Mind Your Manners

One of my favorite things about a being a parent is having someone to listen to my accumulated trivia. Lately, I have reached the point in parenthood where my children are beginning to pose questions that sometimes stress my intellect. For instance, “Dad, what is manners?”

I usually try to give a clear and concise definitions.

“Well, manners are the principles that govern proper social behavior.” I replied.

I sat back in my chair and smiled, feeling satisfied with my quick thinking without consulting the dictionary.

A moment later the child asked, “Dad, what’s principles?”

This is what I mean by testing my intellect. I’m afraid their curiosity is about to outpace me. At any rate, I am going to attempt a more thorough answer to the original question, because some things require not only clarity, but elaboration.

Manners, best-beloved, are what my Mom and Dad taught me little by little and day by day about how to act around folks.

– Keep your elbows off the table

– Say ma’am and sir

– Keep your feet off the table

– Don’t talk with your mouth full

– Don’t interrupt someone

– Hold the door open for a lady

– Stand up and let a lady or an elder take your chair

– Don’t invite yourself anywhere

– Don’t cuss

– Use your blinker

– Cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze, or yawn

– Don’t smack (chewing with mouth open)

– Don’t ask someone how much money they make

– Don’t ask someone how much they paid for something

– Wipe your feet

– Don’t wear a hat indoors, unless you are a lady and the hat is classy

– Don’t yell inside

– Answer when someone speaks to you

– Don’t stare

– Don’t pick your nose

– Don’t take the last piece of chicken

– Don’t scratch

– Don’t spit

– Don’t reach over someone’s plate

– Don’t grab or snatch

– Don’t talk about gross things at the dinner table

– Don’t tell dirty jokes

– Don’t laugh at dirty jokes

Now this is not an exhaustive list, best-beloved, and we’ll add things as we come to them, but we have to start somewhere. If you follow these guidelines, when you come something you are unsure about you’ll probably make the right decision. Just do what your Mother would do and you’ll be ok.

Fencing

It has rained a lot here this week, which brings back fond memories of not hauling hay. Rain was welcome any time during the summer, but was often a harbinger of hard labor in the fall and winter, because it’s easier to drive fence posts into the rain softened ground. I don’t know how they found Pop, but they did, people who needed a barbed wire fence built through a swamp and over a mountain.

For those who may not be experienced, building a barbed wire fence involves driving a six foot T-Post into the ground with a “post driver”. Which is two foot length of rusty four inch steel pipe with about 30 lbs of steel welded to the end and uneven handles six inch handles welded to the sides. Its a two man operation, one man (me) holds the post still with both hands, and the other man (my brother) hoists the post driver over the steadily held post and lets it drop, setting the post into the ground. Then the second man commences to pick up the post driver and slam it down onto the post, driving it down into the ground until your post reaches the desired height. If you are strong, like my brother was, you can drive a post in about three slams.

The quality of your fences depends on the primitiveness of your post driver. You need to avoid any post drivers with paint, that are store bought, that can be picked up with one hand, and pose no risk of head injury. People who have these kind of tools probably want to sell you an invisible fence. No, a post driver needs be pitted and rusty, and so heavy that you have to use both hands, even if you’re strong as half an acre of garlic. All of your tools need to have at the very least, a thin layer of rust on them. Judging by the tools that were available to us, we were professionals.

I don’t really want to describe stringing barbed wire. I would advise you to use gloves.

I don’t know how many miles of fence that we built when I was a kid, but I know we walked the whole way. Sometimes over mountains and through bushes “Where a rabbit wouldn’t go.” We were building a fence at a place very much like this, with a branch, or creek, running through it one day when it dawned on me that I did not have a lunch and it wasn’t likely that we were going home for lunch. Fortunately, Pop had packed enough lunch to share, two sleeves of Ritz crackers and a sack of oranges. It’s important to note that up until that day, I didn’t even drink orange juice with pulp, much less eat oranges. You’ll try most anything when you’re really hungry though, and I ate my orange quietly, and I enjoyed it. Hard work can give you an appetite like nothing else can.

It is in human nature to pretend to be an expert on any particular task, no matter who menial, that you have been hired to do, especially if you are around someone who has no experience in that particular task. This assumed expertise makes one bold when handing out advice and offering constructive criticism for someone else’s work. I guess at more than one point in my life my soul source of income was derived while I was employed building fences. I was a professional fencer. I have thought often times of putting this on my resume, but I don’t like to brag. I do however do a thorough inspection of any fence that I come across.

Ghost Stories

“The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.”

I’ve heard a good many ghost stories in my life, some of which kept me up all night. If you’re interested I’ll give you the tried and true formula for telling the perfect ghost story. This works 100% of the time, if you’re in the third grade. Once you know the formula, you can take turns making up ghost stories on the spot with your friends the next time you have someone “spending the night” with you. If you’re a grown up it’s probably too late since you lost most of your imagination somewhere before you started caring about the opposite sex and after you realized that using deodorant and brushing your teeth might not just be for the weekends.

