Determined to help me through that adolescent phase—compounded by a pair of Coke-bottle glasses—Mom enrolled me at age 10 in a poise-and-etiquette class put on by a North Carolina–based department store called Belk. My binder came with diagrams on how to set a table, and we practiced modeling turns for the end-of-session fashion show. I may not have retained much (I still have to look up which side of the plate a fork goes on), but the class boosted my confidence. So when freelance writer Debi Dixon pitched an essay on her experience at Greenwood’s Sears charm school for this month’s issue, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. You mean relying on a department store to shape our youth wasn’t just a Southern thing?
Debi’s story reminded me that while I loved the novelty of walking with a book on my head to improve posture, poise is not something best learned in a seminar. My mother says she signed me up because she, with a blue-collar upbringing, had little business teaching me about etiquette. Yet it was watching her and my father, and the gracious way they treated everyone, from their bosses to the plumber, that taught me more about how to behave than any manual.
Mom teases that an early-childhood faceplant (after tripping over the lip of a doorway) knocked off my sense of balance forever, and I’m beginning to believe her. Just since starting this note, I’ve whacked my knee on a desk drawer and poured boiling-hot water on my fingers while filling my tea thermos. But I don’t despair over my tenacious clumsiness too much. Thanks to my parents, I know there’s more than one way to show a little bit of grace.
Amanda Heckert is the editor-in-chief of Indianapolis Monthly.
This article appeared in the September 2015 issue.