostensibly for a place to wait for a table to open. He could order a drink, but he had to order a dinner to get that drink. Both were served at the bar. I noticed these men never ate their meal. They were just stopping after work for a drink. Of course, no lady would think of sitting at the bar. And no woman did either. I mentioned respect. Well, we learned to respect ourselves, too.

Sounds rigid? Tough? Unfair? Yeah, well, the city was clean. There weren’t any liquor or beer bottles or cartons trashing parking lots or streets or alleys. Driving drunk was unheard of. Public drunkenness, arguments, angry displays were non-existent. People were clean and dressed modestly and all races were polite to one another. Women were treated with dignity.

THERE WERE STANDARDS that upheld, promoted and delivered a decent and safe society.

These are shocking thoughts to people nowadays. And they shouldn’t be.

During this time, in the North, a large city grade school engaged in a social experiment and allowed prepubescent and pubescent aged girls to wear bikinis to class. Yes, this is true. I saw them. The school learned the error of its ways and reversed the ruling, but the damage had been done. Bikinis banned, girls then wore to school too short shirts and skin-tight shorts on fat behinds, baring midriffs long before the current style of exposed flab and tattooed rumps. Attendance and attitude plummeted. The school became run-down and is now closed. The neighborhood, once clean, vibrant and safe for all residents devolved into a moonscape (and still is decades later) – awash in litter, with boarded up windows of vacant buildings the only eyes standing watch.

Oh, there are those who will immediately scoff and say, the neighborhood decline was not directly related to the school (un)dress code. No? Well, when children’s minds are not on education and the purpose for attending school they learn other things, don’t they? And those same children, in a few short years, are the product of those schools and will populate that neighborhood, have kids and raise them there. Do you think they learned decorum in their school? Ethics? Civics?

Did they learn life skills and personal pride from their parents? Then why aren’t their neighborhoods clean? When every family swept their porch, and cleaned the sidewalk and gutter of the street in front of their home, and then cleaned the alley behind their backyard or garage, neighborhoods did not decline.

Rats do follow trash – rats of the animal and human type.

Did anyone learn any history when they were in school? What of great societies that rose – and fell – because the people lost a moral focus? You can’t legislate morality? Once a society stops doing so, it will decline and die. When there are fewer and fewer morality rules, the core of what holds a society together begins to loosen like a weak glue on a hot day.

Sexually transmitted disease runs rampant. This cannot be denied. We are the first generation to live in an era of medical miracles, but even they can’t keep up with diseases of both the body and mind.

They say we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but that is defeatist speak. Unless we try, the only direction ahead of us is down.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. June Freaking Cleaver
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 07:01:29

    wow, Annette – where in the South did you live? I lived in the South for a while, too – I did not have your idyllic experience. Maybe it depends when it occurred – I was there in the early- to mid-90s.


  2. annettecrey
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 21:16:09

    Kim, I am older than you – this was at the end of the sixties. I think the dry county had everything to do with the level of civility.


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