We were not allowed to put our elbows on the table or burp or fart while at the table. Although the old man could fart anywhere he wanted it being his god given right to do so. We were not either to sing, at table, or hum. One brother, when early still in years, took to humming uncontrollably. He did not hum a tune exactly but made a sound like the hum perhaps of an electric generator. This sound didn’t require that he move his lips. It just came out of his head sort of and sometimes when he was ordered to stop it, he said that he didn’t know he was doing it. I believed him since I felt then as now that all us boys were a bit autistic due to sensory deprivation.
We also had to sit erect at a proper distance from the table with no slouching allowed. We were not to reach either for anything but if something was out of our reach we were to say, Please (the name of whoever was nearest the wanted item) pass X. When X had been passed you were to say Thank You, and the person who passed it was to say You Are Welcome. Sometimes this was about all the conversation we had at the table.
Of course, we were to keep our mouths closed while chewing and we were not to speak or hum or sing when our mouths were full. Also we were to chew our food before swallowing. For a brief period we were required to count our chews, ten being the minimum number necessary before swallowing since the old lady had been influenced at one time by the Great Masticator. But this command was too difficult to police and was given up as impractical.
Why I was assigned the chore, I don’t know, but there being no girls in the family, I had to set the table. This was an exacting task. The knife had to be to the right of the plate, which was to be centered on its place mat, along with the spoon to the outside of the knife, and on the left side was the fork with a paper napkin folded neatly and placed under it. This made no sense to me since we were all right handed, and placing the utensil we mostly used—i.e. the fork—on the left required making, as far as I was concerned, an unnecessary transfer of the fork from left to right.
Meanwhile the knife, once employed, was placed cattycorner on the edge of the plate with the handle end always to the right. Moreover, if you had a piece of meat such as a pork chop, you were not to cut the meat all up at once into bite sized bits so as to facilitate the meat’s consumption. No, you were only to cut off bits of bite sized meat as needed.
Nor were you to make noises with your food, such as gargling noises with your ice tea.
When consuming soup one was not to pick up the bowl and apply it directly to the lips, nor was one to make slurping noises from the spoon. Further when one neared the end of the soup one was not to tilt the bowl towards one to gather the last remaining fluid. No, one was to tilt the bowl—contrary to all common sense—away from one. Additionally, one was not to draw the spoon directly up and to one’s mouth, but away and then up to one’s mouth.
If one ate in this fashion, one would be recognized as having good manners—the purpose of which as far as I was concerned was to make eating as difficult as possible and to increase the possibility of one being yelled at for screwing up one of the rules. If one was lucky enough to make it through a meal without screwing up, one stood, pushed one’s chair under the table and asked if one might be excused.
What I was being excused for or from I have no idea. But I was happy to be excused nonetheless.