I went to a women’s retreat in Lake Tahoe this past weekend. While I was there I thought of many special women in my life, past and present, but one woman in particular rose to my consciousness. Then she actually spoke out, right through my own vocal chords and mouth.
“Would you like to use the microphone?” I asked our speaker. He was about to launch into the communion liturgy, the part that goes, “This bread is my body, broken for you.”
He looked back at the wireless mic lying on the windowsill and hesitated a moment.
“Use the microphone, please,” another person asked, underlining my question as a request.
He used the microphone.
See how that works, the question-request? Here’s how I learned it:
At my in-laws’ annual beach week on Oak Island, North Carolina, there are no ritual foods served at the first or last meal. But at one meal–maybe a breakfast, maybe a dinner–someone always does bring up a ritual topic: the Right Way to ask for food to be passed to you.
We remind one another that if you can properly wield the question-request (wherein “Would you like to…?” really means “I want you to…”), then you have reached the pinnacle of Southern manners. The master of this elegant form was Alice Truelove Newton, my mother-in-law’s mother.
Alice, or Mima, as my husband and the other grandkids called her, passed away in 2010 but we will always remember her classy ways.
At the table during a family meal, she once said to my sister-in-law Eleanor, in her blueblood North Carolina accent, “Eleanuh, would you like some salt?”
“Oh no, I’m fine, thanks, everything’s delicious,” Eleanor responded, complimenting the meal while misfiring slightly on the communication.
Elbowing Eleanor gently, I whispered, “What she means is, please use the salt if you’d like some…then pass it on to her.”