I have a hard time adjusting in the mornings for the first week or so after school is out for the summer. I can set my clock by the arrival of the school bus up here on the hill in South Bethlehem. I miss its regularity until September rolls around.
There are reminders of my own school days in the strangest places. Yesterday, I indulged in a Burger King meal and remembered when few of our present buildings existed in that part of town. We used to walk past a long row of houses on our way home from high school, broken by the A&P parking lot where Rite-Aid now stands.
For some reason, I remembered walking home after the last day of school, perhaps in 1968 or 1969. I remembered the exact dress I wore, my necklace, even how my hair was styled. My hair was probably very large and teased, because everyone out-bouffanted the bouffant queens of the earlier 1960s.
Yes, we were about five years behind the leading edge of fashion, and we laughed about it. But my dress was very much on-point for the times, some garish fruit salad of a psychedelic print. I liked that dress and sometimes hope that psychedelia makes a comeback until I think better of it.
Redbank Valley’s dress code at the time still required girls to wear modest-length skirts or dresses, knee-length or perhaps an inch shorter. I never experienced this myself, but girls a couple years older said that they had to kneel on the floor in the morning. If their hemlines didn’t touch the floor, they were sent home to change.
It is good to want things. School authorities ended up not getting their wish.
Many of us wore regulation-length skirts out the door when leaving home, found a discreet place to roll the waistband a couple times and ended up with a more fashionable look that was four inches shorter. Before getting home in the afternoon, waistbands were unfurled and we were the same sweet demure girls who left in the morning.
I don’t know that our parents actually caught us in the act. I’m sure they had their suspicions because they were teenagers once upon a time, too.
The only time girls were allowed to wear slacks was during summer-school field trips. I brushed up on my math skills two years in a row and took typing at the same time. The extra work was worth it because of the bus trip to Kennywood in late June.
Actually, the bus ride was the best part of the day. I loved the dark rides, those spooky trips through funhouses. Rollercoasters and those things that fling you around in the air resulted in dry heaves most of the time.
But on those field trips, I got to wear my favorite pair of hip-hugging bellbottoms, a windowpane plaid with a white background and blue bars. I would wear those pant today if they were cut differently, having a much higher waistline and a less dramatic flare through the legs.
Thinking of that mile-long walk from the high school to our home on the far end of South Bethlehem, I wonder how I didn’t lame myself in the process. I wore heels in those days even though I towered over nearly everybody. I think that platform shoes are the greatest invention in the history of Western civilization as a result.
There were experiments in wearing makeup, too, sometime in seventh grade. By eighth grade, I think I had made every mistake possible in that department. The dark golden-green eyeshadow is a case in point, exactly the wrong shade to wear if your complexion is next-of-kin to an albino.
Liquid eyeliner was a nonstarter as well. Make one wobble with the business end of that and you ended up looking like an Egyptian demon rather than Cleopatra. That’s not a look that everyone can wear, and so I still opt for a more manageable liner pencil.
Because I was so nearsighted, I wore the proverbial Coke-bottle classes. They worked as magnifiers, so if you messed up your eye makeup, the mean girls in class would certainly call you out on it — and loudly, too.
The good news is, I still don’t have crow’s-feet around my eyes. I win.
As summer begins this year, I think about all the young girls who will be experimenting with new styles and new makeup in the next couple months. I hope they avoid the mistakes that we made, and know that they won’t.
If you can survive being a fashion victim at the age of 14, endure makeup mistakes and still hold your head high, I think you will do all right in life. Humiliation is a great character builder.
[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]