Saturday, November 21, 2009

* "Bastard" Etiquette B. L. M.

(My mother, Barbara Ward Keane, at 70 with her god-daughter)


My mother never would have uttered the word "bastard". But she occasionally had to hand a senior citizen an official document with that word emblazoned in red across it.

B.L. M. (Before Liiberation Movements) she worked in the Town Clerk's office of a town ten miles from Yale near The Sleeping Giant mountain. She had as one of her duties searching for and presenting original birth certificates to their name bearers. In Puritan riddled New England, until the last few decades , births, and their certificates, without a certifiable father's name, were recorded "illegitimate," and before that simply with a red stamp reading "Bastard" emblazoned diagonally across the certificate.

Hard to believe.

Another Puritannical oddity which I marvel at from her Town Clerk's office days (which ended in 1978 with her retirement at 68)is the quandry my mother was in when she received a phone call while alone in the office one afternoon from another Town Clerk's office nearby; two men who had just been rejected for a marriage licence by the phone-caller, were on their way to my mother's office to secure a marriage licence (this was before 1978, mind you).

My mother was a lady, and a lady (like a gentleman) has as her highest code the axiom that one should never embarrass another person if it can be avoided. My mother's solution in this case, was to leave the office open, but unattended, and go to another office before the couple arrived, to work there until they left---thereby causing them no personal discomfort or embarrassment.

In the case of the "bastard" certificate, my mother's solution was easier. She merely handed the certificate to the person completely un-shielded by envelope or paper as if nothing unusual was occurring. Indeed, since she had to wait for the certificate to be returned, she would often engage the recipient in blithe chitchat.


No comments: