I grew up reading Highlights for Children. And not just at the doctor’s and dentist’s office. We had a subscription at home, too. As hokey as the magazine now seems, I enjoyed it a lot as a child. I turned first to the regular features like Hidden Pictures and What’s Wrong? and The Timbertoes comic strip. But my favorite—kind of embarrassing to admit—was the cartoon Goofus and Gallant.
The series depicted one situation and two responses, by two very different elementary school–aged boys. Goofus bossed around his friends, Gallant diplomatically asked what game the others would like to play. Only one apple left? Gallant shared, of course. Goofus hogged it all for himself. Gallant answered the telephone politely and took a message for his mother. Goofus couldn’t be bothered. In every scenario Gallant was kind, polite, and responsible; Goofus was rude and selfish. The cartoon offered children a simple (and maybe a tad simplistic) guide to developing good manners and social skills.
I have a Goofus in my life as a volunteer pianist, a listener named Shirley. When I play the piano at the facility where she lives, I have to put up with a lot of insults: “Shut up!” “Knock it off!” “Are you ever gonna stop?” At first I figured she had dementia, but it soon became clear: she is just ornery. I worked out a plan with staff to seat her far away from the piano when I’m there, but on a recent visit the aides were new and didn’t know about the arrangement. So Shirley sat only a few feet away from me, and as soon as I started playing, she started fussing. “That’s enough! Do you hear me? That’s enough!”
Distracting, for sure. But I continued playing, as best I could. Others appeared to be enjoying my performance, singing and tapping their feet. The women at Shirley’s table tried to cajole her. “But the music is so good!” Shirley was having none of it. Her retort came quick and cutting: “Well, she’s no Liberace!”
Yet all around Goofus—I mean Shirley—are examples of Gallant behavior. I hear women complimenting one another on freshly coiffed hair or offering to pass along a good book they’ve read. The men pull out chairs for the ladies, help park walkers, wish everyone a good afternoon as they leave the lunch room. The residents do their best to keep the atmosphere in their senior community cordial and considerate.
Common courtesy lives, despite the Shirleys of the world.
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.