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Tuesday, August 26, 2014
"White Suspenders" is from my book "I Used to be Stupid" Since only 12 people have bought the book, occasionally I give some of it away for free. Enjoy, hopefully it is not overpriced.
At Edison we were taught that John F. Kennedy could never be President of the United States as being Catholic he would have to take orders from the Pope.
We were taught the “Domino Theory” and that South Viet Nam should be prevented from falling into hands of communists. If it went communist; all Southeast Asian countries would topple like dominoes and turn communist. I think out of three hundred ninth graders three kids knew where South Viet Nam was. Maybe ten could find Asia on a map. No more than twenty knew what a domino was.
Edison Jr. High used to be stupid.
In the mornings at home room we said the Pledge of Allegiance, and each day a different student was required to pick out and recite a portion of the Old Testament. I did not know the Bible very well and dreaded my turn to find and recite any section. These daily readings did not give me Religion, but yea did I acquire an unhealthy fear of The Valley of the Shadow of Death.
In the 1960’s you did not argue with any school rules; you did as you were told. We never rebelled except once. It was all over the unfair treatment of Haldane Taliaferro.
Haldane Taliaferro was one of nine black students in the entire ninth grade. Haldane was cool. One morning walking to school Haldane surprised me with the question,
“Hey Hagy don’t you ever wish you were black”?
Now it was true the black kids were all really cool, and the white kids did tend to copy them. We didn’t say “Is that right” we would all say “Hit the right on that.” In the winter we learned that it was not really cold; instead it was “Man the hawk is out today.” “Man hit the right the hawk is out today.” The black kids dressed cool, and walked with attitude, a slight really cool limp which was copied by the white kids who also wanted to be cool.
I understood Haldane’s question but responded that I had never really thought about it. In truth, after watching Blacks in the south being hosed down and chased by German Shepards nightly on the six o’clock news, I kind of wanted to stick with this white thing. I did pause in my response for a moment thinking being black might give me a shot at dating Haldane’s sister, the hottest cheerleader on the High school squad, but she was too old for a ninth grader.
Haldane was one of the most popular kids in school. He always had a smile, always had a joke. He was the right end on our undefeated football team, and though not our best athlete, he always kept the team loose.
A real fashion plate, one Monday morning Haldane came to school wearing a black shirt with his pants held up by bright white suspenders. All the students thought it was a really cool look. The principal immediately sent him home.
Edison Jr. High had no written dress code so when Haldane was sent home, many of us considered it to be a major injustice. In retrospect I can see how this outfit would be a distraction and suspender snapping could hinder the learning environment. No matter, at the time we were outraged, and we planned the first baby boomer demonstration against authority which would be so common in later years. Civil rights, Viet Nam, the environment, separation of church and state, we were not concerned with any of these issues, but we cut our teeth on demonstrating against the unfair ouster of Haldane and his white suspenders.
The entire ninth grade football team, thirty two players strong, agreed to come to school on Wednesday wearing black shirts and bright white suspenders. They could send Haldane home, but they could not send the entire football team home. In unity there would be strength.
Mom was cool when I informed her of our plan. She bought me a new black shirt, a pair of bright white suspenders, and sewed buttons on a pair of slacks on which to attach the suspenders. Thirty two other moms were also cool as the entire team was prepared by Wednesday with the requisite uniform of the day. I have no idea which local store had an inventory of thirty two pairs of white suspenders, but all the moms managed to find them.
We had our ways!
I know you did Mom.
Wednesday morning the entire ninth grade football team met outside school donned with black shirts and bright white suspenders. We marched in the front door confident we could beat the establishment and their arbitrary rules. In unity there is strength!
Not more than twenty feet inside the hallowed halls of Edison Jr. High we were met by the principal. “Stop” he demanded.
“You all have twenty minutes to go home and change or you will be suspended for a week!”
Did he know who he was dealing with? As the generation who would make demonstrations an art form and challenge the establishment on so many issues, we all sat down and chanted in unison
“Hell no, we won’t go, we all say there ain’t no way, white suspenders are here to stay.”
Well, actually we were not that experienced at the demonstration thing. All thirty two suspendered teammates sheepishly turned tail in unison and raced home to change.
Maybe we were gutless, but we weren’t stupid!