September 18, 2012

First Impressions Are the Most Lasting



…first impressions are the most lasting. But be assured that I will put the best face on every appearance. No exertion of mine shall be wanting… — Gen. Henry Jackson wrote to Gen. Henry Knox in 17911

First impressions do count.

My family’s latest “house guest” keeps telling me I’m disorganized.

Who? Me?

Just because I promised my mother I’d send her something immediately and now it’s four days later and I’m just sending it (at least it’s not two weeks later.). Just because I cannot keep track who to pick up or take where and when? Just because I cannot keep up with the clutter, dishes, laundry and mail?2

Yes, first impressions do count.

This was clear when our family lived in Stone Mountain, an Atlanta, Georgia suburb. We lived there during the three years my husband Monte attended Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

While thereI discovered that people in big cities make prejudgments. They do so, I believe, because they are bombarded with so many persons each day that they need a quick way to evaluate these contacts, which they seemed to do by asking three questions:

  • Where do you live?
  • What does your husband do?
  • What do you do?

After identifying the ins and outs of the prejudgment game I began testing my hypotheses that I could manipulate people’s response to me by the way I answered the questions. This was easy to do because there were multiple ways I could answer each question honestly.

Where do you live? Note: We lived in the only apartment complex on our suburban street.

  • We live on Central Drive. Eyes open, alert, inviting next question. (assumes we own our own home)
  • We live in  the Vineyard Apartments. Eyes look down, seeking for a way to escape

What does your husband do?

  • He’s a      retired college professor. Eyes open, alert, inviting next question
  • He’s a      student at Emory University. Eyes look down, looking for a way to escape.

What do you do?

  • I have a craft business (never mind that I usually cleared less than $100 a month). Eyes open, alert, inviting next question.
  • I’m a stay-at-home mother. Eyes look down,      looking for a way to escape.


Can you see where the game becomes fun? I began to mix and match my responses while watching the eyes of the questioner.

If I gave all the Eyes open, alert, inviting next question answers I was well accepted by the person or group. If I gave all the Eyes look down, looking for a way to escape answers I’d find myself standing alone in the crowd. And if I gave a mix of answers—my degree of acceptability as a person was equal to the number of Eyes open, alert, inviting next question answers.


Small towns operate differently. People are prejudiced in a different manner (that’s for another post). Relationships are usually very family-tied, and it’s difficult to break in. The responses to the above three questions are not quite as important as they are in a big city because fewer new people cross their paths.


Either way, Gen. Jackson makes a valid point: First impressions are the most lasting…

I was concerned about first impressions when my newly discovered sister P. offered to visit our family home, which, at the time, looked almost like the homes featured on the television program Hoarders.

I acknowledge that I’m not a great housekeeper. There’s always clutter—much more clutter than I like—but I prefer living life over having a Stepford Wives home. However, 2012 was an extraordinary year. In mid-January we removed the last seven carloads of boxes stored in my daughter’s attic. The items were piled in my living room and front (enclosed) sunporch.

While I was sorting through the boxes my husband Monte and I were sidetracked by his 92-year-old brother’s hospitalization and subsequent death. Monte was his medical power of attorney and executor of his estate. It didn’t help that we had to travel eleven hours north twice, for a total of almost eight weeks—and returned with two more carloads of papers and paraphernalia. We had totally cleaned out my brother-in-law’s house, but mine became more cluttered. And dirty—when did I have time or energy to clean?

Normally I can deal with visitors, even those who have never seen my abode before. I know I do the best I can under my circumstances. Visitors will just have to accept that.

Our coming guests, however, were special—my new sister, released for adoption as an infant by my mother, and her husband. I couldn’t have their first visit be in the mess of the year. I quickly did the best I could, cleaning and clearing out clutter. I considered making a sign and posting it:




Needless to say, I didn’t get the sign made. I was too busy cleaning.

What I kept in mind was that my sister and brother-in-law were here to meet me (and my husband). It was an introduction of two sisters who only discovered, only seven months previous, that the other existed. This was my third introduction: I’d met my paternal sister when I was in my thirties, and a second child, also released for adoption by my mother, in 2011. The key to these introductions have involved relationship—who the person is, not what the person does (in this case, having the model home).

When my guests came the weather was perfect—blue skies, not overly hot and humid. My daughter, her husband, and my granddaughter joined us. We had a wonderfully social evening. The remaining mess didn’t influence our interactions at all.

P. knew I was concerned about the appearance of our home. She responded (in one of those rare hand-written notes): What a house looks like doesn’t matter. What’s important is the ability of those who live there to make their guests feel welcome and at home. And you did just that.

I agree with the end of Gen. Jackson’s comment: But be assured that I will put the best face on every appearance. No exertion of mine shall be wanting…1 =

Once I do my best to prepare my house for company I move on to make them feel welcome.

My friend Sally Shirey said it well: If people don’t like you for who you are, it’s just too bad.



Sister’s Day: 2012—Sisters Meet After 63 Years:

Disability Doesn’t Mean Disabled: Two Role Models:

Two Chairs…:


1Letter from Gen. Henry Jackson to Gen. Henry Knox, Sept. 18, 1791, KNOX MSS 29-113, microphish, Edinborough Library

2Noosletter, Chase/Lipsius family newsletter, April 1, 1988


1 Comment »

  1. This comment emailed to me from Diane, who has as much trouble posting comments on wordPress as I have on blogspot:

    First impression do lay the foundation for the future of a relationship and whether or not a relationship is even formed. While reading your post, my mother’s memory of her family moving to Charleston WV from PA popped into my mind. They were moving into an apartment right next to the high school. My mother and her older sister, my Aunt Barbara, met a few of the local kids and their first impression lead them to run right home and into the door yelling –
    We’re not Jewish! We’re not Jewish!

    The kids all turned out to be nice and it’s hard to say in retrospect whether being Jewish would have been a big deal or not. We’ll never know.

    Diane Cipa
    Ligonier Living

    Comment by carolyncholland — September 18, 2012 @ 8:42 pm | Reply

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