Oh, How I Miss Manners by
(58 Stories)

Prompted By Manners

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Just so. Not

No, I’m not talking about Judith Martin.  Or Emily Post.  Or any other similar self-professed “experts.”

The full description of the CWP program included an interesting reference to one of the takeaways from the course, something called “Trigger Finger Etiquette”. NO, NO, NO, that’s not “manners”.

Nor am I talking about that little dweeb, Manners the Butler, who pitched Kleenex napkins many moons ago (“they cling like cloth”).*

Nor am I talking about the exaggerated pantomime of manners illustrated by the featured image. (But more about digits later.)

Nor am I talking about “faux manners”, the kinds of things that others try to lump together in a catch-all of etiquette.


About ten years or so ago, in what seems another lifetime when I was married to #3, the plan was to relocate to the Low Country of South Carolina.  Bought a house there and prepped for, and passed, the South Carolina bar exam. **  But later that same year the marriage was over, and South Carolina was out of the picture.  Still, having put in the effort to be admitted I had no notion of withdrawing.  Until.  Less than a year after admission the bar association publicized a continuing legal education program with the intriguing pitch “come earn CLE with your CWP”.  That is, continuing legal education credit while qualifying for your concealed weapons permit.  Seriously.  I was more than a bit taken aback and appalled given that the program effectively bore the imprimatur of the South Carolina Supreme Court (South Carolina has what’s known as a “unified bar”: admission to practice and bar association membership are coterminous.  The bar association thus operates directly under the auspices of the SC Supreme Court).  Because I could not separately resign from just the bar association I resigned from the whole ball of wax and gave up my SC license.  But not before I received another promo for a CLE get-together featuring the opportunity to mingle with judges.  While skeet shooting. ***

I digress.  The full description of the CWP program included an interesting reference to one of the takeaways from the course, something called “Trigger Finger Etiquette”. ****  NO, NO, NO, that’s not “manners”.

Here’s what I mean. *****

The observance and practice of real manners.  The lubricant of gracious living.  Doing things, well, just because it’s the genteel thing to do. Deportment, The essential building block of comportment.  That kind of stuff.  The niceties more honored in the breach than in the observance these days. The kind of things one learns from attentive parents and other elders.  The kind of thing one learns in . . .

Dancing school, of course.  Beginning in third grade my sister Suzie and I were enrolled in Mrs. Quinlan’s Thursday afternoon program of instruction.  Learning ballroom dancing was just one facet.  Mrs. Quinlan and her two female assistants gently led us through our paces, both literally and figuratively.  First, they always dressed to the nines, even for this afternoon program.  Girls were expected to wear (and the mere expectation was sufficient for compliance) party dresses.  Boys wore suits.  And everyone wore white gloves.  Each week’s session commenced with a grand procession where boys and girls, paired randomly, approached Mrs. Quinlan and one formally introduced the other to her.  Alternating boys and girls each week.

Truth be told, I liked this.  Even though having to go to school dressed for the dancing program exposed me to endless teasing.  It was fun.  Suzie and I continued for three, maybe four years; there were different sessions for different age groups.  One of my first girlfriends was in one of the later classes.

But my most prominent and lasting memory, also from one of the later years, relates to an event that occurred just prior to the start of class.  Boys and girls sat on opposite sides of the large, rectangular room, awaiting the week’s “pairing”.  Mrs. Quinlan approached.  When she was in front of me, she gently explained that when a woman approaches a gentleman stands.  So I did.  And have done so ever since.

I recall one of those times.  Not long before the whole SC plan disintegrated my wife and I went to dinner with a couple from down the street, who were contemporaries.  We were celebrating his birthday, and my wife and I, and he, had arrived at the restaurant ahead of his wife.  When Delia arrived, we were all sitting in the lounge, and when she approached, I, of course, stood.  She leaned in and quietly said, “thank you for standing”.  And I once again thought of, and gave thanks to Mrs. Quinlan.

Funny thing.  As the years pass, and memory fades, our recollection of people, especially names and faces, also fades.  But my memory of Mrs. Quinlan, in every detail, is as vivid as when she approached that day so many years ago.

– – – – – – – –

* I seem to be cursed.  Remember the prompt from a few weeks back about ads and jingles and the like?  Well, I sure do.

** For those gentle readers who are familiar with bar exams, let me just say that the SC exam is in a class by itself.  Three days, not two.  Two days of essays.  The exam is held in the state capitol, Columbia, but the administrators do not say exactly where until just a few weeks before the exam date.  But they reveal, at the same time, the six subjects to be tested in the essay portion.  But they don’t tell you that these are “law school level” essay exams.  Detailed.  Not at all pleasant.

*** And you thought “shooting the breeze” was just a figure of speech.

**** I did come up with a notion of what that might involve: “one must never engage the trigger with the index finger whilst extending the middle finger.” (Election of remedies.)

***** I actually have nothing to add.  I just wanted to set a record for footnotes.

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. “The lubricant of gracious living.” Love this quote–so true! Keep the machinery well-oiled.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Remarkable story on so many levels, Tom. No wonder we have a gun problem in the US, given what you’ve just revealed about the SC bar exam. Good grief! Truly appalling.

