High school from the inside, Part I
Saturday, January 21, 2017 11:19 AM
During my senior year in high school in the spring, there was this underclass girl who went through hell every day. I never knew her name, but I saw what was done to her. Obviously, she came from a poor family, and this will be blatantly apparent and verified in just a couple more sentences.
As she came into school each morning, a bunch of boys would stand on the steps – forming a gauntlet of sorts – and shout out a number. Each day the number went up by one.
When I became aware of this “game,” the number was in the 30s. What was this number? The number of days in a row she had worn the same dress to school.
Can you imagine what she faced when she awakened each morning?
Can you imagine what thoughts crossed her mind?
I hope she grew up to be a very successful person, in whatever light she chose to define success. I fear she did not.
I had many such concerns myself. Even today, more than 50 years later, the pains of high school still fester. Occasionally, I plan to write about the pains of high school, for they certainly still exist today, perhaps are even more intense.
Today, you hear of high school suicides, not so much back in my day. This is certainly evidence that pains of that era of one’s life have not eased.
Perhaps the students of today can take some comfort in these stories of old. More importantly, perhaps some parents of today can find these stories a catalyst to ask their own cherubic-esque teenagers what goes on in their high school today. Perhaps in some small way, we can save a teenager from the personal trauma battle they face each day.
I had my own clothes problems in high school. Frugal or indifferent, my parents thought, from first grade through 12th, you took your boys to buy clothes in the fall and bought them two shirts and two pair of paints. A new pair of shoes if they needed it. And some underwear and socks.
Of course, this seemed generous to my mother who told of her own childhood, when some kids in her class at Nauvoo Elementary School (West Portsmouth, Ohio) were sewn into long underwear in the fall and cut out of it in the spring. Whew! Along about March, that must have been malodorous – poor kids.
But I didn’t live in her age, I lived in mine. Mother expected you to wear a shirt for two days and a pair of paints for two days.
Although no one ever called me out on this, it was something I worried about, because all the other kids obviously wore different clothes each day. Yet, on the other hand, my mother washed our clothes in a wringer washer, and in the winter time, dried them on clothes lines stretched across the kitchen. I appreciated how hard she worked to keep our clothes clean.
When I was a senior, I finally figured out a solution that would work for everyone. I would wear a shirt one day, then hang it back up, to be worn another day that week. Then on the second day, I would wear a different one.
That got me out of the daily wear routine and did not increase my mother’s workload. Also, and actually by my junior year, I had started buying some clothes with my own money. This helped out with the monotony, too.
Clothes make the man, but so does culture. When I moved to Finland in 1988, my boss, a senior vice president with the company, would wear the same suit five days in a row. And it was obvious – he had one loud, blue pinstripe thing you could not take for anything other than the same suit each day during the weeks he wore it.
I inquired among the underlings what was going on. They told me that clothes were still so expensive in Finland that if you wore different clothes each day, you were considered a snob; hence, even people like my boss who could afford whatever he wanted, followed the convention. He moved to North Carolina with me later that year as our company established an office there. Interestingly, here in the states, he followed the conventions in place locally.
Another friend, working for a different company in fashion-conscious San Francisco, used a different, obsessive compulsive system. He bought six suits and had them organized by number in his closet. He worked through them in turn, a day at a time. Hence, he never wore the same suit on the same day of the week (except every sixth week).
I pointed out to him that he could have accomplished the same thing with four suits, reducing his wardrobe cost by a third. He was chagrined with this bit of enlightenment and the frugality he had missed. Now he and I wear jeans or whatever we want on most occasions – companies think we know something and ignore the clothes to gain our so-called wisdom on the subject at hand.
In our world, gray hair trumps fashion.
Teenagers, hang on. Life can get better if you apply yourself.
Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press.