I say it to this day as thoughtlessly as I breathe. As a child, whether I was speaking to my grandmothers, to my teachers, or to the housekeeper, I dared not leave the “ma’am” off the end of a “yes,” “no,” or “thank you.” As an adult, I still say it. It’s just what one does in polite Southern society.
It was just the way I was raised, the way my parents were raised, and the way their parents were raised. It is absolutely ingrained in my behavior. When I was growing up, Heaven forbid I answer an adult’s question with an “uh-huh” or “uh-uh!”
“We don’t grunt our responses,” Mama would say sternly. “What do you say?”
When Sonny was a little boy, I trained him to follow every “yes,” “no,” or “thank you” that passed his lips with “Ma’am” or “Sir.” Unfortunately, times have changed. As Sonny and I would go out and about, invariably some nice lady would ask my baby boy a question. “Do you like Spider-man?” “Are you in first grade?” “Would you like a sucker?”
Obediently he would respond, “Yes, Ma’am!”
Adopting a tone of shock and horror, the woman would say, “Oh honey! I’m not that old! You don’t have to call me ma’am!”
Oh, yes. Yes he does, because that’s they way I raised him (and I’ll thank you not to undermine me in front of my child). The way some women carry on though, you’d think he had angelically smiled up at them and said, “Yes, you old biddy.”
“Yes, you shriveled old crone.”
“Yes, you ancient, crusty, dusty so-far-past-your-dewy-prime-it’s-not-even-funny old hag.”
What they fail to understand is that being addressed as “ma’am” is not a matter of age. It is a matter of respect. It is a matter of deference to your elders, and by “elders” I mean anyone older than you. It is a matter of courtesy and manners.
I’ve seen scads of comments where women write how disrespectful and condescending they find it to be called “ma’am.” Most of these women are not Southern. Do they like being treated with disrespect? Being grunted at? Is being addressed politely just a non-issue? Has our society fallen into such a state of disrepair that common courtesy is shunned? Reviled?
Or maybe it’s just that I’m old-fashioned. But if being polite and moving through society with civility and respect is old-fashioned, then so be it. I’m going to keep fighting the good fight one person, one interaction at a time.
Yes, Ma’am, I am!