The schools are now back after the summer break, and I watched a young schoolboy go shopping with his mother the other afternoon. He wore a blazer several sizes too big, a white collar too loose, and hooshed up his sagging trousers with one hand as she looked for a trolley.
You could almost hear him complain the new school clothes were too big.
“You’ll grow into them,” would be the mother’s inevitable refrain. No one buys school uniforms that fit — they always account for room to grow.
I didn’t have to wear a school uniform when I went to school, I told my daughter.
“Did they have schools back then?” she says.
Yep, it was the school of hard knocks, and we had to walk barefoot, uphill, in each direction to and from school.
It’s not that there wasn’t a dress code. We couldn’t wear jeans. Or bomber jackets. Or anything else that the powers that be deemed to be offensive. And we couldn’t grow our hair long either. I’d kill now to be able to grow any hair, never mind a long mane.
I never had to put up with clothes that were too big either. And I rarely had new clothes. I had two older brothers and we were all pretty much 15 months apart. Tony, my eldest brother — may God rest his soul — always got the new clothes. He was the biggest and the oldest. Then Kevin came next. He got them second hand. Me? Third time lucky, I guess.
It seemed like magic when one of us had to hold tightly onto the panel and she’d begin to rip it back row by row, winding the wool into a new ball that grew by each unravelled row
But I did get knitted sweaters and the like.
My mother — God rest her soul too — was a great knitter. Every evening after supper, she’d while away hours watching television sitting on the couch with her knitting needles clicking away with a rhythm that brought solace to the household. With all of her knitting, dropping one, pearling two, she’d turn out sweaters and scarves, quilts and cardigans. Each of us would be summonsed in turn to stand before her as some half-knitted panel was held against a back or belly, sleeve or neck, measured in good stead.
Sometimes new wool was used, and it was always a treat to go into the wool store in the city centre as she mulled over patterns and yarns. Sometimes we even had a choice in selecting the colour for what would be our winter’s new sweater.
More often than not, the wool was recycled. She’d start by picking at an old sweater, taking it apart, breaking it down into its constituent panels. It seemed like magic when one of us had to hold tightly onto the panel and she’d begin to rip it back row by row, winding the wool into a new ball that grew by each unravelled row.
She knitted me a pair of bright green socks for my Irish dancing costume. I was a natural partner for my twin sister. She loved to do her reels and jibs. I hated it. And those knotted socks gave me blisters. Come to think if it, she was pretty good darner as well. No one darns socks any more. When daylight appears between my big toe nail and the rest of the sock, it’s time the socks were retired.
No one darns socks any more.
If my father — God rest his soul too — had a shirt that was still pretty good but the collar was a little worn, she’d cut the tail off the shirt and fashion it around the new collar — making it almost as good as new again.
Yes, those were indeed the glad rags of a very happy time.