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Every year, when I start my spring cleaning, I promise myself that I’ll get into that old box of books, scrapbooks and other memorablilia that’s hiding in the back of the spare closet. This year, I actually did it and discovered a treasure from a long-ago relative.
When my Aunt Florence died, I inherited her household goods. I was her nearest relative and the daughter she never had. She and my uncle never had children, but Aunt Florence mothered everybody in the family. She was a great doer of all kinds of handwork, crocheting, sewing and one of those people who wore the title of “homemaker” like a merit badge.
She came from good, hard-working, middle class stock, married good, hard-working middle class stock, and she kept a notebook of thoughts, recipes, proper etiquette; you name it, Aunt Florence had a newspaper article or some kind of note about it.
For instance, Aunt Florence and her siblings were never debutantes, but she had an entire chapter, mostly self written, about the proper etiquette for debutantes and their sponsors. Maybe she reasoned some of the nieces would become debutantes. I looked through all the various catalog cutouts of proper hats for proper ladies. Hats were “de rigeur” in her younger days ó not only hats, butmatching shoes, gloves and handbags. A notation in the margin on one page said that “the proper lady always leaves the house wearing the appropriate hat and carrying the correct handbag.”
On another page, there is a notation about the various lengths of gloves and how each should be worn.
I never saw my beloved aunt wearing any jewelry but her wedding ring and watch, but there in the notebook was an entire section, with photographs of “correct” jewelry, and how and when each piece should be worn. Flashy pins and gaudy earrings are never worn to a funeral, the essay went on to say, and one should be modest in appearance at all times, during deep mourning.
These kinds of keepsakes are a lot of fun to browse through, and I have to ask myself why in the world she would compile this large notebook, devoted exclusivley to the art of proper behavior and attire.
The answer, I think, is because 50 years ago, people like my aunt were always concerned about the impression they made on other people. My aunt and those of her family were aware that each one of them was a family representative, and that their behavior would reflect back upon the parents who raised them. Not a bad way to be actually.
Nowadays, we are far more casual both in behavior and attire, but we seem to have lost something in the process as well. We no longer have that feeling that we are connected to one another. To be pleasing to the eye and courteous in our manner no longer carry the weight they once did. What a shame.
Just think how far we’d get today if we gave more thought to how we behave and how nice we looked. It could alter the face of history, and maybe, just maybe, we’d have fewer enemies.
My mother was Aunt Florence’s youngest sister, and while she never kept a notebook, she would consult her older sibling on a great many questions of etiquette. That may be why I had to pass inspection every time I left the house and why I never got myself into any kind of trouble. I knew if I got in trouble away from the house, I’d get in more trouble within the house, once it was found out!
To this day, I always notice how properly people are dressed, how well they speak, and if they are kind to one another. It was not easy imposing old-fashioned rules on new-fashioned children, but I did my best.
It’s been said that the older we get, the more we live in the past. I’m not sure I agree with that, but remembering a time of kinder, gentler folks, who looked nice and were polite to one another, is not a bad thing. If it’s true that everything old is new again, who knows, I may even start a new trend!

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