MODESTY IS becoming in all endeavors, but it is essential for people attending college reunions.
Miss Manners realizes that this seems to contradict the purpose of attending college reunions, which is to demonstrate that one has turned out better than anyone expected. Modesty is not intended to prevent this goal, but to prevent it from backfiring.
Bragging is not the only pleasure associated with returning to the scene of one's education, but it the chief one. Others include walking through classroom buildings knowing that one has no papers overdue, and spending the night in a dormitory without wondering whether one will go through life a virgin.
All of these joys derive from the knowledge that one is better off now than one was in the college. Merely being in one's late teens is a state from which it is hardly possible not to improve.
But colleges tend to be competitive, and improvements will be compared.
The entries will be in three categories: Success, happiness and Widsom, as is obvious from the Class Report, which will consist of variations on the following essays:
Life as a designer of household paper products continues to be interesting, stimulating and challenging, with special opportunities for growth in the visual arts as well as in my special interest - people. Having been named Outstanding Promising Junior Citizen in my suburban area was an unexpected honor that I hope to live up to.
The high point of this was the birth of our sixth child, and watching the older ones prosper and grow thoughtful and strong, bubbling with life and learning. Gloria, still beautiful, sensitive, compassionate and talented, has made our reconverted chicken house into a veritable treasure store of needlepoint, and also finds fulfillment in the candle-scenting that she does, for fun and profit, in her dining room office. All of us love to travel as a family and by next reunion we hope to have visited all of America's battlefields and civil disturbance areas.
Hopefully, as we enter our mature years, we gain in self-discovery, awareness of the needs of others, and of our purpose for being on this earth. I continue to be amazed and optimistic as I see our society examining its defects, agonizing over its mistakes and rising again to meet the challenges before us. On a personal level, I try to live one day at a time.
There will be a fourth type of entry, consisting only of the alumnus' address.
That person will show up at the reunion, listening to others and saying nothing about himself. It will turn out, after everyone has gone home, that he has published a witty new translation of Sanskrit poetry, has just completed the leading role in a major movie, is married to a woman whose name is being mentioned for the Supreme Court, and has a son who won the Moscow piano competition and a daughter who is the country's youngest mayor.
There is one like that at every reunion. If you keep your mouth shut, people may suspect it is you.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: Your column on what fork to use was too much. A dessert fork or spoon is NEVER served on the dessert plate unless you are eating in a "hash house," or "greasy spoon" restaurant. I have worked in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in the country, in the dining room, and have been served dinner in elegant homes and have never seen silver served on the plate. That's as bad as a steak knife being shoved under your steak on a dinner plate at a fast service steak house.
A: If good manners were what is done in "some of the finest restaurants and hotels in the country," instead of what Miss Manners tells you, filled plates would be plopped in front of guests, sugar would be served in little packets with advertising on them, and conversation would be constantly interrupted by such remarks as "Coffee now or later?"
Strict formal service does, indeed, mean that the dessert fork and (not or) the dessert spoon are brought on the dessert plate. Often the finger bowl is placed between them, although there should really be a fruit course after the sweet dessert, in which case the finger bowl is brought in on the fruit plate, between the fruit fork and the fruit knife. Want to make something of it?
If hash houses and greasy spoon restaurants wish to follow this correct procedure, so much the better for them. The rich have no monopoly on manner.
Q: I'm confused by the lists of household "necessities" in the bridal magazines. What are the minimum essentials a bride needs to begin married life?
A: A bridegroom.
Q: My father refuses to let me take telephone calls during dinner. I think it's rude to ask people to call back at a time that might not be convenient for them, and even ruder to ignore a ringing phone.
A: You have a wonderful sense of the courtesies and conveniences due to others. Have you thought of applying these to your father?
Q: What are the proper presents to give bridesmaids and my fiance's ushers? Is something so untraditional as a good book - different books for each, of course, according to their tastes - all right instead of things like bracelets and cuff links they may never use?
A: Are you trying to give these people something they might enjoy, or are you trying to do the proper thing by them? Which is it? Books, at best, are only read, but useless, monogrammed silver objects that cannot be returned serve to remind one of the occasion of their presentation, every time one sees them tarnishing away, unused.Cuff links and bracelets are all right, since everyone has too many of them, but silver golf tees or toothpaste tube squeezers are ideal.
Q: I have only one bathroom in my apartment, so of course my guests have to use it. I try to keep it clean when company is coming, which is not easy, because I take my shower just before they come, after finishing cooking. How much of my personal stuff must I put away, out of sight? My toothpaste? My shaving equipment? More intimate products? My girl friend's shower cap?
A: All of it. It is amazing to Miss Manners how much amusement and interest people can get from the ordinary contents of a drugstore shelf when they are transferred to a friend's bathroom. The least you can do is to make them pay for the satisfaction of this unwholesome curiosity by the embarrassment of having to open someone else's medicine cabinet.
Q: Would Miss Manners please tell me, once and for all, what is the correct way to answer a formal invitation?
A: All right, Miss Manners will tell you, but she is under no illusion that it will be once and for all. Ann Landers has to keep telling you not to sleep with anyone before marriage, doesn't she, and then what do you go and do? Now pay attention:
Mr. and Mrs. Perfect
accept with pleasure
the kind invitation of
Mr. and Mrs. Hoping
for Saturday, the Thirty-Third of November.
These gracious words are handwritten and each line is centered on plain white or ecru paper. You will notice that Miss Manners does not consider it necessary to repeat, in the answer, every gruesome detail of the invitation, such as the fact that there will be dancing, that it will take place in a club because their house isn't grand enough, or that they have palmed off their daughter Lucretia Marie. This is called modern, streamlined living.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of The Washington Post.