The other day, I was cleaning out my bookshelf and came across a tattered book that was given to my mother as a teenager. (Though when I texted her just now she said she has no memory of the “Steve and Sue” whose inscription in the front cover indicates they gifted her the book. Nor does she remember the book which is now in my possession.) The book is titled Your Manners Are Showing: The Handbook of Teen-Age Know-How and is authored and illustrated by a writer and cartoonist Betty Betz. And before you correct my incorrect use of a dash, know that back in 1946 they hyphenated teenage. Or at least Betty Betz did.
Each chapter, which run the gamut from Table Manners to The Rich and The Poor to Mood Indigo, has lively illustrations and pithy verses penned by another writer named Anne Clark. As I kid, I never read Betty’s chapters, only Anne’s verses. Many are applicable today. For instance:
We all must wait around in vain
While Peggy chats with friends again.
Perhaps she thinks that she alone
Is privileged to use the phone.
Remember, this was pre-cellphone!
And I gotta say, reading Betty’s language now? In the chapters? It’s pretty hip. She talks about parents not “collaring your jive” and being “a dungaree dame by day.” Loveit. Predictably, though, her illustrations show no diversity, the teenagers are white and heterosexual, and the rules of behavior the book advocates are dictated by gender. For instance:
If you’re outdoors and meet Joe Blake.
Of course, you give his hand a shake.
He must remove his glove, though you
May keep yours on (all women do).
Betty and Anne were definitely a product of their time, and I like to think if they were writing the book now, they’d cover the dos and don’ts of pronouns when talking with teens who are nonconforming, and social media etiquette. For example:
Naughty sexting may not go well
Your love for them may go to hell.
Your pic is shared? Then you’re to blame
When you lie in bed and cry in shame.
But none of this is what prompted me to write this blog. What prompted me to write the blog is the illustration on the back page. It stands alone—apart from the rest of the book. There is no explanation for it. No reason for it. And it used to creep me and my sister out. Would love to hear your take on it. Or, for you to write a your own ditty for modern teens. Or to tell me anything else you want to tell me. Or ask me.
And remember, live the love. It’s all we’ve got!