    Like you and your sister, I attended dance school, but only for year, while I was in 6th grade, and not nearly as formal. It was in preparation for the coming year of going to bar mitzvah parties, so we needed to learn how to dance. We learned real ballroom dancing, as well as those new fangled dances like the twist (just coming into vogue at the time). I appreciate the fact that you learned etiquette from Mrs. Quinlan, which is certainly a form of good manners. And you still remember and apply her rules when appropriate. Good for you!

  3. Marian says:

    This is fabulous, Tom. I could see a movie about the SC bar involving guns and skeet shooting while southern ladies loll on verandas drinking tea or mint juleps. How bizarre, but the points about manners really resonate. One of my high school friends is descended from exceptionally wealthy people from Puerto Rico, so she had to instruct the young men in our group to stand whenever her grandmother came into the room. That’s how I learned about this point of etiquette.

  4. I’m clearly old-fashioned if not downright old…I would be charmed by a man standing at my approach. It’s nice to know you still do it…that it’s just part of who you are. And now, Tom, we know why.

  5. Suzy says:

    I love this story for so many reasons, not the least of which is your mention of Judith Martin AND Emily Post! Also your five footnotes (even if the fifth one is a non-footnote). And your amazing story about the South Carolina bar, which I can hardly believe (but I know you wouldn’t make up something like that). And finally Mrs. Quinlan’s dancing lessons. I would be charmed if I walked into a room and you stood at my approach!

    • Thanks, Suzy. Yes, the SC episode is as described. And as I just said to Barbara, every woman should have the experience. Perhaps we need to organize an in person get-together to make this happy. Ricky always told Lucy she had some ‘splaining to do. Guess I have some standing to do.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    I liked the double entendre of the title–and I understood it better after the South Carolina story, which was jaw-dropping in awfulness. It made Mrs Quinlan’s class a real relief in contrast. Treating others with pleasantness–what a concept! Good to know that stuck with you too.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m searching my memory to see if a man ever stood when I walked into the room. I don’t think so, but it is custom as quaint as those white gloves at dance school. When my kids were in middle school, there was a fancy series of dance parties called “The Cotillion” that required white gloves for the girls. It was an invitation-only affair put on by a woman’s club. It wasn’t easy to find those white gloves and I was proud that all of my kids were dropouts after trying it once.

    • As to your experience re not recalling a man standing for you, I suspect that’s the rule rather than the exception, unfortunately. And as to your kids experience – and your reaction – well, I’ll just say that perhaps there’s a special touch required by instructors in manners. Genteel is as genteel does, perhaps. Mrs. Quinlan had it in spades.

  8. John Shutkin says:

    Great story on many levels, Tom. I may never view good manners the same — though the raised pinkie in the featured image really said it all.

    And thanks also for giving me yet another reason (as if I needed any) to take the SC Bar. Pro tip: if you become a general counsel or otherwise only practice in-house, you usually do not have to take a bar exam when you go to a new state. A lot of paperwork and money paid — presumably by your employer — but no exam.

    And, yes, you definitely set the Retro record for footnotes. But, as a fellow lawyer, you know that you are still about 1,000 footnotes behind the record for law review articles.

    • Thanks, John. Yes, avoid SC at all costs. The SC bar does one thing right: they require all successful candidates to take a “bridging the gap” program, three days, prior to admission. Taught by experienced practitioners and judges (including the Chief Justice of the SC Supreme Court) it covers a lot of ground and provides great information. That’s where I learned about “appointments”, though. Attorneys are on the hook to do post conviction remedy work, regardless of whether they have any experience in the SC criminal system. Fortunately having had well over thirty years of admission in CT and NY I was exempt. But I do miss the Gullah-Geechee cuisine of the Low Country. As to the footnotes, well, I guess you could say that mine was a flaw review article not a law review article.

  9. Risa Nye says:

    Tom, my mother-in-law taught her two sons to stand when a lady entered. Once, when we were still in high school, I happened to be at my then boyfriend/now husband’s house when his aunt arrived. I clearly remember his mother shooting him a stern look and lifting her hand to remind him to stand! Interesting stories about South Carolina–a world apart in some ways. Your teacher would be proud to be remembered this way, I’m sure.

  10. Let’s hear it for Mrs. Quinlan. I knew kids who were sent to “dancing school” but this is the first time I ever wished that maybe I had that experience!
    The story/promo about combining the gun licensing with the lawyering is priceless regional memorabilia. And the skeet-shooting takes it up still another notch.
    Thanks for a really engaging take on this prompt.

  11. Thanx for a fun read Tom. I must say I am hard-pressed to remember when a man stood up at my approach, except perhaps when I was 8 months pregnant and boarding a crowded city bus!

    (And I know nothing about the SC legal world, altho I was born in Charleston!)

    • Thanks, Dana. Neither did I until I was already in it. Charleston is unique, and the coastal Low Country generally is far different as one moves northwest to “the Upstate”, as it is called – past Columbia toward Greenville, Spartansburg, and Clemson. Even along the coast, Myrtle Beach is in a category by itself, and then there are the chic places like Kiowa, Beaufort and Hilton Head, and the decidedly less so places like Pawley’s Island and Edisto Island.

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