"I found my old silver pusher," said a gentleman of Miss Manners' acquaintance with an air of nostalgic fondness.
In Miss Manners' set, no one would think he was referring to his high school drug provider, and musing that one so young and reckless had now grown slow and gray.
That is because we all had pushers, at least those of us born after 1870 in households that were on the silver standard. Such is the approximate date when parents -- or nannies, who maintained a higher sense of propriety -- got good and sick of wiping small-but-surreptitious fingers that had slipped into the mashed peas when no one was looking, desperately trying to pat them down onto a fork or spoon so that they would look to the censorious eye as if they had been delicately scooped into that position, untouched by baby hands.
From that sordid scenario, you will understand that the pusher is an advanced instrument, perhaps worthy of a new lease on life, as Miss Manners' friend went on to suggest.
But first, some background for the more enterprising souls among us, those who had to earn the silver spoons with which they were born:
The infant silver trousseau starts with a small spoon that has an elongated handle, intended to be wielded by someone more responsible than the person who contributes the initials it bears and the target at which it is aimed. The unpleasantness of receiving unexpected food deliveries, especially if accompanied by musical games, is intended to provide the motive for moving onto the next item.
This is also a spoon, but one with a short handle, curved to allow its owner to wrap a fist around it. The spoon has several purposes, only one of which passes the strictest standard of juvenile etiquette. No, children, Miss Manners is not referring to the jail-riot technique of producing a satisfactory noise by banging the implement against the feeding tray. Nor should it be used to play at airlifting food to imaginary refugees. The correct idea is for the feeder to conduct the food into his very own mouth.
Once this is mastered, a small fork is added. People who employ live-in help, such as parents, to cut up their food for them should then be fully equipped to capture whatever finds its way onto their plates.
It is one of life's humbling experiences to discover that they are not. Many food items refuse to cooperate, and either start running in circles around the plate, or employ the protest tactic of dissolving into a mushy heap.
This is why the pusher was invented. As firmly as a snow plow, it moves things along to where one wants them.
"It occurred to me," said the gentleman of Miss Manners' acquaintance, "that one might have an adult pusher made with a long handle -- for people at the other end of life. I loved my pusher. It was so efficient."
It is an idea to which she might be receptive. Adult fingers have been known to find their unauthorized way into elusive adult food, and this is not a pretty sight.
Then came the big question: "But which side of the plate would it go on?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I learned that the wife of a former professor of mine died, and I plan to write a letter of condolence. I have not been in touch with the professor for a number of years, and I did not know the wife well, although I had met her.
Would it be appropriate to add to the letter a paragraph about what I have been doing? Or would that be disrespectful, since the main message is one of condolence?
GENTLE READER: The main message is one of condolence, Miss Manners agrees, but there is nothing wrong with a secondary message of comfort to the bereaved.
From a student to a professor, that message should be gratitude. So anything along the lines of "I think of your wisdom often, now that I am..." (whatever you are now doing) would be good. Anything about how the bad grade he gave you that didn't stop you from earning more per year than he will see in a lifetime would be disrespectful.