According to my dear, crazy redheaded Mama, the end of civility fell upon my generation.
Hers, she claims, had a sense of decency.
“We didn’t talk the way you and your friends do. It was unheard of,” she declared one day.
I was not sure what she was referring to; she thinks everything that I say is inappropriate, even when I am merely stating a fact.
“What are you talking about?” I asked her, not really wanting to know.
“The things you say in mixed company. It’s not proper.”
Mixed company was Mama’s definition of men and women. And based on her boundaries, saying pretty much other than “Hello,” was rude and improper.
“What did I say?” I asked.
“More like what didn’t you say. I can’t believe you talk that way around menfolk.”
I can’t believe my mother uses the phrase “menfolk.” How old was she exactly?
“Mother, just because your generation was so hung up on silly stuff does not mean mine is,” I said. “Generation X-ers are a little bit different.”
Mama sniffed. “It’s still is rude and just shouldn’t be done.”
What got her knickers in a knot on this particular day was my recounting of what I had said to the owner of the feed store about Doodle.
I had commented the parking lot pup was part pitbull, and while we weren’t sure what she was mixed with, we felt certain her southern hemisphere was pittie because she had a wiggly backside.
Except, I said the other b-word that meant backside.
Mama had a fit.
“I can’t believe you told a man that!” she cried.
“That! How could you?”
“Mama, they hear worse than that on the radio or the news. Trust me. Me saying that word is the least offensive thing that was said that day.”
“It’s not a matter of offending someone. It’s a matter of talking properly. A woman is not supposed to talk like that in front of a man,” she stated.
In Mama’s world, this should have been put in the Bill of Rights or engraved on stone and handed to Moses. She had a list of certain categories and words that she felt like should not be mentioned in front of or in discussion with members of the opposite sex. It would be easier to list the ones she found acceptable – food, weather, and only non-controversial books.
“I don’t know if you have jumped into the 21st century yet or not, Mama, but men and women have been having discussions on these topics for a while now. I am sure you have watched television; they talk about all kinds of things you deem improper on TV.”
She sighed. “And that’s probably why I prefer reruns of Perry Mason to some of these shows. Your uncle and I tried to watch an episode of Mom one night – I thought I would like it because the taller woman had been on West Wing with Mark Harmon. You know he’s Gibbs and I have always liked him. Anyway, it was the most atrocious thing I have ever seen. We turned it. It was embarrassing to sit there and hear that kind of language with my brother sitting three feet from me.”
“Mama, are you really this hypersensitive?”
I could hear her bristle on the other end of the phone. “I don’t consider myself hypersensitive. I just think that there is no decorum left in your generation and those that came after it. Nothing is sacred, and everything is up for discussion, and it does not matter who is present.”
Mama, bless her heart, would have a huge fit if she had ever heard some hardcore rap music.
I am not sure why she has been so unyielding in this area, but she has. She has always been mortified about me discussing anything she deemed the least bit delicate within earshot of any men I knew, unless I was married to them. And even then, she thought it may not need to be shared.
“I think you are being awfully silly. I think most women discuss these things in this day and age,” I said.
Good lord – I had been reduced to using the phrase ‘in this day and age’ – I was officially old.
“I am not silly,” she insisted. “I just think, if you look back on the course of history and start looking at when things started going wrong in this world, you will notice it began with language. Our language helps set us apart and give us boundaries. People who may not have had much money still knew how to talk properly. Now, everyone talks so plainly, it makes them look unintelligent and uneducated. People just say anything now – and don’t care who hears it. And it brings us all down.”
There you have it.
The downfall of civilization was brought about by the impropriety of our language, at least according to Mama’s theory.