I want to give thanks for three warriors for civilization. A clerical reader in Chicago sends this table blessing by the late Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon:
“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men – to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast blessed us – with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.”
Amen and amen!
As my Thanksgiving gift to you, I pass along not only that prayer, but this wonderful story about Wardie Sanders, a teacher in small-town South Carolina who instructs her high school students on proper table manners. It came to me through a generous reader in the Pacific Northwest, who says she is thankful today for Ms. Sanders. Excerpts:
“It’s about respect,” said Brian Youngblood, 17. “This is how we got here as a civilization, so if we don’t learn this, we’re not going to evolve.”
At a time when cultural disruption seems to be winning an epic battle with tradition and there is no shortage of people willing to argue that table etiquette is as anachronistic as a rotary phone, some experts say the art of the table must be modernized to appeal to a generation that cares more about how people feel than how things look. Even the role of the cellphone is being reconsidered.
Mrs. Sanders would not disagree with those experts, because that would not be polite. Besides, they can all agree that graciousness and hospitality build the framework for good manners. But upholding the traditions of the Southern table is something she takes very seriously. It is a quest driven by details.
“Every year we have some children who have never seen a table set properly and they call silver ‘aluminum,’” she said.
Another student of Ms. Sanders’s inadvertently reveals what a blessing knowing proper etiquette can be:
Manners, it turns out, really matter to the young. “When I know what I’m doing,” said Kiisha Hilliard, a 17-year-old on her way to the University of South Carolina, “I can just relax.”
I regret to inform you, though, that the story quotes some modernists as saying that we need to adjust our manners to allow for the use of — sorry, give me a minute to gather myself — to allow for the use of mobile phones at the table!
To them, I give you as my final Thanksgiving gift the following very fine etiquette lesson given by Friday Night Lights Coach Eric Taylor, in a clip he (the actor Kyle Chandler) did for the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin, Texas. Coach speaks for me on the subject of mobile phones at the table. (Warning: there’s a profanity at the end):