The worst thing my mother ever made me wear
Updated: October 24, 2012 10:11PM
For a boy, every hand-me-down means one fewer time he’ll have to go shopping.
So I was fine with Mom assigning a lot of old clothes to me.
I didn’t care about color or style. I had no style. And my clothes were usually caked with dirt by day’s end, anyway.
Mom reused everything she could, convinced the Depression was still smoldering in some dark corner of our apartment, ready to overtake us at any moment. I played along.
The beginning of the end, however, came the day she handed me a pair of tailored jeans. They were better than anything I owned.
It took me a few seconds to realize what was wrong with them.
“Ma,” I said. “The zipper is in the back.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“So what’s the problem?” she asked. “Your sister loved these, and she barely got any wear out of them.”
Oh, come on now. Do you know what the boys’ bathroom is like?
“Grow up. Can’t you go sitting down? How many times a day do you go, anyway?”
Owner, Dental Implant Sales of Illinois, Buffalo Grove
“I would say the worst thing she ever made me wear was for Halloween one year when I attended Swift School in Chicago. I must have been eight or nine years old. She dressed me up as a girl, complete with nylons and a bra and a dress. I never lived it down.”
Most of the other boys were cowboys, he remembered. Snickering cowboys.
“She was thinking it was going to be a cute Halloween costume and win a prize. Instead I won a lot of humiliation.”
For all he knows, however, he might have won the prize. He was hiding when it was announced.
Award-winning filmmaker. Cinematographer of “Death by Medicine” (2010). One-half of the legendary former Chicago entertainment duo, “A Couple of Fat Guys.” Skokie resident
“Corduroy pants. She was heavily into them. I learned later how close I came to dying, because if you run fast, you can actually burst into flame,” he said.
“She would usually pick a 60- or 70-degree day, so you would have your own atmosphere going on down there.”
Director, Lincolnwood Parks & Recreation Department. Northbrook resident
Third grade. Rockford, Illinois. “I can still shut my eyes and remember, replay it in my head, and I’m 52,” she said.
Her mother had waited years for a girl, and when she finally got one, she liked to turn her into Shirley Temple.
“She put on those hard pink curlers, with the casing on top, and then I’d have to try to sleep on them. It was absolutely awful.”
In the morning, Mom would remove the rollers but not comb out the hair, leaving tight rings all over Jan’s head. She tried to loosen them with her little fingers, but they were too tight.
“There was a boy named Pat Sanders who used to make fun of me unmercifully. He was brutal. Curly head, curly head.
“I remember sticking my head entirely in my locker so he wouldn’t see it,” she said.
“I just told this story to my daughter (Faith, 10), so she would not feel so bad about the things I do to her.”
Comedy author, ghost writer and script doctor, “by trade a writer and professional smart aleck.” Trustee, village of Glencoe
“When I was in kindergarten I went to a Catholic school, and to say that is to understate what it was. It was a school that military academies would pattern themselves after. They would take one look at this and say, boy this is rough.
“At the time I was perhaps the smallest human being in the Catholic School System.” He was outfitted “in the plain white shirt and plain black pants, a black or a red bow tie, very thick framed glasses,” giving him the look of “a perverse mad scientist or the geekiest child ever born.”
His parents’ addition of the glasses “made me look literally like a puppet, like someone on a ventriloquist’s knee.”
President, Northbrook Historical Society
“My mother made me wear a very pretty dress to a birthday party. However, it was madeof a very crinkly noisy material. We played a game in which we had to sit in a circle and close our eyes and pass something around, guessing who had it. Every time it came to me they all knew who it was because it made so much noise.”
Award-winning author of “Italia” and other novels. Highwood resident
“When we moved here from Milwaukee in 1938, I had on green knickers, on my first day of school at Ravinia.
“That’s what we wore in Milwaukee. We wore knickers. At Ravinia, the kids wore jeans.
“I thought these kids must really be poor: they wore overalls to school.
“I learned that they were very wealthy.
“I needed a pair of long trousers. Badly.”
Nili Yelin Wronski
Professional children’s storyteller; “Storybook Mom.” Marketing director, promoter and producer of live events at Wilmette Theatre. Wilmette resident
“I lived in Israel until I was five. My mother made me wear these little summer skirts, and she pulled them up almost to my neck. I’m not sure if she thought that was fashionable or what.
“She would pull it up like to my sternum, and my legs were barely covered.
“I’ve been confused about skirt lengths my whole life.”
Patti Van Cleave
Executive Director, Winnetka Historical Society
“I remember a plaid polyester pantsuit that was pretty sweet. Look at it now: ‘Oh my God.’
“It was 100 percent polyester; a very bold plain lime green and red and yellow and I think there was royal blue in there, too.
“I put the jacket and the pants on together and boy, that was a lot of plaid.”
Owner, Wiener and Still Champion, Evanston
As a child, Paschalis remembers his mother as an immigrant from sunny Cyprus who was convinced that the cause of the common cold was not catching a virus, but being caught outside in the cold.
For little Gus, that meant as soon as it got a little cool, long underwear, ankle to neck.
“The absolute worst thing was long johns during the wintertime. Mine were kind of tight, a pain to get on even worse to get off.
“You really can’t find long johns in the husky size. I was a big kid.”
First Vice President, American Chartered Bank. Elementary District 30 School Board Member. Glenview resident
Before there was Velcro, there were several kinds of shoes for kids who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tie laces. For kids too young for loafers, some moms chose a shoe with a buckle strap that folded across the top and clicked into place with the aid of a hinge-and-latch mechanism made of steel wire.
“I had these buckle shoes,” Gitles said. “You’d put them on and try to go running in the park, but you couldn’t. As soon as you started to go, one of the shoes would fly off.”
You could tell when one of the shoes was about to fall off. It stopped hurting.
Mendelsohn spent much of her academic career wearing Catholic school uniforms. In grammar school, most mothers, including hers, added lisle stockings to fulfill the requirement that their girls’ legs be covered.
Lisle-thread hosiery was what women wore during World War II when nylons weren’t available. They looked somewhat like nylons, but they were hotter and itchier, and made of cotton.
The Catholic girls were using garters to keep their stockings up, while all the other little girls could just wear socks, she said.
“You couldn’t see through them,” Mendelsohn said of the lisle stockings. “They made it kind of look like you had a wooden leg.”
She attended high school at St. Gregory in Chicago’s Edgewater, wearing a jumper as a freshman and sophomore, and a blue serge jacket and skirt the last two years.
“After two years of wearing it and sitting on it, the back of that jacket was pretty shiny.”
She remembers at the end of her senior year, one of her fellow graduates drew a crowd on the stairs in front of St. Greg’s for the ceremonial burning of her uniform.