Miss Manners: Silver serving pieces perform multiple roles

November 27, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I know our beloved Victorians invented many esoteric and specialized utensils for serving such things as oysters, celery, asparagus and shrimp. Why not cranberry sauce?

I have a silver piece that resembles a slotted spoon/pie server. It has a rather short handle, and instead of a bowl it has a blade that is completely round and slightly larger in diameter than a “slice” of canned cranberry sauce. Indeed, my departed mother used this utensil to serve the sauce, which she removed from the can by opening both ends and then slicing into serving portions.

I always thought this was a “genuine” cranberry sauce server. Could it have another incarnation, or do I possess a rare relic?

GENTLE READER: Indeed, those daring Victorians were crazy about jellies, and your mother did well to use this as she did.

As a rule, jelly servers were not slotted, and your piece could technically be a cucumber server or, if the handle were longer, a tomato server. If so, Miss Manners hopes you do not grudge its having a side job to carry it through between Thanksgivings.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 7-year-old daughter has two friends from the same family who live down the street. I am not friendly with their mother at all, although I have met her before. She is a single parent with seven children in the household, ranging from 6 to15 years old.

These children have a horrific odor problem. I am not sure if it is from stinky feet, dirty clothes or just not bathing. When I allow these children in my home, it is not long before I feel ill from their odor.

I thought about speaking with the school nurse but am unsure. I do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but something has to be done.

GENTLE READER: How about planning an activity for the children (like bubbles) that involves water and soap?

Miss Manners fears that this family’s issue is likely economic or time management or both — and in any case, not solvable by you. Pointing out hygiene problems to the school nurse or the mother will not be considered helpful. Treat the children to some good, clean fun while they are with you, and hope for the best when they are not.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: If, after one of my preschool-age son’s events, I spontaneously invite my in-laws back to our not-exactly-immaculate house, is it appropriate for them to attempt to make it so — without checking in with me first? What if their attempt involves the sudden use of a leaf blower within vicinity of my infant daughter?

Is this my problem because I shouldn’t invite them unless my house and yard are absolutely ready for prime time?

GENTLE READER: Loath as she is to get in the way of a good grudge, Miss Manners urges you to consider that your misguided in-laws were trying to be helpful. Rather than holding off on further spontaneous invitations, you could say: “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m afraid our house might be in a bit of disarray. If it will distract you from enjoying the visit, perhaps we should do it another time.” And then hide the leaf blower.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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