• October 11, 2013
  • blog

Amongst other complaints that I heard from a young teenager about his family life was the disgrace he felt having to wear “hand-me-down” clothes.

Oh, if he were just the older brother.  All of his clothes, I think he called them something else, but for the sake of old-timers reading this I simply use the universal description of that which we wear on our bodies and, as this kid sees it, get judged by.

This was his beginning-of-the-school-year whine and discontent.  Ah, yes, he answered, he did get some things that were new and were brand name complete with a well displayed logo.  But…..

With my old-time reasoning, I further inquired about the family’s washing machine.  Another yes from the ungrateful but typical kind of kid-attitude that currently plagues our nation.

Well, since there was a washer and a dryer in the house, why didn’t he simply wash the brand-name stuff and keep the hand-me-downs in the drawer or in the closet, I asked.

When I was told he couldn’t keep wearing the same thing all week, even if it was clean, I came to know that school uniforms were the answer to stop this kind of wardrobe nonsense .

But then the kid balked at my suggestion that he attend a school where he was required to dress like everyone else.

While trying not to pay any more attention to his condemning his single parent for not caring enough about him to have him “keep up with the Joneses” I had a flashback to some fifty years ago when my oldest daughter went off to kindergarten.

We lived in Boyle Heights, a low-income community,  and she was enrolled at Malabar Street School.

Sometime during the first few weeks of school I went to meet her teacher.  The first words the woman spoke, after welcoming me to the classroom were, with an exclamation point, “Where does your little girl get those clothes!?!.”

I have no idea if I answered or, if I did, what I said, but I’m sure I didn’t tell the full story.
I would have said that my mother, the kid’s grandmother , was a domestic and “The Lady of the House” had a spoiled child named Michelle, and this little girl was the same age as my kid.

Ms Mason, “The Lady of the House” – fancy house, I might add – did not allow her little Princess Michelle, (as my mother had to call her), to wear her dresses more than twice.

And so, my kid was dressed in hand-me-downs.  Children of domestic servants,  often wore that which the white folk sent home with the help.

I wore the clothes my older sister outgrew.  I wore the clothes that came to our house in big bags from my mother’s and her friends’ employers.  My older sister and I developed a system when we saw my mother arriving with a bag.

We yelled, “First Chooser,” and the one who said it first, of course, meant that she got the best of the lot.

We didn’t think any less of our parents because we weren’t out shopping for something new.  I wasn’t resentful because I had to wear my sister’s plaid jumper.  In fact, when she got it from the big bag, by having yelled “First Chooser,” I knew that in a year or two it would be mine.

Today’s kids have it entirely too good.  But I suspect a wake-up call is close at hand.