Little Miss Manners

by Melanie Hooyenga

My childhood was aseries of visiting with one group of adults after another. By first grade I felt more comfortable chatting with my parents’ friends than with children my own age—at least until I was shooed to the other room to entertain myself.

When I was around nine, my parents dragged me to the home of a business associate, Miss Cathy, for an early Christmas dinner. She didn’t have children of her own, but a random little girl was there with whom I was instructed to play. (Really? Why is this okay to do to children? You’d never stick an adult in a room with a stranger and expect them to flop on the floor with a coloring book and crayons and become best friends. But anyway…)

Miss Cathy’s house was not child-friendly, so her solution to preventing us from destroying her ornate furniture was shutting us in a musty bedroom. After lying on the thin carpet, coloring our boring pictures, we decided we’d had enough. Accepting her challenge of being “mischievous children”, we crept from our cell to sneak cookies and juice from the kitchen.

And were busted.

From them on we were commanded to ask permission if we wanted more treats. Me being a social creature, I returned to the living room over and over to interrupt their conversation, and each time I was scolded for not using my manners.

“You should never interrupt when grown-ups are speaking, and you must always say excuse me and wait for permission to speak.” Miss Cathy looked down her nose when she spoke, which may be why I the following winter I pelted her car with snowballs when she passed the bus stop. (Then hid behind another child when she stopped, got out of the car, and screamed at all of us. But that’s another story.)

Hanging with the adults clearly wasn’t happening, so I returned to my fate of coloring until my fingers we so waxy they could remove facial hair, if I’d had any back then. Not knowing the beauty benefits of that much wax, I tip-toed from the bedroom to wash my hands, and froze in the hallway.

The dinner table, which Miss Cathy had painstakingly set with an antique lace tablecloth and her mother’s best china, was on fire.

I raced to the living room, the words bursting from my lips. “Miss Cathy the—“

“Melanie, what did I tell you about interrupting?” she calmly inquired.

“But Miss Cathy the table—“

“You need to calm down and wait until we’re finished talking.”

I took a deep breath, looked at my parents, and decided to hell with my manners. “BUT THE TABLE IS ON FIRE!”

That got their attention. All three adults sprang from their comfortable, non-musty chairs and surrounded the flaming table. Miss Cathy grabbed a pitcher from one end of the table and dumped its contents over the fire. Unfortunately for her that pitcher had grape juice, and her table looked worse than if she’d let us play in the there in the first place.

I still interrupt people, but I also check for the closest basin of water so I can take matters into my own hands.

Melanie Hooyenga is a salsa dancing graphic designer writing her way to publication. When not chasing her Miniature Schnauzer in circles around the living room, she’s dodging woodland creatures that insist on swooping in front of her car. She always loves a good accidental-fire story and asks that you share your catastrophes with her at @melaniehoo.


  1. A scorched grape juice dining room table does sound repulsive, but also... in a strange way... very aromatic. Wait, I just got it, a grape juice story on Hanukkah! Brilliant!

  2. I'm glad I could add to your stories. :) Yes, it was not a pretty site.

  3. The alternative was a bottle of Scotch, so grape juice was the best alternative :)

  4. I love accidental fire stories, too! (But especially stories where snooty adults get it right in the antique lace tablecloth.)


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