Rule number one for telling a good ghost story is establishing when the story happened. You don’t want your audience to be so worried about when the story might have taken place that they miss major plot developments.  For a solid opening, I like to use “Once upon a time.” After vaguely establishing the time, it’s good to pause for a dramatic effect before coming in more intensely with where the story might have happened. I usually go for “In the deep dark woods.” I’m getting scared just writing this right now. Now that we’ve created the perfect spooky setting your audience should be sufficiently hooked and want to hear the rest of your story, now it’s time to real them in with the details. For our next line we need to establish who or what the story is about. A ghost story is only as good as it’s villain. You might try a line like “There lived a man.” You might even throw an adjective in for good measure, “There lived an old man.” The more time you spend on describing the villain the better your villain will be, but don’t spend too time with details, you want to make them wonder. We’ll give him long bushy eyebrows, a lazy eye and bad leg that causes him to limp. Now would be a good time to practice your onomatopoeia as you describe the sound made when he walked across the dirty floor in his decaying cabin. For extra credit you can describe how he received the bad leg, “In a gunfight”, or “on the railroad”, are always good choices if you get stumped. Our next step requires action, what did the old man do? Did he collect toenails, kidnap dogs and cut off their ears, or just knock on doors and run away? Whatever he did, it needs to be something that relates to all of your audience. We’ll go with “Turned off the lights whenever you went to the bathroom.” Now you can wrap up your story with, “And if you’ve ever been in the bathroom and the lights go out, you’ll know it was the old man!” Maybe throw in a little scream at the end for good measure. It helps if later during the sleepover you can cut off the lights while someone is going to the restroom.

It seems humorous writing about it as an adult, but I remember being genuinely scared of improvised ghost stories, even if I was the one telling them. It’s good to know when to stop telling ghost stories and go to bed so you won’t be too scared to sleep. My rule of thumb is to stop whenever I start getting scared at my own story telling. The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.

I remember being quite upset by a ghost story on the 5th grade field trip to a camp in North Alabama. The camp counselor told us that the cabins we were sleeping in were built on Indian Burial mounds that had to be excavated before they were able to start building the campgrounds. During this excavation they found a skeleton that was missing a hand. No one knows for sure, but they think that this hand was lost during initial excavation when they discovered the burial mounds. The counselor told us that every once in a while they saw a skeleton hand, supposedly searching for the missing body. Every time that they had seen the hand they had also heard the Chickasaw Death Whisper. The counselor had been gradually lowering his voice and we were on the edge of our seat with anticipation. He said, “This is how the Chickasaw Death Whisper goes,” and after a slight pause he yelled at the top of his lungs.

A little unconventional, I know, because he deviated from the usual ghost story formula, but I was so scared that night that I eventually got in the bunk with my friend and I didn’t care what anybody said. Perhaps my imagination was a little over active from not having a television in our home. Many of the other students laughed harder than they had screamed once they got over their initial fright. Feel free to tell this one some place I’ve never been.

I remember telling ghost stories with our neighbors, Jared and Creed numerous times. Jared and Creed had a popup camper that they would take on vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. I know they went to the Great Smoky Mountains because while they were gone I fed their Blue Tick hounds and I still have a pack of Great Smoky Mountain playing cards that Jared brought back as a thank you gesture. I’m sure Mr. McDaniel appreciated the break from his shift work for Alabama Power at the Logan Martin Dam. There was a leak in the dam and his job was to pump concrete into the hole. He’d been pumping concrete for about 30 years. Whenever they got ready to go on vacation, they would air out the popup camper in the basement and this was the perfect place to tell ghost stories. We all four piled into the camper and began the time honored swapping of improvised ghost stories. Zach told one and we all laughed, he was always to jolly of a story teller to be all that scary. Creed told one and it must have been pretty scary, because Jared moved to the back of the camper where Creed and Zach were, leaving me in the front. Now it was Jared’s turn to tell a story. I think he was still doing character development on his villain when I decided that it would be a little safer on the other side of the camper with the other three boys. As I crossed over to the other side the trailer tipped swiftly backwards and the tongue banged against the ceiling of the basement right beneath the living room where Mr. McDaniel was trying to catch up on his sleep in the recliner. Mr. McDaniel was jarred awake by the commotion in the basement and stormed downstairs. We were more afraid of Mr. McDaniel than any ghost story villain our imaginations could drum up, mainly because Mr. McDaniel was real, and at the moment, he was “real mad”. He looked at each of us in turn as we were piling out of the camper, then he said to Zach and Me, “Boys, it might be a good time for y’all to go on home.” We quickly obliged him. I hope his vacation brought his blood pressure down.

In the rural community that I grew up in legends were still very much alive. These legends spawned grown up ghost stories that were terrifying to children. What’s even scarier than that is that many adults still whole heartedly believed that they were true. One example that comes to mind was the legend of The White Thang. I’m sure I should spell it “Thing”, but that isn’t how I heard it spoken. The White Thang was a fantastic white creature that lived on the mountain and terrorized the community. Sort of. No one ever fully saw the White Thang, they just described it as a flash of white. What people were able to describe in detail was the ear splitting noise that the creature made. Some said is sounded like a woman screaming, or a panther. It was taken so seriously by the community that I remember it making the newspaper at least three times in my life. There isn’t much to tell, maybe that’s why it was so widely believed and what makes it so scary, the fear of the unknown. All of the stories about the White Thang were pretty similar. Someone was on the mountain hunting and they heard a scream like a woman and saw a flash of white, or someone was fetching wood late at night and heard a wild screech and saw a flash of white. It may have been an albino panther or mountain lion. There was never enough moon light for anyone to get a good glimpse of the creature. More likely there was too much moonshine. Whatever it was, many people of Sterrett, Alabama swore up and down that it was real and they had heard it and seen it, or at least a credible relative you had seen it. The White Thang might be more believable than some people’s credible relatives.

I haven’t told or heard a good ghost story since the last time I went camping as a teenager. I think I finally realized that I don’t like being frightened. These days I shy away from ghost stories in general because real life is scary enough.

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