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Subtlety and the Gentle Gloved Hand

by Lucinda Trew

February 27, 2012

My daughter wanted a pair of long white gloves since she was six. She didn’t have great occasion for gloves; we don’t socialize with a debutante crowd and haven’t had tea in fine china since her parties with teddy bears.

Nonetheless, she wanted gloves, and I looked. No luck.

A couple of years later, invited to a family wedding, she again asked for gloves. Never mind that the wedding was a casual affair, outdoors and mid-afternoon. I resumed my search. No gloves at Dillards or Macy’s.

I thought the local bridal shop would be a sure bet, but the saleswoman advised me I was “off-season” – they stocked gloves for winter weddings only. Since when, I wondered, did snowy-white gloves enter the utilitarian category? When did we begin needing a season – or a reason – for the subtle, sublime touch of a gloved hand? I’m liberated and world-wise enough to know that white gloves aren’t practical. White anything for a six- or eight-year-old girl – or her forty-something mother – is decidedly impractical. But isn’t that the point? Don’t white gloves… white knights… white lies… and the declining art of subtlety – don’t they all transcend permanent press practicality?

I’m not advocating a return to pillbox hats and June Cleaver subservience. I love my jeans, my job, and my free-spirited daughter who may long for gloves – but is fierce on the soccer field and competitive in the classroom. I’ll also go on record as a huge fan of bare-handed freedom – elbow deep in garden mulch, arugula salad or the grease of a bicycle chain. What I bemoan is the decline of subtlety – and the gentle touch of kind, well chosen words.

Literally and figuratively, we’ve taken the gloves off: Reality T.V…. road rage… unapologetic Ponzi schemes… congressmen who heckle during the State of the Union… friendship via Facebook…Twitter rants. The character traits we admire are the extreme polar opposite of understatement: tell it like it is… no holds barred… down and dirty… going rogue and gettin’ ‘er done. We elect terminator governors and swaggering cowboys. We elevate the likes of Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen. Forget the satin gloves: today’s tact factor would scorch Kevlar oven mitts.

No one, it seems, is offended by pretense. It is propriety that unnerves us. We have no qualms about silicon breasts, Botox or Viagra.

Why then is enhanced civility so hard to swallow? Why is eloquence met with derision? Why is diplomacy viewed as the milquetoast alternative to the anti-statesman stand-down?

We endure – we embrace – confrontation. We don’t just want winners and losers in all contests: We want hair-pulling, ear-biting, knee-to-the-groin-style winners – and sore losers who cry foul and demand that the rules be overturned. Order your gloves with room for brass-knuckles. Bad behavior and bullying are no longer hushed and hidden behind closed drapes. They go viral on YouTube.

You can find the elusive gloves, it seems, much transformed. But they’re no longer about charm and allure. They’re defense barriers, warding off the intrusion of germs, bodily fluids and sadly, human contact. A friend of ours works in medical sales, specializing in the sterile, non-latex gloves used by hospitals, forensic experts and airport security. Business has been good. The H1N1 epidemic paid for a new pool and hot tub.

And the surgical mask trend that Michael Jackson, the one-gloved wonder, began? Not so goofy anymore. You can count any number of folks walking through airports or shopping malls, their mouths and noses unabashedly sealed by the thin white paper shields. The medical mask has become the modern equivalent to the wispy net veil that went so fetchingly with white gloves and party manners. But masks and plastic gloves signal stand back, not come hither.

My daughter is older now, experiencing the hard lessons and heartache of high school. Be kind, I remind. When angry, count to 10. Think carefully before texting. Words matter – greatly – and can’t be taken back. And the ‘JK’ (just kidding) appendage added to so carelessly to insult doesn’t remove the sting.

I’m older now, too. Some will chalk up my yearning for courtesy to age. They’ll say it’s a ‘generational thing.’ Or a ‘Southern thing.’ But think back to the conclusion of the Casey Anthony trial this summer, when defense attorney Cheney Mason (a senior citizen and a Southerner) flipped off reporters from an Orlando restaurant window. There was nothing subtle or courtly about that vivid image.

Perhaps a return to white gloves isn’t what we need, after all. Mittens might be a safer bet.

At least they’d camouflage the hand gesture that’s become our greeting of choice.

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Tags: Lucinda Trew, gentle gloved hand, civility, subtlety, manners, white gloves

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