“White Gloves” by T. Thomas
Mr. Jim gave me a pair of white, wrist-length, stretch dress gloves as a present when I became engaged to my now husband, David. At this, two things came to mind. First, I was surprised to receive anything from Mr. Jim, not expecting an engagement gift from the neighbor children’s uncle, and second, I had never owned such an elegant superfluous possession. While I couldn’t imagine where I would wear such a lovely gift, I was thrilled.
“Every young lady needs a pair of these,” Mr. Jim had said as he handed over the unwrapped gloves, pulled out of a Zeisel’s department store paper bag where he worked part-time downtown. The pristine gloves looked like they were pointed in prayer, and they were still in plastic wrap. I had opened the package slowly and pulled out the shiny, white cardboard which was shaped like fingers and which separated the two gloves. I turned the immaculate gloves over in my hands before pulling them tightly onto my fingers, then hands. I had no idea when I’d wear these beautiful things or where, but as I extended my arms out and looked at my white covered hands, I thought of 1950s Easter brunches and Audrey Hepburn, and formal dances, and smiled. Those gloves. Those beautiful gloves. I loved them.
Mr. Jim was a friend of the family, an uncle to the kids next door, a confirmed bachelor close to my parents’ age, not really that old but very old school and a very old soul as well. He was an amazing cook and still believed in the five course meal and clearing the palate with beverages in between. He knew what a finger bowl was. He still whipped mashed potatoes by hand and wouldn’t be caught dead using “that ‘70s concoction, margarine.” He once quipped that butter was the fifth food group. Almost every course received a generous dollop of the creamy, light yellow goodness, somewhere.
Mr. Jim was a student and educator, I’m not sure which more. He knew history and Latin, and manners and etiquette for every occasion. In fact, his standard greeting for any lady, young or old, was to artfully grasp her fingers and bring them up to his lips for a gentleman’s kiss, slight bow of the head and a deliberate and slow, “How do you do?” He knew wines for every occasion and David once stopped him in the aisle of the grocery store to ask about wine selection for particular meal we were preparing for guests. Mr. Jim was no snob, though, and could tell which was best for taste…and price. “Don’t buy a $20 bottle when a good $10 will do,” he had once advised, “Know the quality.” He was quick with a story and loved a good smoke, and later, when David and I had children, I appreciated how Mr. Jim spoke to them like little adults, like the miniature people they were, not once dumbing down his extensive vocabulary.
But let me get back to those gloves.
Those lovely, white, simple, stretch gloves. The perfect gift.
Those gloves, thank you Mr. Jim, inspired me. They conjured up thoughts of years gone past, of culture and manners and protocol and respect. A seed was planted the day I received those gloves. In those gloves I felt pretty and elegant and lady-like, but most importantly, those gloves made me want to be a particular type of woman. I wanted to be feminine, and lovely, and sweet, and most importantly, I daresay those gloves actually inspired me to try even harder to be good.
Truth be told, over the years, I only wore my white gloves occasionally. I’d like to say I wore them a lot, but really, other than Easter, or maybe Christmas Mass, when can a 20- or 30-something woman get away with wearing white, wrist-length, gloves, especially as she had baby after baby, year after year, and instead of going to teas was immersed in the joyful, messy chaos of parenting a brood of children? I looked at those gloves frequently, though, as they sat draped on a shelf in the closet, and once in a while I tried them on, just to remember who I was supposed to be.
I went on to have six daughters, six daughters whom I clothed in dresses for Mass and do you know what? For special occasions like Christmas and Easter, I bought those daughters white gloves. They loved them, just like I had. More importantly, in those gloves they too knew who they were supposed to be.
When I think of the effect a simple article of clothing, the white stretch gloves, had on me, I think of how small things can make big differences in the world. I think of how external things can change internal things. I think of how when we introduce our children to finer things and show them manners and etiquette we shape them, and by shaping them, as they go out into the world, we can help shape a culture.
St. Margaret brought beauty and culture to a rough mannered Scotland many years ago. Almost single handedly, her fine taste and good example of manners and piety helped shape a nation, a Catholic nation. You see, manners and propriety and respect are all related. When people respect themselves they are then able to respect others and then…God.
Although a vast majority of us will never be in high positions of authority and even less likely, royalty, we and our children can positively influence a culture around us, little by little, with simple manners, goodness, and holiness. I daresay, that grand task might even begin with small things, etiquette and manners. In my case, it was two small things, a pair of white gloves.
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost. He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” (St. Basil)