Nice girls must not

Published 12:58 am Sunday, August 16, 2009

A flash of scarlet amid the green canopy of Lisa’s dogwood tree caught my eye.

Thursday morning I walked outside to retrieve the newspaper from the sidewalk. Waiting to hear the cardinal call his sunrise greeting, I looked up and discovered the first, the very first, indication that autumn may be waiting in the wings. At that moment a soft little breeze played through the branches above me, revealing another brilliantly-colored cluster of leaves. and unbidden came the thought:

“I must call Sissy and tell her that fall is surely on its way.”

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Just as quickly, a pang of grief that is the aftermath of loss reminded me that never again will my sister and I share the joy that was always ours at the arrival of this favorite season.

So often now I recall phrases from conversations with our mother, whose moral standards never wavered. Right was right and wrong was wrong, and this was the code of conduct by which she reared her three daughters. The frenzied and disgustingly frank broadcasts of the South Carolina governor’s affair in South America undoubtedly would have scandalized her, although she would surely have listened. And the panels of experts whose discussions of the “to-do” almost reek of pornography would have elicited scornful comment from her, although she would most certainly have listened.

So often were her three daughters reminded of behavior expected of us that even today, more than 20 years after her death, I am sure of Mother’s opinion about Monica Lewinsky. (Clinton she would have dismissed with a scorn that bears no repeating.)

Monica? “Well, that girl is no better than she wants to be.” Which remark, interpreted, means “Monica is no lady.”

In my mother’s world, young ladies:

Were “Seen and not heard, unless first addressed by an elder.”

“Always said ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘sir,’ and ‘mam.’

Preceded any request by “May I?” never, ever with “Can I?”

Did not wear tight dresses, too much make-up and perfume.

Did not telephone boys, ever.

Did not park in cars with boys, after dark, ever.

Absolutely did not kiss a boy on the first date, or the second, or in Mother’s book, not until they were ready to be engaged — and never in public. She also taught us that intimacy belonged only in marriage and that pregnancy in an unmarried girl was a cardinal sin.

As for some of the reported behavior indulged in by the chief executive and the intern, I doubt that Mother would even have heard some of the words used to describe it. However, I am positive of the word she would have chosen to express her feelings about it:

“Unseemly!” And so it was.