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Decorum

My pal, Alice, was rummaging through some boxes, or drawers, or scrapbooks, and came across her wedding announcement, which she promptly shared with us in a text. The announcement looks like it was set in Times New Roman typeface and spanned three columns.

We now know that the wedding “took place at the Fordsville Christian Church, at 4 o’clock, Saturday, November 19.”

And this:
“Given in marriage by her father, the bride wore a floor length gown of satin fashioned with a scooped neckline, a fitted bodice and a soft pleated skirt. Lace flower appliqués of roses encircled the neck and adorned the skirt’s hemline and long pointed sleeves.”

We are a writerly bunch, and one of our pals  was particularly struck by this little detail: “The candlelighted altar was embanked with white gladioli.”

He admires the imagery and the writing—which is lovely—but he admires something else. The decorum on display.

Decorum.

Remember that? 
 Invitations arriving by post, timely RSVP’s and regrets, handwritten thank yous on thick cream paper. Phone manners,—the “McDonough residence,” “may I take a message?” and the “whom may I say is calling?”– these relics from a distant past.

A while back I dined with these same friends at an old established restaurant in Lexington, where we had gathered to celebrate one among us. The lighting was subdued and the carpet plush. Our waiter greeted each of us formally and shook hands.

No chatty prattle, no overfamiliar joshing, just quiet, competent, attentive service. The food was exceptional, but was not the main event.

Our entrees were presented attractively and well, but nothing was set afire at table, there was no convoluted stacking of food to create an irksome game of Jenga just to get at a piece of shrimp. Wine lists were discreetly placed at our elbows, not flourished in front of our faces like a matador’s cape.

We were the main event. The candles, the flowers, the wine, the quiet attention of the staff enhanced our experience, made pleasant our time together, but never once competed with it.

The restaurant, then, had decorum in spades.

Dictionaries define decorum as behaviors in keeping with good taste or propriety.

I think decorum is taking serious things seriously.

Take the wedding or party invitation, fun events for most people. Yet, consider the issues involved —whom to invite, what to serve to eat and drink, seating, expenses, the weather, what is our own heart’s desire for the day.

So, treat that invitation with respect, and the RSVP, too. Someone wants you with them at this thing they are about to spend a great deal of effort and money on. Let them know early if you will be attending. In my callow youth, I wasn’t always so good about this. I am ashamed of myself now, when I think of it.

Wedding announcements from decades ago took themselves seriously—perhaps because weddings were taken so seriously—and as such, the events were lovingly recorded. It may be quaint to read that Alice’s mother wore a blue suit with matching hat and accessories, but everyone knows that the choice of the mother of the bride outfit is fraught with peril and has a protocol all its own.

An aunt sewed the wedding dress with its fitted bodice and appliquéd roses at neck and hem. Imagine the selection of fabric, the fittings, the stress of all that. The ballerina length veil of illusion was fretted over and carefully chosen, as was this, my favorite example of decorum in the announcement — that the bride’s “only ornament was a strand of pearls and she carried a rosebud bouquet.”

We know who ushered, who stood up with the couple, the location of the reception — the bride’s parents’ home—and the names of the young cousins who “assisted with the hospitalities.”

Guests, you must know, attended from Louisville, Owensboro, Lexington, Murray, Glasgow, Hartford, Beaver Dam and McHenry.

Decorum is such a fusty old word, but now reminded of it, I can’t get it out of my head.
I despair of the coarseness of the world, and I fear I have grown coarser, too. I don’t even recognize myself sometimes. I think I will try returning, every chance I get, to the rules of decorum I grew up with. Thank you notes and RSVP’s. Phone manners. Party manners. Good manners. To be, in a jumble of gaudy costume jewelry, a single strand of pearls.