Well, it’s August 10th, and as a young boy growing up in the Duquesne area, the last thing on my mind would have been going back to school. In August, I was still thinking about playing outside all day, perhaps looking forward to a family vacation at Presque Isle, or at the very least, one more outing to Kennywood combined with a few more Volk Clan picnics.
During those swelteringly hot August days, my mom did manage to jolt my brother and me into realizing that school would be beginning soon, by subjecting us to one of my most dreaded activities…… trying on school clothes that had been packed away from the previous year. I still contend that this was a form of child abuse. Had Mom traded her secrets with the government, I’m confident that this form of torture could have been elevated to a point that would have surpassed waterboarding!
Early in August, Mom would always let my brother and I know that we would be trying on clothes at some point during the month. Once she had decided on a day, she would always count down the days and remind us each day that “IT” was approaching. I think it was to build the anxiety in Steve and me, and it worked.
Having no air conditioning in our home, Mom would somehow manage to pick the hottest day of the year to torture us. Of course, we had to do it during the daytime since she insisted that “the light was better” and she could “see how they fit.” We would be summoned up to our parent’s bedroom on the 2nd floor of our non-air-conditioned home. Since hot air rises, this made it an especially “toasty” experience.
The storage chest that contained all of the pack away clothes was in an area that we called the “cubby hole.” Now that I think of it, what an appropriate name. A perfect place for animals to hibernate during an ice cold winter since it provided extra warmth. Our “cubby hole” was no exception. It was at least 20 degrees hotter in there than in the bedroom itself. Fortunately, Mom didn’t make us try the clothes on in the cubby hole. She did however, keep the door open so all that extra heat would pour out into the bedroom and raise the temperature even higher.
Now, the purpose of this entire exercise was to determine what still fit my older brother and what articles of clothing were now considered “hand-me-downs.” That was where I stepped in. I was the “hand-me-down” recipient! Lucky me.
The clothing had been stored in a huge green trunk that my dad had gotten from someone. It was so large, that you could fit a small nation of children in it comfortably. Since hunkys would never throw anything out until it had exhausted all practical use, it contained layers and layers of clothing that would be reused at some point in my childhood.
To add insult to injury, Mom believed in protecting the clothing from being eaten by moths. Seriously, you and I both know that moths are attracted to wool. Considering that the majority of items in the trunk were either corduroy, flannel or cotton, no self-respecting moth would even consider dining in our trunk. Nonetheless, Mom protected the clothing “just in case” by hermetically sealing the clothing in the trunk each season along with a VERY liberal sprinkling of moth balls and moth crystals. By the time these garments had been stored in a virtual vacuum of naphthalene for at least 6 months in a room that reached temperatures that could melt soft metals, let’s just say the odor was rather… “heady” to say the very least.
In order to find out what still fit my older brother Steve and what items would become his fashion leftovers, a.k.a. hand-me-downs, Steve and I had the pleasure of stripping down to our tighty whities and trying on item, after item, after item in the sweltering hot 2nd floor bedroom that was teeming with the smell of mothballs and sweat.
Steve as always the first to try on any item. After all, his size was the determinant by which an article of clothing would be reused or handed down. For him, it was a quick try on, an inspection by Mom, and then he was on to the next item. For me, the process was a bit more arduous. If a pair of pants or a shirt appeared to be both too tight and beyond the point of being altered to fit Steve once again, it became a hand-me-down. It was at that point that I stepped into the picture in my tighty whities. For my mom to decide if a newly created hand-me-down would be used during the upcoming school year, I had to try the item on. Nothing felt worse than being told to try on an article of clothing that had just come off of another person’s sweaty body (sorry Steve, I still love ya), AND then have to wait for Mom to inspect and decide on the fate of said item. I used to pray that each shirt, jacket or pair of pants would fit. Not because I liked it, but because it meant that I could quickly remove it and expedite the end to this torture. You see, IF an item fit but was too long, I would have to wait while Mom would pin the hem each pants leg or perhaps mark how much an item had to be taken-in for it to fit. I loved my mom, but she was no Ernie Plastino when it came to her sewing abilities. As a result, the measuring and pinning procedure seemed to last forever.
When we had gotten to this stage, the whole process was most like a form of torture that could be used at Guantanamo. To make my point, consider all of the finer points of this picture:
• A 6 year old boy and an 8 year old boy forced to give up a day of playing outside with their friends
• An extraordinarily hot second floor bedroom in August
• Bright and hot sunlight beating down through the windows adding to the steaminess
• The pungent odor of mothballs filling the air
• A young mother being forced to control her two fidgety sons without yelling since her mouth was busy holding onto straight pins for the task at hand
• The six year old standing perfectly still, dressed only in his underwear and a heavy corduroy jacket that reeked of mothballs and damp with his brother’s perspiration and his mother trying to determine and pin the perfect sleeve length.
• GET THE PICTURE??
Yes, I believe my mom could have eventually broken Bin Laden if given the opportunity. Thanks for those special memories Mom!!
In a previous post, I included some articles from The Duquesne News that everyone enjoyed reading. Some even found their own name or a parent’s name in the article. Since this post is related to going back to school, I’m included some articles I found that I think you’ll enjoy as much as the last ones I posted. Let me know! Happy reading neighbors!
Each year, The Duquesne Times would publish the upcoming school year’s list of teacher assignments. Interestingly, the lists contained not only the school and grade assignment, but also included their individual salaries as well. I am posting the lists from the 1948-1949 school year for your enjoyment. I would think that you might recognize some your favorite teachers and further realize that compared to the national average of $4300 to $7400, Duquesne’s teachers were truely on the low end of the scale.
1948-1949 Teacher’s List