Eyak Lake on Dec. 24, 2021. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith for The Cordova Times

Long ago, a young George Washington penned an obscure set of guidelines titled “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” 

How I wish George was still around today.         

He would surely get my vote for President. 

Indeed, civility, where art thou? 

Washington penned 110 such rules, and it sure would be nice if many of them would be followed not only at the highest levels but even in the Cordova post office lobby or the checkout lines in local grocery stores. 

Take, for example, Rule 49: “Use no Reproachful Language against anyone neither Curse nor Revile.” 


In the lexicon of foul words, often of four letters, none used to reach higher than the “f-bomb.” Today it is so commonplace it has lost all impact. 

Now I understand Cordova is a fishing town, so salty language is bound to occur, especially in the summer time when all the pressures and competition of high stakes harvesting as well as processing and marketing the salmon is in full swing. 

OK, so maybe when you get hit in the face with a jellyfish while stacking seine web, or watch a big king salmon drop out of your gillnet right as it comes up to the roller of your bowpicker, one has earned the right to scream an expletive skyward. 

I confess to some very high level violation of Rule 49 in the solitude of my duck blind when after sitting for hours waiting for a mallard to come by a whole flock of green heads zoom by at eye level causing me to spill coffee all over myself while reaching for my shotgun, while they shift into a Mach 3 escape maneuver evading 3 blasts of hevi-Metal, the most expensive shell on the market, and have the gall to bombard my massive spread of decoys with duck poop, occasionally leaving a single white feather twirling down. 

But come on. Curb thy tongue around children, in public, and in inappropriate circumstances. 

I know – turn on the TV and listen to what the nation sees and hears.  

Recently my wife and I struggled through a popular series titled “Succession.” It won high reviews and many awards. 

I didn’t have to turn up my hearing aids to understand the constant stream of invective that was probably the reason the Screen Writer’s Guild went on strike – they had exhausted the list foul words by part one of season one.  

Why, before longtime duck hunting partner Randy Bruce and I were old enough to qualify for hunting license, we were mentored in the many nuances of expressing dismay by Kenny Van Brocklin and my dad at the infamous Boxcar duck shack down Eyak River.  

They routinely called each other a “horse’s ass,” and every now and then up the ante to “that SOB” or mention someone was full of “BS.” But when they exceeded those temperate boundaries, they would have to put a fine in the “Cussing Jar,” which was a clever way to accumulate resources to buy more of their beloved Lucky Lager. 

And as far as swearing around very young individuals, be careful: they hear a lot more than you think, although they might not know what it means. 

When we first bought our little home on Pipe Street and Forestry Way, there was confusion about property boundaries which lead to some unneighborly disputes. Which is not unique to Cordova, given the strange shape of plats, and the accuracy of surveying technology back in the 50s and 60s.  

The folks across the street had a number of young kids, and I had built a large sand box with a swing set for our daughters and all the kids in the area to play in. 

In fact, one of the little lads came over one day and politely asked if he could play in the playground. I said of course, any time, and you don’t need to ask. After all, the property dispute was between adults. 

The next day I was working on the steps down to our house, and he came whistling by, waved, and merrily said “Hi, F- – king Shellhorn” as he headed to the nearest swing. 

I almost hit my thumb with the hammer – and then laughed.  On such innocent dialogue are fences mended. 

I took a break and went in to have a cup of coffee with my wife, and said “well, I know what they call me across the street.” 

Eventually we did become neighborly.  

I wish I had stumbled across George’s lessons sooner. And I hope your New Year’s resolution will be to be civil to everyone. 

(NOTE: A booklet of George’s entire set of rules can be purchased online for $3.87.)