''Why on earth do they call the male sex 'gentlemen'? In all of my life I've never known a gentle man!'' These words spouted from the lips of a young woman seated in front of me on the city bus. She was dressed in a bright blazer and a colorful skirt, but her face was pale and drawn. I could see by the nods of her companion that the two were in full accord.

The harsh words set me thinking. Then came memories of some men I have known.

I can hear my brother calling ever so gently, ''Matt! Winnie!'' to the hard-working mule team pacing about in our big lot in front of the steep-roofed barn. I have seen him walk back and forth circling around these stubborn animals holding their bridles in his hands for an hour at a time. He never lost his temper; he never touched them with a line; he never cursed; he never threw a stick at them.

Rather he kept calling to them gently, edging in a little closer, until finally he could stroke their necks easily and could fasten the harnesses.

Any man whose patience, like that of my brother's, can outlast two balky, strong-willed mules has to be called a gentle man.

I can hear my brother-in-law saying repeatedly to my sister: ''Whatever you want to do.'' He said this no matter what his own plans may have been. He was by no means a milksop. He just had a special kind of compassion that did away with all self-centeredness. The atmosphere of his quiet tenderness continues to bless us, though he has long since been gone.

Undoubtedly Clarence was a gentle man.

I can hear again the understanding voice of the president of the college where I was teaching. I had unwittingly permitted the girls in the sorority I sponsored to participate in unreasonable initiation ceremonies. Instead of firing me on the spot, or chastising me severely, he reassured me. He forgave me because I was new on the job. He had faith in me that I would do better in the future.

I would certainly call Dr. R.G. Boger a gentle man.

I can hear again the voice of my old friend in the little town where I grew up. I had attended an old-fashioned singing school in our rural church. At the close of the week's instruction, each person enrolled was required to lead a song. When it came my time to perform, I froze. In a minute I knew that all the congregation would start laughing at me. I stood there petrified.

Then a man asked the director if he could sing along with me since the selected hymn was his favorite.

I will always think of Mr. Ezra White as a gentle man.

I remember a nameless fellow in a large city during World War II. My husband and I had just been told by our landlady that we must move because I was pregnant. She said she wanted no babies in her rooming house.

Tearful, disconsolate, and disillusioned I stood on the front steps of the place from which we were being evicted. I paid the milkman and told him that under the circumstances his delivery to us would of necessity be stopped.

He consoled me with such sympathetic, comforting words that he put the heart right back into me.

On that summer morning so long ago he certainly earned the title of a gentle man.

I recall a cold, rainy winter afternoon when a young man in his teens did a simple, heartwarming act.

I saw this youth get up from his comfortable, sheltered place under the protective canopy at a memorial service. He sloshed along in the sticky, black mud in his shiny, patent leather shoes to reach an elderly man standing in the sharp breeze leaning on his cane. He led the old man patiently back to the dry seat while he listened to the rest of the service in the pouring rain.

That day I knew that my son was a gentle man.

There are countless men who stand in the procession of those who are gracious , thoughtful, and sweet-tempered.

Let no one say there are no gentlemen.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.