The definition of good manners at the dinner table is not rocket science and one doesn’t need to reference Emily Post in dogged pursuit of the concept. Basically it goes like this: Chew with your mouth closed; No talking while you’re chewing; Elbows off the table; and clean your plate. With my grandchildren I realize that I need to add a few more: No food on Nana’s wall, no hording gulf ball-sized mounds of food in your cheeks like a chipmunk, eat the food you’re dropping on your lap please, and if you don’t want to eat out of the garbage can, don’t throw away my food when my back is turned.
That last one is a classic – first attempted by my eldest daughter who decided she no longer wanted the bagel on her plate. I’m not sure it ever really dawns on a parent that her every move is being calculated by an impatient child who feels some kinda way about food that has lost its appeal. It never occurred to me that in the very few minutes when I left the dining/kitchen area and returned to empty plates and no children at the table, that the food I’d enjoyed preparing hadn’t been as enthusiastically received. So, imagine my surprise when, after using the downstairs bathroom adjacent to the kitchen, I found bound in tissue paper in the bathroom trashcan the bagel I’d seen on my daughter’s plate less than an hour before. More importantly, imagine her surprise when I called her back to the table to eat it. Yep, I’m “hip to the jive,” as my mother used to say.
When I was little, knowing that bad manners included wasting or throwing away food that was put in front of me was a rule never spoken, although I did get the extended disco guilt version about wasting food when there were starving kids in Africa. Not even when he sat a plate of that slimy, wormy looking Southern delicacy in front of me and told me I couldn’t get up until I had at least tasted it did I make any moves to try and throw it away. I’m really not sure that he understood, sitting there in the den sickened by the putrefying odor of cooked bowel parts (chitterlings they called them), that my resolve not to lift even the tiniest forkful into my mouth was just as strong. But, as minutes passed into at least one good hour, and he walked away, not once did I think about trying to fool him by throwing that foolishness in the garbage.
I relayed all this history to my grandchildren so that they know who their Nana is. So that there’s no surprises the next time I find a barely eaten apple nestled in the trashcan among the soggy salad leaves, the old coffee grounds and the fragrant odor seeping from my grandson’s rolled and taped diaper, they’d understand that Nana considers it bad manners to throw her food away.
I’m just thankful that they don’t try to hide their bad manners. I like it that way. I’d rather say, “elbows off the table” 25 times at home than to have a public experience. And I do acknowledge some comforts: my granddaughter has never once opened her mouth to talk when she has a super wad of food all mushed together in her cheek. Nor has my other granddaughter made a mealtime habit of decorating my wall with food. And, I’m super grateful that neither of my seven grandchildren has ever picked their noses and mixed the jewel they dig out with a forkful of macaroni.
I know when I’m blessed.