Always a fan of Irene Water’s ‘Times Past‘ posts, her latest memoir prompt, ‘School Uniforms’, brings back more than a few memories.
As a tail-end baby boomer attending Primary School in 1960’s England, my school uniform was standard grey tunic, white shirt, navy tie and cardigan (knitted by my mother because it was cheaper back then to make your own clothes).
I wore my navy blue blazer with pride, but loved the start of summer when I could wear my cotton gingham dress.
What strikes me more than my uniform, however, are the vivid memories of my mother hand-sewing white labels embroidered with my name on every last item. And I mean everything including socks, vests and knickers. White for everyday, navy for P.E.
By middle school, short gym skirts in maroon were allowed, but did nothing to keep my legs warm playing hockey on a field rock-hard with frost.
Fashion by the mid 1970’s dictated midi-length skirts. No longer worried about girls hoiking skirts up to their thighs, teachers now forbade us to wear them more than an inch below the knee. This would not do. Thanks to a group of girls who wore make up and not a hint of uniform, my friends and I escaped Teacher’s wrath, ignoring our skirts with hems at the calves. They had bigger fish to fry.
Unfortunately, the platform shoes let me down.
My pride and joy: brown and yellow lace ups with a platform a good few inches high. They must have stood out, because my mother got a letter one day from the headmaster. He warned that if I continued wearing them and fell down the stairs breaking my leg/neck/whatever, they would not be responsible. I wore them anyway, sneaking past the headmaster or any teacher I thought might bust me, and other than a lace or two, I didn’t break a thing.
But one memory stands out above the rest and it belonged to my dad. Not one to talk much about the past, during a prison visit with him in his later years, he reminisced about taking me to school on my first day.
‘We said goodbye, I gave you a big squeeze and watched you walk off and thought how grown up you looked in your uniform, but so small in the crowd…I worried about you…’ Dad smiled, a wistful glint in his eyes. ‘That satchel, it looked so big…!’
We laughed together at the memory. I could remember the brown, leather satchel draped across my shoulder and the way it bumped heavily against my hip when I walked, but everything else was vague.
‘I’ll never forget it, ‘ Dad continued. ‘You’d almost disappeared, but suddenly you stopped, turned around and gave me a little wave…and I knew you would be all right. Brings a lump to my throat even now…’
Fifty years hence from that first day of school, I would turn and wave to Dad for the last time, the day before he died. He rasied his head from the pillow on his hospital bed, smiled and waved back as I said goodbye with a promise to see him in the morning.
Now it was Dad’s turn to tell me he was all right.