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Perspective: Yes, Ma'am

public domain
Margaret Dumont in "A Night At The Opera"

Some childhood terrors you never get over. When I was six years old on the playground of my little Central Texas grammar school, a teacher told me to be careful on the see-saw. I answered her “yes,” whereupon she glared at me and said, “From now on, Tommy, you are to say ‘yes, ma'am.” whereupon I did just that. The teacher was no ordinary pedagogue. This was Mrs. Barnett, the school principal. 

I must have been a fragile kid, since, ever since that day, I’ve been addressing almost everybody and everything with the courteous “ma'am” added in. Mrs. Barnett was no lax enforcer of manners. She paddled one of my classmates on the very first day of school because he declined to use the term “nought” for “zero.” 

I am told that the Queen of England requires you to call her “ma'am,” but I will never meet her. I know I’d be a great hit with her whom some Scots call “Stuck-up Betty Windsor” because I’m so good at saying “ma'am.” I would just close my eyes, curtsy, and imagine that the queen was Mrs. Barnett. 

Not long ago I went into hospital for a minor procedure. I called the anesthetist “ma'am,” and she protested, saying she was far too young to be addressed this way. That’s the last thing I recall before she put me out. When I woke up, I imagined I was on a see-saw. I never saw the anesthetist again so I could, you know, apologize. 

This is Tom McBride, and that’s my Perspective. 

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