Could I Trouble You for a Napkin?

We all know the well-worn phrase, “You can’t go home again.” Perhaps that’s true, but it may be because big and little pieces of home continue to live in us long after we’ve left, so going there isn’t really much of a trip at all.

I recently had the honor of being inducted into The Oklahoma Arts Institute Hall of Fame. It’s always nice to be recognized, but there is particular poignancy in being acknowledged in your hometown – especially when you left young, hoping to make it in the great big world. The whole event made me smile.

I’ve lived in quite a few different places – Oklahoma, Greece, Cleveland, New York City, Northern Michigan, Saint Louis, and San Francisco. I’m also fortunate that my work has allowed me to travel all over the world. I bring my teenage daughter with me on occasion and she has taken to making observations about the ways in which I relate with people while traveling and in general. She is fond of commenting on my “extreme politeness.” It seems that I am a profuse thanker and have a penchant for saying things like: “I hate to bother you,” “I don’t want to take any more of your time,” and “Could I trouble you for a napkin?” When I need to hang up the phone, I apparently say, “Well, I’ll let you go,” and when someone says something rude, I hear tell that I usually let it go or ignore it altogether.

My daughter’s observations remind me of another time in my life. In college, one of my best friends was from New York and I remember her being quite bemused by my social mannerisms. “You’ve already thanked her,” she would say. “It’s his job to bring you another napkin,” she would insist. “That was so rude of him! You’re not going to let that go, are you?” I drove her nuts.

As hard as I may have tried over the years to be more matter-of-fact in my mundane interactions, I cannot seem to lose some of my Oklahoma ways. I’ve begun to conclude that perhaps I don’t want to. I long ago dropped my Oklahoma accent, I’ve stopped following Sooner football for the most part, and I’ve broken my Dr. Pepper habit for good. I no longer say sack instead of bag and I refer to soft drinks as soda, not pop. But gosh darn it, I’ll thank you at least twice for holding the door for me if you don’t walk away too fast.

I notice all this now after spending a few festive days in Oklahoma because I realize that this last vestige of home in me is something I want to keep. It represents the place where my first perceptions of the world were formed and where I decided what kind of a person I wanted to be. This old habit of “extreme politeness” may make me less fearsome or give a less worldly impression, but I don’t care.

That little corner in myself called home deserves protecting, because the place we start is a big part of who we are - no matter how long we’ve been gone.


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