Were You Taught to Say, “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Sir”?

We moved to Texas the summer I turned 12, in 1959.

A U.S. Navy Ling-Temco-Vought A-7E Corsair II ...

I only found out as an adult that the reason one hundred families with a parent who worked for Collins Radio were moved, en masse, to Richardson, Texas, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was because the government told them to.

Collins Radio (now Rockwell Collins)  made what was considered a critical component, a radio for military aircraft.

The government told them they could no longer make it in a single plant.

They had to open a back-up plant.

They looked around the country and found Richardson, Texas.

It was home to Texas Instruments  Ling-Temco-Vought  and E-Systems.

The company said to themselves, “Our engineers will be happy here. They have good schools and there are other engineers to talk to.”

My father was an accountant. But, a new plant needed accountants, too.

North Meets South

Born in Chicago, I’d lived in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa from zero to twelve.

My mother had prepared us for the sun in Texas after a trip she and my father took to supervise the building of our new home.

“There are no children playing outside in the daytime,” she said. “I suppose it is too hot.”

I’d seen one or two cars with air conditioning in the Midwest. I assumed anyone with air conditioning in their car must be rich.

And, for the few weeks they might need it in the Midwest, it was probably true.

In Texas, however, almost everyone had air conditioning in their cars and their houses, and, for good reason.

However, my girlfriend and I enjoyed tennis in the early morning or late afternoon.

My brothers and I loved to swim in the hot Texas sun.

My friends and I explored the shale cliffs and shady creek behind our house, keeping an eye out for scorpions and rattlesnakes.

My Mom had told us in advance of our move that there were six types of poisonous snakes in the United States.

Iowa had two of them.

Texas had four.

School Starts

We moved in the summer. My thoughtful parents knew it would be easier on us if they did not move us in the middle of a school year.

Since I had a Midwestern accent, or, at least, didn’t have a Texas accent, curious friends asked about some of the differences in culture.

“I’ve heard that, up North, if you say ‘Yes, Ma’am,’ or ‘No, Sir,’ to a teacher, you’ll get in trouble. Is that true?” one boy asked.

I thought about it.

“Well,” I said, “if you said ‘Yes, Sir,’ or ‘No, Ma’am,’ with your Texas accent, they’d be charmed.”

“If I said it, they would think I was being a smart aleck and I’d get in trouble.”

As an adult, I worked in a profession where colleagues, even executives, called each other by their first names, so I quickly got past my childhood training of calling every adult “Mr.” or “Mrs.”

I never learned to say “Ma’am” or “Sir,” but after living in Virginia nearly all my adult life, I like it when young people do.

And, they don’t get in trouble.

What childhood training of yours has been passed on to your grandchildren?

What childhood training did you drop as an adult?

What habits did you learn as a child that changed when you moved?

To you and teaching your grandchildren about the wide world.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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