I was awkward in elementary school. I attended P.S. 273 in Brooklyn, NY. My mother is an awesome person who ruled her 4 children by a strict hand. She also made our clothes. We were really out of place at school some times because of it. My mother did not make matters any better by making us wear hand knitted hats that looked like Viking helmets and wool skirts itched. Even with a lining and a slip it was difficult to work on pressing a maple leaf in between two sheets of wax paper with crayon shavings with a hot iron, while being consciously aware that your classmates were snickering at your bobby socks. Yes, we really did press maple leaves and everyone else was wearing socks that came up to their knees.
The worse part for me about being in 3rd grade was the school I went to in East New York, Brooklyn, which was near the end of the Number 2 line on New Lots Ave. In one summer, I watched 3 multi-story buildings burn down to a shell from the upstairs apartment of the duplex we lived in. We had a spectacular view of rubble and mostly burned down buildings from the living room windows facing the back of the apartment.
My schoolmates were tough and mean and I ,well, was not too much into bullying. I have an older sister, which helped but again my mother and her sense of style always got me into big trouble. I look back and know that we were very well dressed and in another part of the city we could have gotten away with our neatly combed braids with matching ribbon, carefully starched and ironed shirts and custom made clothing. My mother would even check our bobby socks for dirt rings, which meant that we did not unfold them into calf highs. They did not even go up to the knee. I remember watching my older sister kneel down at the end of the day to fold her socks back over. She never got caught because she was always neat. I, on the other hand, was not always so lucky.
It was a Saturday and I knew it was time to get new shoes. My mother and her sensible style. There was no way that any of her children were going to have problems with their feet. She always purchased “good” shoes with leather heels and the proper support.
Her store of choice was Coward Shoes, in downtown Brooklyn on Fulton around the corner from A&S Department Store, which was our equivalent to Lord & Taylor at that time. My red and white saddle patent leather shoes from Coward Shoes were expensive. I knew that my mother could have easily went to Thom McCann but no. I dreaded going to school on Sunday night as I watched my mother stuff the top of the shoes with cotton. The shoes were big and shiny. I worried about my schoolmates.
“Oy, vey.” I thought to myself and was happy that I had one banana Now or Later left in my robe pocket to help lull me to sleep. I remember that because I had a heck of a time picking the lint off of the candy from the inside of the pocket.
My walk to school was long. When I got to school, I attempted to push my feet behind my chair but I knew that there was no hiding them. My shoes were shiny and red and white. Who wore patent leather saddle shoes? It was at lunch when some of the kids began to tease me. The teasing followed me outside at recess. I thought that I would show my tormenters how I could swing on the monkey bars. At least a couple of swings on the monkey bars could allow me to show my “monkey bar prowess” because I had just really learned how to swing on them well enough. As I thought about it I dared not play for fear that I would scuff my shoes. I could not wait to find my older sister when school ended. Of course, she had no problems at all with her shoes. My torment went on all week.
The next week later, the biggest baddest girl in my class tapped me on the back and told me that she liked my shoes and her mother got her the same ones. I remembered telling her I got them at Coward Shoes but I thought that she was asking me because she was teasing me too. I was a coward for not protecting myself and my mother's sensibility. She was asking me because she liked them.
The next day, she came to school with her red and white patent leather saddle shoes and at recess told everyone to leave me alone and that she liked the way I dressed so much that she got the same shoes. We became fast friends and no one picked on me for the rest of 3rd grade.
We moved when I was in 4th grade to a better neighborhood but I never forgot my friend in 3rd grade. My mother did not stop making our clothes either until 9th grade maybe. My mother actually sewed one of my best friends 9th grade tuxedo to match his dates dress!!!
Today, I wished I had someone to make me clothes or knit me a warm hat especially since now quality costs so much. I would even take the Viking hat now. I can't believe what some people are wearing.
People find it hard to understand why I get so stressed out when I go clothes shopping. I finally realized that I am looking for my mother's clothes and when I can't find them I shut down.
When I muster up the strength to go clothes shopping, I can sometimes hear her saying in her beautiful New York Caribbean accent, “Always look inside the pants, make sure they are lined and double stitched…. I remember when I used to make your clothes they were always double stitched just in case you got a hole in your pants….”
Now I smile. Yes, Mommy, I remember too. Can I send you some wool fabric and some lining so you can make me a pair of pants and a matching jacket like you did when I was in 3rd grade? Can you also knit me a sweater with a matching hat, scarf and mittens too?
Ummm… I think would only hear silence.
P.S. My mother and my family thank all who sent well wishes during her recuperation from her accident. We appreciate it.