The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘school’

ONE TOUGH LADY

 Out of the many tasks grandma undertook on behalf of our family, I know she loved cooking the most. But another job that she enjoyed was buying clothes for me. She was in charge of making selections for my wardrobe – and updating my school uniform as I outgrew those clothes was no exception.

 The concept of a school uniform might seem strange or antiquated to you. When I see children going to the school just outside my little homeowners’ community, it’s apparent that there are no standards for attire. Sadly, this leads to unfortunate rivalry among children – who has the most expensive pair of athletic shoes – that sort of thing.

 By contrast, children who are in their school’s uniform have none of that competitive consumerism. We all dressed and looked the same. The uniform engendered a sense of camaraderie – we all belonged to the same family. Instead of focusing on what we were wearing we could focus on what we were learning.

 The components for my school uniform could only be obtained at one store – Rogers Peet. They and they alone had the required charcoal grey slacks that I would wear during the next school year.

 Rogers Peet was an upscale clothier. They catered to an upper income clientele (we were not part of that group) – and to a number of New York’s private schools in providing the uniforms those school’s required their pupils to wear.

 As there was already a little nip in the air and it was gusty that day, grandma put on her usual black cloth coat, having arranged her white hair with two bobby pins and her hair net. She grabbed her purse and we were off on the bus to get me attired.

 As we walked in the store, it was painfully obvious to me that the sales staff looked at grandma and thought she must be “the help” for one of their wealthy clients. Although she asked several of the sales people for assistance, each of them was “busy.”

 So unassisted we made our way to the pants department to begin looking at their selection. Grandma pulled out a pair of pants and held them to my waist to see how close a fit they would be. After a few tries we found the right size and waited patiently for one of the store’s sales people to assist us with our purchase.

 Three more of the store’s employees came by but they too were “busy.” I couldn’t understand what all the sales people could be doing with so few customers in the store. But we waited patiently for someone to finish with their present customer so they could assist us. We waited over twenty minutes but no one came by.

 Finally, grandma began removing stacks of pants from their rows on the shelves, piling them neatly on the floor. She was working on her fourth stack when a man came rushing towards us.

 “Madam,” he said. “What are you doing?”

 Grandma asked him who he was. He said he was the store manager.

 She said, “We have been in your store for half an hour and none of your sales people would help us. But now that you’re here, you’ll do. I would like to purchase this pair of pants.”

 By the look on his face, you might have thought that grandma had landed a strong left hook to this man’s midsection. But he wrote up our purchase and we left the store with my new pants which grandma would spend the afternoon altering at home.

 I remember being embarrassed about this incident while we were in the store – embarrassed for my grandmother who was obviously snubbed by the store’s sales staff. And embarrassed for the sales people who made the assumption that this little lady who looked like “the help” couldn’t possibly afford to buy anything at their exclusive store.

 Grandma was always considerate, kind and caring. But when she had to be – she could be one tough lady.

 

THE SCIENCE FICTION BOOK CLUB

 When I was ten years old I became a member of the Science Fiction Book Club. I think I saw one of their ads in a comic book. I was drawn to their offer. Ten cents would get me five volumes of my choice (shipping included). And I only had to purchase another five additional books during the following twelve months. As I was a voracious reader I didn’t see any problem in fulfilling my obligation to the club.

 Before I joined I asked mom if it would be okay. She said that would be fine. So I wrote them a letter in my ten-year old handwriting, enclosed a dime which I taped to the letter and sent this off to their office in Garden City, Long Island. Every day I would come home from school hoping that my package of five books had arrived – and one day – about two weeks later it did.

 I was enthralled. As I began reading these works I thought about the SF Book Club’s motto – “Today’s fiction is tomorrow’s fact.” I was living in an era where Dicky Tracy walkie-talkie wrist watches were something that we might see in the future. Who knew that they would be eclipsed by cell phones?

 I remember the volumes I purchased. Three of the books were Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Triolgy,” Robert Heinlen’s, “Time For The Stars” and an anthology of short stories.

 I couldn’t wait until I finished my homework so that I could dig into my new acquistions. I have to admit that I skipped through the homework without my usual thoroughness and focus.  

Fortunately for my academic career, my parents always reviewed my schoolwork and noticed the sloppiness with which I had completed it. As a result, I learned that breezing through homework didn’t get me to my sci-fi reading any quicker. If it weren’t satisfactory I had to re-do it before I was allowed to do my extracurricular reading. In later years I would learn to be grateful for my parent’s concern.

 But I forgot to tell you about the biggest bonus I got by joining the Science Fiction Book Club. With my five volume initial purchase I also received a certificate (approximately the size of a driver’s license) entitling me to a free passage on a commercial flight to the moon.

 I have kept this document for many years and as it started to fray with continued handling, I finally had it laminated. (The plastic of the lamination is now very yellowed with discoloration). But I’m hanging on to it.

When the United States sadly abandoned our space program I was disheartened. But now I hear that Sir Richard Branson is actively exploring the possibilities of commercial flights to the moon.

 If he is successful in his efforts, I plan on presenting my yellowed old certificate from the Science Fiction Book Club to him as evidence of my right of passage.

 I sure hope that he accepts it.

 

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