During my long, rewarding years in the classroom, each new cohort of cherubs *(1) I faced at year's commencement would receive a bagful of homilies on life from me, and the 'smile' one was part of the package – along with goofy dancing and yarns about this great land of ours. In this particular homily I'd tell my treasures that smiling wasn't done with the lips, it was done with the eyes. ‘Watch the eyes when someone smiles at you,' I'd exhort. ‘Anyone can upturn the lips and bare shining teeth, but unless something happens with the eyes it is not a real smile – it is only a perfunctory one, a PS.'
A dozen hands would shoot up and the chosen one would query, hoping their question would prove snakeworthy* (2), 'What's a perfunctory smile, Mr L?'
'Well George, a perfunctory smile is given when it is not from the heart of the person. They may give a PS if their jobs depend on it. How many girls here would like to be models? (A few hands would shoot up from the 'cool' set) Well ladies, to do that you will have to spend hours perfecting your PS, but the result will not be from the heart, but more because your job will depend on it. This supposedly helps to sell the product you're wearing. You do not see the models scowling in the KMart catalogue now, do you? Boys, how many of you want to be a used car salesmen? (No hands) Well, same thing, a smile will help you sell that rattly old Ford over there in the corner of your lot. Shop assistants have to do it all day, every day! You might also give a PS when you receive a gift you do not really want, or indeed give one to that relly who you don't exactly think the world of, when they arrive at Chrissy time, for instance. You give them a welcoming PS just to appear friendly. In all these examples nothing at all is done from the heart, get it?' Numerous heads nod sagely.
'What do the eyes do in a real smile then, Mr L?'
'Well, as I said, the next time someone smiles at you look at their eyes and not the lips. In a real smile the corners of the eyes should crinkle up and the eyes themselves should be shining. Then you know it’s not a PS but a smile from the heart. It's an eye smile. Now kiddos, your homework for tonight…..’
Class in unison – 'No, Mr L. No!!!!!!!!!!!!!'
'Yes, yes my cherubs, yes. Now tonight I want you to stand in front of your bathroom mirror, and for fifteen minutes practise your very own eye smiling. Tomorrow, when you see me, I want you to give me your very best eye smile. The most exceptional one, the eye smile that comes most from the heart, will certainly be 'snakeworthy’.
And the following school day would be brightened by gorgeous eye smiles, putting a spring in my step and making me think I had the best job on the planet.
But then again there are eye smiles and then there are eye smiles. Of course, over my four or so decades of teaching, I've met some pretty good eye smilers in some of my colleagues. Children intrinsically pick up on those teachers who are genuine by the warmth of their eye smiles. My beautiful library assistant of many years, Julie, had one of the best going, along with a magical laugh. As a result, students would flock to her, particularly those who came from a home where there wasn't much eye smiling going on. For much of my career I was responsible for teams that included younger teachers, and from that group I remember two of the best. There was the stunningly beautiful Jaime, with her eye smile giving light to every class of students she was gifted to. She would bring summer to the bleakest winter's day, but she saved especially heavenly eye-smiles for the day she married her handsome policeman. Then there was Holly, with a magnificent eye smile. At the time I knew her best she was searching for love, although how anyone could resist as soon as she flashed those shining, crinkly-cornered eyes is beyond me. I believe since those times she's found what she was searching for. Is it a coincidence that all three lovely ladies are Hawthorn supporters? I think not.
And there are some great eye smilers in the city of Hobart! Here are gifts galore for the taking, and from largely anonymous givers. I enjoy a walk. Often when out and about I will park a fair distance from my ultimate destination and perambulate towards it. As I do so, I have taken to randomly smiling at people as I pass them by – but I do not display great teeth baring ones. Those types could be construed as coming from weirdos at best, or deviants at worst. I subtly upturn the corners of the lips and give the slightest of nods. If I'm feeling particularly bold, perhaps I may add a jaunty 'G'day'. Occasionally, in return I’ll receive a wide-eyed glare, or be simply ignored. Usually, though, the gesture would be returned, for Hobartians are great smilers. I've tried the same on Melburnians, and found the majority there also give back in kind as well, particularly once outside the CBD. On odd occasions, in both cities, I may even receive a dinkum eye smile, and once or twice a beautiful woman has even stopped in her tracks for a chat. Either way, it makes me feel even jauntier for the remainder of the day. Try it on, see for yourself!
My island’s capital has shops that are full of employees who are vocationally induced to give each customer a PS. Certainly not of that category is the wonderful Helene who, each week, assists me to produce a selection of photographic images of reasonable quality. Hailing from the same home town as I, her eye smile makes me feel special each time I enter her domain. A dark haired beauty of a waitress in a preferred watering hole has come to know my Thursday habits well so, as she hands me my usual pint of cider, we now exchange eye smiles. In Glenorchy there's the bustling blonde waitress who scampers around our favourite coffee abode giving a glorious eye smile to each patron as she proceeds, and across the road at the fruit and vegies another striking blonde talks to me of footy as she tallies and bags my wares, and yes, gives out an eye smile. Unfortunately she is a St Kilda follower. Some of the beautiful young things who work the Telecom store on the upper level of the Cat and Fiddle give genuine eye smiles as they add credit to my phone. There's the lovely lady at the local post office who remembers to ask about my gorgeous little granddaughter each time she serves me, and Kylie across the way at the bank can also light up my day. But the best eye smiler in the whole city resides at another of my cherished hangouts, JBs.
I often think the youngsters who grace this store have another of the 'world's best' jobs. Surrounded by music, they bounce around stocking shelves and assisting with inquiries about obscure bands or 'do you know where I can find the song that goes like............' It is a casual place where I feel at home to quietly peruse undisturbed. In the CD/DVD section hipster assistants cruise on by, as well as a few pierced Goth types. Those in the games/computer sections are more nerdish and more conservatively attired. In all they are quite a varied lot. Judging from the raucous laughter often emanating from the back storeroom it is a happy place, and much joshing goes on around the aisles as they beaver away at their tasks. I suppose all jobs have a downside, but it’s only the door checkers who look in any way down at the mouth. It's usually smiles all round inside and it makes you feel good to be in there, but after I have made my selection I will start to wonder if she will be at the money counter. At the end of the usual queue I'll scan for her presence, and, if she is perchance gracing the serving area, I'll wonder if my number will come up. Will I be a chosen one? If that's the case she'll give the most vibrant of all eye smiles to welcome me to make payment, as she does every JB habitué. That’s my cue to comment on the glory of her smile and, in return for that, she'll repay me with another one of outstanding radiance. At that moment I know that this sleek, shiny, raven haired, olive skinned beauty is the best eye smiler in town.
Yes, I know, I've only written about the fairer gender. So what! It is the beauty of women that in part makes being alive so wondrous, and helps make my world go around. I believe an eye smile received each day from whatever source, expected or not (but especially from the latter), helps keep the doctor at bay. Long may I live to receive glorious, from the heart, eye smiles.
*1. My students have always been bemused by my collectively referring to them as 'cherubs', especially after one bright spark looked the word up in a dictionary. She found out it referred to 'little, pink, naked angels' and word soon spread!
*2. For excellence I was in the habit of giving out sugar free candy snakes, especially when the excellence came from unexpected sources. The receiving of one by a student unused to plaudits would result in quite incredible eye smiles.