DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does a young lady sit properly on an old, bumpy, wobbly and rusty seat without a back and at an unconventional height? The stool about which I inquire is approximately 3 feet off the ground and has a bar around its legs approximately 8 inches above the ground. Ought I to simply place one foot on the bar and tuck the other leg behind it? I ask because it seems that when I attempt to sit properly on such a stool in my Auto Tech class I make quite a spectacle of myself and I am sure that someday I shall most certainly fall off.
GENTLE READER: "It's all in the posture," said the lady in the derby hat who was conducting a master class in riding sidesaddle that Miss Manners took in a moment of madness. "If you fall off, it's your own fault."
Never mind. Miss Manners suddenly remembers that when she asked the instructor what keeps a lady's high silk hat on as she is tearing sidesaddle through the woods and over fences, the reply was, "Her veil." You probably don't even wear a veil to Auto Tech class.
Miss Manners' point -- now that you have given up hope that she has one -- is that some seats are never really safe, high wobbly stools and horses among them. Your only hope is to maintain a posture that creates its own balance and position yourself for a comparatively safe landing.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My neighbor and I are having elderly-parent problems. Every Sunday night, she and her family take her mother out to eat. The mother really enjoys these outings, but recently has become more difficult. She returns food as bad, cold or not what she ordered. She criticizes service loudly. This charming lady is becoming an embarrassment. Besides leaving a huge tip, how does one smooth over these difficulties?
My father has started using terrible language and racial epitaphs. He is in a skilled nursing unit of a retirement complex and bedfast. Words and gestures he would never have tolerated from his children are becoming the norm. The people who care for him and his guests are subjected to this daily.
My mother is spending most of her time in his room trying to smooth things over, but he will not be quieted or deviated. His condition will probably not change, but how to deal with those he has insulted?
Our parents are obviously not going to change. How does one handle this?
GENTLE READER: Sadly, life has come full cycle here, and you are caring for them as they cared for you -- except that instead of the joy they had in watching you learn, you must watch them forget. That they should forget even the basic decencies that they taught you is particularly tragic.
Miss Manners is afraid that you must do for them in their post-courtesy stage what they did to mitigate your effect on others when you were in your pre-courtesy stage. Out of your parents' hearing, you should apologize profusely, explain that they are not themselves and do not mean what they say, and express your sympathy and gratitude. And, yes, tips and praise to workers' supervisors are good ways to show that you realize those who are nevertheless good to them are working under difficult circumstances.