Who ARE these people? The photograph showed a blurry group of young women, looking eager and happy, in front of a large stone building. They all wore the same outfit: white sweaters and berets perched jauntily on their heads like a group of French cabaret singers. But who were they?
Sorting through boxes of family photographs, I had found a packet of them saved by my mother, who had passed away several years before. Looking closely at the lineup of young women, I recognized the smile of my mother, around age twenty. Nothing was written on the back telling me why she was in this uniform, however perky, and where she was standing.
Looking at the photo later, my father said that my mother had been a member of the "Blue Peppers" at her university, back in the 1930s. This was what was called then a "Pep Club"; members attended football games and other athletic events to cheer on the teams, long before there were girl's competitive sports. My mother's club was called that because the berets they wore were blue, the school color. This was the first I had heard of them, and was sorry I learned of them too late to hear her stories about that time of her life.
My father said that he wished he had a better photo of her as a Pepper, because it had been an important part of her college life. I called the library of her university where a kind librarian there located the yearbook from the time my mother attended. She found a closeup of Mother in her blue beret and impish smile, made a copy and sent it to me, which I had framed and gave to my father. He loved it as a reminder of the woman he met not long after the photo was taken, and was married to for over sixty years.
Almost thirty years after that photo was taken my mother was encouraging me to try out for the White Jackets Pep Club of my large city high school. There still were few competitive girl's teams at that time, so the White Jackets club was a way to participate, even just as an audience, in school sports.
Only thirty girls of the 540 people in our class could be members, and it was considered quite prestigious to belong. To be invited to join the White Jackets required a high grade point average, an immaculate reputation (this was the 1960s) and an outgoing personality, something I definitely did not have. One also needed to proudly wear the heavy wool white jacket, red wool skirt, white cap and saddle shoes to school every Friday, no matter how warm the day. Also required was to attend most of the many school athletic functions as a group, memorize countless cheers, and hardest of all, march as a perfectly aligned group in our city's huge Memorial Day parade each year to represent our high school. As a shy studious girl I was reluctant to try out, but went through the motions of applying to please my mother. When I called her a week later from the pay phone at school to tell her I had been invited to be a White Jacket, she was thrilled. I wasn't sure I was.
There is a picture, taken by my father a few years later, of our White Jacket group marching in perfect formation in the downtown parade. The girl at the far right end on the first of many rows of precisely spaced girls, the one responsible for setting the pace, keeping the line straight and starting the complicated blending maneuver to turn a corner, was me. Being a member had given me a confidence and joy in participation I would never have known if my mother hadn't encouraged me to try out. A generation apart, from Blue Pepper to White Jacket, our family was still cheering on the teams.
Peggy Keonjian is a member of the Jottings Group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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