11 pairs of white pants nearly ruined my life
Even though my mother died in 1982, it's quite likely I will never forgive her for bringing home from Portland 11 pairs of hand-me-down white corduroy pants given to her by her sister (my "Auntie Bun") and making me wear them every day in seventh grade.
Keep in mind that these pants were not made of your everyday, soft, thin corduroy like you see today, but extremely stiff, thick, upholstery-grade fabric, which was not ever going to wear out.
My mom, a very talented seamstress, could have covered a couch or car seat with the stuff. Instead, she agreed only to go so far as to "peg" the pants so I could wear them to school — which, of course, I did not want to do. But this was in an era (late '50s, early '60s) when whatever one's parents decreed, you had to do.
I have no idea where the pants came from in the first place. My aunt probably found them at one of those rummage sales held in the basement of downtown department stores like Woolworth's and Newberry's, brought them home to her teenage son, my cousin Dennis, who flat-out refused to wear them.
So rather than admit complete defeat, I'm sure my aunt decided to pass them along to her younger sister, who had four boys who maybe could benefit from this fashion treasure trove. I was the oldest, so I became the guinea pig.
Now, you need to understand that Dennis, who had reached an almost-mature 16 or 17 by that time, was Wally Cleaver or Dobie Gillis to my Opie Taylor or (at best) Theodore Cleaver. I was still a pipsqueak kid; he was almost a man.
It also didn't help that I was a shy little twerp who wouldn't reach 5 feet tall for another three years.
My primary goal in life was to avoid being noticed as I entered junior high .
This is the environment I was expected to enter in my electric-white corduroy pants, which I was convinced shouted to everyone I encountered, "Hey! Total dweeb coming through, in ridiculous clothes chosen by his certifiably insane mother!"
I would like the record to show that I never had a sense of style even remotely similar to my mom's. My favorite colors were then (and still are) black, brown and gray. My mom favored prints with flowers the size of her head in yellow, red, turquoise and lime green — you know, the kind of colors and designs Aretha Franklin might have worn to church 60 years ago.
As little kids, my brothers and I wore flannel shirts made by our mom from colorful fabric featuring Davey Crockett shooting bears, airplanes flying through bright blue skies, cowboys riding horses. But being young and naive, we wore them without a thought. When she did make us cable-knit sweaters (another of her talents), she was sure to make them in shimmering blue-green or burnt sienna.
I also have not forgiven my dad (who passed away 17 years ago) for not sticking up for me in those critical moments that my mom called the sartorial shots. I would later learn that his father subjected him to similar torture over a pair of bargain gym shoes.
They were supposed to acquire a pair of black sneakers for basketball, my dad told my wife and me in the 1970s. But it was the Depression and his old man found a pair of cheap Army surplus shoes that were, he explained with still-festering anger, "brown."
"And when I say brown," he added, "I mean those sonsabitches were brown! The canvas was brown, the rubber was brown, the strings were brown!"
So he should have had a clue (right?) what a shy pre-teen kid would think of 11 pairs of indestructible white pants unlike anything anybody else was wearing to junior high in those days. But no, he apparently did not.
In fact, just one year later, when we were informed that we should have black pants and a white shirt for our eighth-grade graduation — and my mom (his wife!) decided I'd look better in tan corduroy pants with wide legs (not narrow, like everybody else was wearing in 1961) and a black-and-tan print shirt with three-quarter-length sleeves, he not only did not protect me, he yelled at me for pouting.
I know there's a danger here of making this seem like more of a big deal than it was, but I considered it then (and still do) a unique form of child abuse. God only knows what I might have amounted to later in high school and beyond had I not been forced to wear those white pants.
There was one additional bit of humiliation added to my white-pants nightmare, though. During the exact same time period, my parents decided I should wear braces on my teeth (including rubber bands that kept my upper and lower teeth always within a quarter-inch of each other).
The only reason I turned out as well as I have I owe almost entirely to the fact that I found, at a very young age, my soulmate (the other person who lives at our house), with whom I've enjoyed marital bliss for more than 50 years now — and who, I have to say, never makes me wear anything I don't want to wear.
Mikel Kelly retired a little more than two years ago after 41 years in the newspaper business and now contributes an occasional column — and even though he's now in his seventh decade of life, he's never bought a pair of white pants.