This & that: Don’t eat with your hands

FEATURE — To be a good missionary, one must have good manners. At least, that is what I was taught from an early age.

I grew up in a small town in Indiana. Not really even in the small town but in a small subdivision 1 mile out of this small town in Indiana. I had three brothers and one sister, all older than me — though one by only three minutes. We were all close in age. My mother had five kids in five years. And a nightly tradition that seems to have gone by the wayside in many American homes was the evening meal.

The evening meal was not just about eating in our family. Though, for a youngster with high metabolism, the food was definitely the highlight. (Unless we had liver, of course.)

The evening meal was more: We always started the meal with a blessing on the food. After that, chaos would begin. My father would always have the main course by him while the sides would be strategically placed around the table. We would always take more than we should then pass the food to the left, always to the left.

My father would never discuss work, but he did talk about the current events of the day. It would usually be a complaint about whatever political party happened to be in power at the time. I could never pin down my father’s political affiliation because he complained just as much about Carter as he did Ford and Nixon.

My brothers and sister would pipe in about their days as well. Nothing big usually. It could have been a new neighbor moving in, how we did in school, what chores needed to be done before we went to bed, et cetera. But the children also learned something at the dinner table that would serve us later on in life: manners.

My mother was strict when it came to our deportment at the dinner table. It was not nearly so for breakfast or lunch, probably because those meals excluded my father and were treated less formally. But at the dinner table we had to mind our “Ps and Qs.”

Every pass request required a please and thank you. Your napkin always went on your lap. Your elbows better never hit the table. And most important of all, unless the food was intended to be eaten with your hands, then you better use the knife and fork.

My mother had the connatural ability to sense when one of us was eating with our hands. We did not even have to be in her line of sight. She was spooky that way. And the mild scolding would always be the same, “Don’t eat with your hands!” And that would always be followed by, “When you are a missionary you will never get a dinner appointment with such bad manners.” I must have heard that a thousand times growing up.

I am proud to say that by the time I left for my mission I had my mother’s manners thoroughly ingrained in my psyche. I went to Los Angeles on my mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Spanish speaking. My first meal was my second night as a missionary with the Sepulveda family, from Mexico. As dinner was served a delicious plate of carnitas, rice and refried beans was placed before me.

I noticed immediately that I had not been given silverware. What I did not notice was that neither had anyone else at the table. So in my very limited and broken Spanish I informed my hosts that I did not have a fork. The response was immediate, a moment I have always treasured, and it came from the 22-year-old son, Martin: “Elder Cole, you are in a Mexican home. Eat with your hands!”

I must admit I was a little lost at first. This had never been in the playbook. So I watched my missionary companion who had more time than me expertly maneuver the food from the plate to his mouth through the use of a tortilla.

Of course, I could not wait to let my mother know the irony involved behind her justification of the cultivation of my manners.

Nonetheless, her instruction has served me well before and since that aberration. Thanks, mom.

Darren Cole is a developing columnist and otherwise sports writer for St. George News. Any opinions given are his own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter:  @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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