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Room To Grow

When I was a kid, most Kentucky schools reopened for classes in September instead of August. And even now a golden, early September morning can evoke memories of those first days back in class.

The smell of freshly oiled pine floors and the toasty warmth of steam radiators in the old school building; mingled aromas of mimeograph ink, the lunch room, textbooks, chalk dust, and, yes, new blue jeans.

Let us linger for a moment with the new jeans.

I suppose we all have our own “school clothes stories.” My elementary school wardrobe was mostly hand-me-downs from identical twin cousins who were about five years older than me. But often in late August, I was marched into Sam Robinson’s Clothing Store and fitted with denim jeans of about the weight and texture of tent canvas.

The stately, bespectacled Mr. Robinson – wearing a yellow tape measure about his neck – showed no more emotion than if he were dressing a mannequin in the store window.

“I think we’d better go with the larger ‘huskies’ for him so he’ll have plenty of room to grow into them,” my mother would insist, and Mr. Robinson would nod in silent agreement.

You’d think he might have been moved by his conscience to say, “Lady, this boy will be lucky to grow into these pants by the time he finishes high school.”

Just so you know, I tipped the scales at only 140 pounds my senior year, and if I was still wearing the huskies from fourth grade, you might subtract about 10 pounds from that weight.

In the mirror, my huskies reminded me of two sections of short, fat stovepipe with 4-inch cuffs. As the years passed and I “grew into” the pants, the cuffs could be turned up less.

Some boys wore fancy corduroy pants, which may have scored style points, but had their own problems: namely, noise.

I knew a boy whose sister claims that he once burst through the door after running most of the way home from school in his new corduroys, thinking someone was chasing him – only to discover that it was the sound of his trouser legs rubbing together.

Then there was a high school classmate who often sneaked out behind the school furnace room and had a smoke between classes.

His cigarette lighter was a handful of kitchen matches carried loose in the pockets of his khakis. By the time class was over, he was so desperate for a smoke that he would be on the very edge of his seat, gripping the desktop to get a good jump on the rest of us when the bell rang.

One day, as he lunged forward, his pocket scraped the edge of the desktop and the matches ignited.

His smoke break that morning was spent dancing around the floor in English class as a small cloud of smoke poured from his pants.

He wasn’t seriously hurt, but I nearly laughed myself out of my huskies.

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