Maybe I should dust more often.

May 20, 2024 | 3 comments

As she aged, my mother would occasionally explain her lapses in perfect housekeeping by saying, “An old house like this really needs a bit of dust — as a patina, you know.”  Brilliant!  And I’ve used the same line a number of times, myself — the house being even older now!  After all, it’s hard to argue that point about a 155-year-old  house with the woman of the house who is more than half that age, herself!

But, the other day when I was getting ready for an event here (and actually dusting some of the many bookcases!) I ran across a book that I don’t remember ever seeing before:  Etiquette, “The Blue Book of Social Usage” by Emily Post.  It is a fourth revised edition (1940) of Mrs. Post’s original 1922 blockbuster tome which set the standard for behavior in “polite society” in my grandmother’s and mother’s generations.  I ran across it amongst Nyel’s books on dueling and sartorial advice for gentlemen,  Go figure.

I do remember hearing my mother say “according to Emily Post” — right up there along with “according to Hoyle” but, by the time it was my turn to wonder what was appropriate in various social situations, we were reading “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers” columns in the newspaper.

The only Emily Post advice mom ever carefully imparted was how to set the table for a formal dinner — forks on the left of the plate, a special one for each course.  Beginning from the left and working toward the plate were the cocktail, salad, dinner, and dessert forks.  To the right of the plate were the accompanying knives and spoons, if needed.  And, if you were a guest at a formal dinner and in doubt, work from the outside in.  Of course, in those days, formal meals were served in a number of “courses” — the salad, for instance, would not have appeared on the table along with the entree.

Fortunately, things had relaxed a bit by the ’60s when it was my turn to be in charge of my own household’s etiquette.  Mostly the mantra has been since then, “Make your guests feel comfortable No Matter What.”  Still, I’m grateful for whatever bits and pieces I picked up that give me some bit of confidence when facing a new social situation — what to wear, when to arrive, whether a hostess gift is appropriate.  I wonder if the current generations of young wives and mothers even give such antiquated notions a thought.

In fact, I wonder if they even bother to dust.  It certainly will never be high on my priority list but, on the other hand, you never can tell what you’ll run across!




  1. Jo Fitzpatrick

    Sydney, Occasionally when I am melancholy and remembering my mom or grandmothers and their sage advice, I feel as though I am dusting my memories of times past. If the layers become too thick, the content is weighed down and the beauty lost. It’s good to dust now and again.

    • Sydney Stevens

      Yes… but ever so gently, eh?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *