Mother Stinnett was my step-grandmother. She has long since gone to her reward but I remember her often and with great fondness. She was a direct descendent of Batt Masterson of Wild West fame and was from what we called “old Texas money.” There have not been many finer women anywhere than Mother Stinnett. What I remember her for the most was the “rules of behavior” she would tell me about. Let me this morning recount to you the ones I remember:
- Men of all ages are never, ever to sit down at the dinner table until all women present are seated first (that included ALL females). Men are never to fill their plate until all the women had. (We do this at my house to this day. I do not want Mother Stinnett to come up out of her grave after me). I like this particular rule and my bride likes it to. It slows all of us down (you know how men are) and we get to eat together at the same time.
- Yes sir / no sir and yes mam /no mam were expected of everybody.
- There were rules of address to adhere to as well. Certain women were addressed as “Miss” and their first name. That was used of single women, wives without children of their own, and young children towards grown women (I think that’s right). There is another version that stated that all grown women were addressed as Miss and first name except the matriarch of a family who was addressed as “Mother” and her last name. Young girls were always addressed by their first names.
- Men were easier. It was always “sir” to elder men. Anybody younger was addressed by their first name.
- God forbid a man should ever leave his house with his shirt untucked. Tackiest thing in the world to Mother Stinnett.
- There was, of course, the standard stuff. Open doors for ladies, stand when a lady walks into a room. Men also stand when women are sitting down or standing up at table. Women ought not to insult their men in public. Standard stuff.
- There’s more but that’s all I can remember right now. I will add to this as I remember (assuming that I do).
All this may sound quaint and not a little old-fashioned, and maybe it is. I wonder, though, just for a minute if the old-timers didn’t have something there. You know, ole George Washington himself wrote a book on behavior. Ben Franklin had a list of virtues that he worked on in his own quest for self-improvement.
Mother Stinnett had her own list.