Sunday, April 8, 2007

The art of deportment

My father built his career in HMRN. [translation = Navy] As a result, he had a commanding stance, which was handy for a father figure to have figuratively and physically. He had similar expectations of his own children. References to ‘sacks of potatoes’ and standing like a ‘question mark’ were frequent. There were a lot of other rules dependent upon your sex. Boys should not put their hands in their pocket, girls should not fold their arms. Other body parts also came into the picture. Boys were permitted to stand akimbo, girls should have the knees and ankles together. "Failure to control your body parts," meant giving out the wrong messages to anyone who happened to be interested enough to look. I was a little doubtful that anyone was looking at me, since on the whole children were largely invisible in those days. I quickly learned that an invisible child, soon becomes all to visible as soon as your body fails to follow the rules. Never the sharpest knife in the bucket, I soon cottoned on. If you wish to remain invisible and out of parental notice, then the best course of action is to obey their rules regardless of how foolish they appear.

Happenstance dictated that I would get a jump start in deportment department, when I fractured a vertebrae when I was 11.

Months in a body cast followed by a steel brace support meant that when I finally emerged, I was as rigid as a ruler. A had a brief spell of being ‘the best.’ [link to thicky thicky dumb dumb] What was I ‘best’ at? Walking with a book on my head. I could in fact run with a book on my head too, but for some reason that skill wasn’t valued to the same degree. This therapy was much more effective than the visual imagery that we had been taught – imagine a string passing through the central core of your body, top to bottom – imagine the string being pulled upwards, straight. To be fair, that bit was easy, I could imagine that bit, it was the other bits that were tacked on that destroyed the illusion – lengthen your neck, feet together, soft hands, shoulders back, open your face, tummy in, chest out, bottom in, knees and ankles together, hips forward, loose arms, now glide……. How you’re supposed to walk at all when you’re contorted into some kind of zig zag I cannot imagine.

I still find the ‘open your face’ command a tricky one. I was never sure if it was ‘blank vacant stare’ or ‘warm friendly visage’ or neutral. I can still hear the voice and tone ringing it’s way across the parquet flooring of the refectory that said, ‘don’t gawp like a fish McEwen!”
Do fish gawp?
‘your face McEwen, not your mouth!’
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Still, that’s not going to happen again around here any time soon and I’m oh so good at neutral now, and have oodles of experience in the department.

7 comments:

Haddayr said...

My mother was forced to take cotillion and comportment lessons and I'm not sure she has forgiven her parents to this day.

She does, however, do a marvelous job of walking across the room with a book balanced on her head.

Kevin Charnas said...

UUmmm...the rang a few bells.

I just remembered that one time, my Father (who's a retired Navy Pilot) made me stand in one spot in the yard for quite a while because I forgot to same something in response to him. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what I was suppose to say...He later had to tell me, which I regretted. It was, "Yes, Sir."

Pendullum said...

Strangehowin transcends...
My father who was a cop would go bonkers if we were late for anything.. No reason for not being on time...
I remeber my parents taking me out for a birthday dinner and as happenstance would have it,my mother had to take the train in...
Well, her train derailed and luckily all were safe but she was a half an hour late to meet us.. and my father just could not understand how she could be late for such an occasion.(an age before cellphones)

We laugh at it now...and I still jibe him about how so book of instructions he was... He retired 15 yearsago from the force... and it, the force, is finally wearing off...

scribbit said...

Open your face? Never heard of that.

PortraitofPeter said...

Memories of a yesteryear - difficult at the time and yet treasured now.

A wonderful post and thank you for sharing.

PortraitofPeter said...

I wonder if "Jennifer" from The Archers - will change her mind?

The story unfolds - - what do you think?

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

heartofhealing said...

I'm trying to remember all the deportment rules in my family. I certainly recognize some here, but the one that I remember most clearly isn't mentioned -- "stop moving your hands while you talk". My mother continued to try to "cure" me of that well into my middle age. As a naturally expressive person who cannot sit still when music is playing and has to sing along, keeping my hands quietly at my side or on my lap while talking is excruciating. I just never listened to her. For a long time I thought maybe she was right, and I had some sort of defect that prevented me from proper behavior. Now I realize deportment rules vary enormously by culture, and I simply don't fit into the one I was born into.