My mom, Annie Tuininga (nee Schoonekamp) passed away a few months short of her 100th birthday. We let her know that she could receive signed certificates from the Queen of England, the Prime Minister of Canada, and the Premier of Alberta if she lived long enough to became a centenarian. But that wasn’t one of her goals in life. She stubbornly resisted anything that smelled of arrogance.
Further evidence of Mom’s character was a little booklet we found in her belongings called Essentials of Etiquette. It was compiled by a teacher, Helen Van Laar, in 1935, when Mom was a single woman in her 20s. It offers instructions for behaving well in various settings: Manners at the Table (drink coffee “without making noise”) and Manners at a Party (“Have an attitude of kindly interest in each one of [the] guests and be determined that everyone shall have a good time.”)
But I was particularly drawn to Manners at Church: “Be on time. Late-comers disturb worship. If you are late, however, wait at the entrance until the congregation has finished singing, praying, or Bible reading. . . . If a man and a lady are ushered in, the lady always goes first, the man following her. If there are no ushers, the man goes first, stands aside, and lets the lady enter the pew first. Never should he shove in before his companion.
“Whispering, talking, sleeping, slumping are more out of place in church than in the presence of our President or that of the King of England. . . . Sit straight, and don’t extend your arm in either direction encircling your neighbor. Of course, affectionate cuddling of adults is beyond all propriety.”
As for street manners, “Couples should not walk [arm in arm] on city streets. They walk side by side without holding either arms or hands.” However, couples “are permitted to walk [arm in arm] on country lanes or in gardens.”
In Manners Expected of Ladies: “If you’ve dropped a handkerchief or any article, don’t stoop to pick it up if you’re in the company of a gentleman. He’ll pick it up for you if he’s at all cultivated. And it would embarrass him to have you dive for it in his presence.” When being taken out by a gentleman, “Do not desire the most expensive foods or costliest entertainments. A ‘gold-digger’ is too despicable for words.” And when a young man comes to pick you up, “don’t rush out at the bidding of a honk. He’s supposed to get you personally from the house.”
The pamphlet concludes with a warning not to be satisfied “with only outward elegance. Satisfaction with such surface conduct is like being content with the cold glittering beauty of snow on a wintry landscape. Underneath the ground is hard, dead, and unfruitful. Our manners should be like the verdant trees and lovely flowers that spring forth from the warmed sunlit soil. So our hearts should be warmed and all the powerful yet beauteously tender emotions of the Holy Spirit should be nurtured. . . . You will then . . . radiate the very atmosphere of heaven and thus remind others that we belong not only to the dust of the earth but also to the realms above.”
Mom has been taken to the “realms above,” having practiced as best she could the ways of heaven on earth. These “Essentials of Etiquette” may crack a few smiles today, yet such manners were Mom’s way of considering others better than herself. This is how she worked out her salvation with fear and trembling, making her shine like “a star in the sky” to all who knew her (Phil. 2:3, 15).