Tracy K. Lorenz ...

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Flares

Ah yes, school is back in session. So many hopes and dreams of NASCAR-like changes in social standing, the thrill of seeing your friends after a summer off, and ten minutes of barely suppressible glee before you hear the words “Open your books to page one...”

I used to love the start of school, or at least the week leading up to the start of school. What I didn’t like was the shopping. It wasn’t like now where there’s a mall full of clothing, my options were pretty limited because I went to a private school. There were no blue jeans in my future, no T-shirts with pithy sayings or iron-on monsters. We had to wear dark pants, light button-down shirts, and “hard shoes.”  That meant Robert Hall.

Robert Hall was a clothing store (then a Bingo Parlor, then a church) on Old Grand Haven Road. All their clothes were on racks below eye level and style was at a minimum. There was nothing flashy at The Hall. My brothers and I would march in behind my Mom and Dad and no input was given or asked for because, well, there just weren’t that many options. I do remember the conversations in the station wagon on the way over; they usually involved the purchase of suits. 

My Mom would suggest that I needed a suit and then she’d start listing off scenarios; there were upcoming weddings to attend, maybe a baptism, but invariably a potential funeral would come flying out. “Great Grandma will be dying soon, he’ll need a suit for her funeral...’ and I’d be in the back all panicked thinking, “Great Grandma!  I just saw her last week, she looked fine!” But I never said anything, I just worried a lot.  She did eventually die about fifteen years later, by that time my suit was both snug and horribly out of style.

By High School things got a little easier as shopping options opened up. There was a store named Ar-Jers over in the old K-Mart Plaza. Ar-Jers not only had every color of Levi’s cords available, they also had a healthy selection of disco shirts. The big decision was choosing between regular bell bottoms, “flares,” and “elephant bells.”  I was mostly a flare guy. When I put on my baby blue corduroy flares, penny loafers, and puffy shirt I don’t know how the women didn’t faint.  But they didn’t.

I did harbor some jealousy towards the public school kids for a couple reasons. First, a week before school started they’d hang up a list on the door at Lincoln Park Elementary. The list contained a teacher's name and all the students in his/her class. Word would spread through the neighborhood that the list was out and all the kids would fly over to the school to get a glimpse of what teacher they were getting and who was going to be in their class. The kids would pack up against the door like a “Who” concert, climbing over each other like pet-store hamsters, then they’d all complain like they were expecting Peter Frampton to be teaching sixth grade. We had no such event at St. Francis, I not only knew who my teacher and fellow students were going to be years ahead of time, I could have told you the seating order.  I spent nearly a decade sitting between Dean Lombardi and Tim McCabe.

The public school kids also got to wear ripped pants, well, not exactly “ripped” like nowadays, but eventually the hem at the bottom of their pants would wear through from being walked on with gigantic platform shoes. Every kid in Norton Shores looked like “Hyde” on “That 70’s Show.” I had to dress like Greg Brady.
We Catholics did have one huge advantage over our public school brothers: uniforms. Our girls wore uniforms. Plaid skirts, white blouses, knee socks, and black shoes. You need look no further than the USC Cheerleader uniform and the Catholic schoolgirl outfit for proof that God exists.  The public schools may have had their hippie chicks but they couldn’t hang with the Grabinski Twins in plaid.

But what I probably miss most about those first days of school was the renewal, the progress. There was a definite start and a definite finish.  When you get older all the days sort of blend. Unless you’re a teacher, Senator, or The President you just don’t have that fresh start, that cleansing of the soul that is summer vacation. You also don’t have the finish line of June.  I think people need borders, they need some sort of non-tangible containment to rattle around in with a light at the end.  Without that we’re all just in it for the long ... haul.

Printed by permission of the author. Email him at Lorenzatlarge@aol.com.
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