It was 1964, so as Mom and Dad were off pursuing their own little small town, mid-western American dream wrapped in a classic 40 hour work week. I would flip flop my days between each set of Grandparents as the best and most cost effective way to keep my little toddler butt off the streets. Every weekday morning before the sun came up, Mom would put on her nurses whites to prepare for her day at the dentist's office. Dad would slip into his work blues to drive the school bus and then spend the remainder of the day as one of the janitor/engineers for the school system. and I would carry my little pre-packed tiny suitcase with my wears to Grandma and Grandpa's. The miniature red stitched box had double strands of knotted cording to replace the broken handle and carried my togs and favorite toys for the day. I would arrive in my footy pajamas, still dark outside,to sleep a bit longer before starting my routine of putting on my "big boy" clothes to take my tiny place on this planet.
In the beginning I referred to Mom's Mom and Dad as "skinny " Grandma and Poppie, and Dad's parent's as "fat" Grandma and Grandpa. One set was more lean and the other a little thicker around the "reasons". Each one of them had their own pet name for me as Grandma Ellis called me Davo, Grandpa called me Sonny-bub. Poppie deemed me something in German that literally translated to Pickle Ass, and to Grandma Braun I was simply David and frequently reminded me that in the Bible it meant "beloved". I meant something special to each of them as I had entered their lives at unique moments in time for each of them.
Even though they had been raised, lived and worked in the same small town, and shared many friends and acquaintances, they were quite different. They were all farm people, to be sure, but Grandma and Poppie were ultra conservative German-Lutheran with no television, a party line for emergencies and entertainment, and a pristine perpetual Rambler wagon to be driven only for necessities and church. They had recently sold the farm, kept about 8 acres and built a new lovely smaller brick retirement house about 2 miles away. Grandma and Grandpa Ellis were more social, political, enigmatic, multiple vehicular social crittter-Methodist and possessed a television for shits and giggles. They lived in the smaller version of the still operational family farm right next door to us. All of the great aunts and uncles lived within 15 miles of any direction. I was the first grandchild on my praternal side and the only one for hundreds of miles on the other so I was spoiled mercilessly with hugs, kisses, stories, piggy back rides and love love love from all of the first siblings of the greatest generation as my own aunts and uncles seemed more like older brothers and sisters to my "only child" position. I learned different appraches to similar results in the same life game from either side of rules and manipulations. It may be viewed as the subtle difference of using clay to mold and a chissel to sculpt, but it certainly takes a far different mind set to achieve basically the same monument of results. In this moment I love them all equally for guiding who I am, yet am very aware at what point in my life that each thoroughbred came head to head with the other as that balance has been actualized today. I celebrate their lives, simultaneously mourning the inevitable loss of each of them on any given Tuesday at noon or Friday at 4:37 a.m. It's a forever thing.
I can remember Mom's uniform morphing more into white polyester slacks and a zippered smock ordered from the "working" section of the Montgomery Ward catalog, losing the nurses hat that had been bobbie pinned into a short conservative do, replaced with teased hair and layer upon layer of sky blue or emerald green Avon eye shadow. But, this was still pre-Beatle break up, Laura Petrie pedal pushers, Motown 60's. We were living in innocent black and white and common sense was fairly still common as we, and all those that we knew were just that. Our ultimate collective borg was that we didin't know how much that we truly didn't have. We were middle class, middle America, still being perpetuated by middle aged men and women. We all guaged what we had by what we gifted and received to balance ourselves to be no less or better than everyone else. It was deemed in pour taste to consider yourself above your neighbor and fairly expected to raise those up that had been dealt unfortunate circumstances or even just by ability, or lack of trying, less capable. In a strange way, the word "Christian" comes to mind with absolutely no religious connotation. It was the unspoken difference between being nice and exhibiting kindness. Lending the hand of altruism was not just a nicety, but more technically a life goal to be viewed as every bit important as monetary success. Money without integrity seemed gaudy and pretentious. It was better to be like Ike Godsey and put one more entry in the debt column to wait for the crops to come in and be paid later, than to be Cora Beth with her store bought braziere-clad tit caught in her uppity electric wringer, keeping all of the hard candy for herself. If you just give it away up front today, you'll probably avoid taking a verbal beating tomorrow and everybody has sweet things to say in the present. If we shared the taters, there'd be a little gravy for us all.
For much of the U.S. the 60's were a portal to our innevitable future. There would be men on the moon, free love, and Vietnam, but for those already in the autumn of their life it was frequently more about the memory of the Great War and an ongoing recovery from an economically ravaging depression. The center of America may not have been as progressive as it's more liberal coastal counterparts, but it's feet were planted more firmly in the earth and gave us all stability. So as my parents would lift me up to see the possibilities that they wished for our futures,, my grandparents grounded me with acts and thought that had perpetuated their survival in less than optimistic times.
As Mom would mail order cute little store bought out fits to parade me in as a representation of their young success and care for me, Grandma Braun would make me things. At first baby clothes and then on to little jumpers or shorty overalls for easy access and chubby little active legs. Sometimes a small piece of fabric would be purchased specifically, or leftovers from her dresses or Poppie's shirts, but often they were a throwback from a more conservative time of necessity.............wonderful soft patterned cotton that packaged grain feed or flour from the Co-op. The 30's and 40's and then even into the 50's and early 60's, the muslin like material that bulk flour and grain came in was decorated in wonderfully whimsical patterns, stripes and florals perfectly generic for any little boy or girl to be seen in. I can recall Mother Goose, lucky clovers, cowboys and Indians and wrapped candies. To create perfectly good clothing from nothing more than freebie goods and your own pluck was the key to survival and self respect. Grandma's uniform was a handmade shirtdress. Poppie's was truly gray uniform slacks and shirt that had been serviced in the wringer washing-machine and starched and placed routinely with pant stretchers to virtually stand on their own, and mine for my early years, didn't come in a bag, it was the bag. They loved me. I loved my playful uniform.
When my tiny clothes had been outgrown, they would be cut into pieces for quilts or blankets, made into dishtowels or if too thread bare, used for rags or sliced into strips to hold tomatoes or beans to stakes in the garden. The buttons, snaps, zippers, and toggles were removed to re-use or give away to someone more in need. It was rare that things were not repurposed until they simply had deteriorated to nothingness. They wasted nothing. I wanted for nothing.
As the more decadent decades came and passed and I found myself with closets, dressers and seasonal storage boxes full of specific clothing for one time only, special occasions, someday or just simply so much stuff that the price tag never came off, my thoughts of such things began to change. Now in my 50's, my view of everything has changed, as I take more time to ask myself WHY on pretty much a perpetual WTF basis. For the most part function hedges out the lead to form more often than not. I ask myself, "what works for me?" Generally these things happen organically and all you have to do is be present in your own daily routine to realize who and what you are. So, as I truly am told what to wear to my vocationary obligation, my
daily personal uniform of choice has evolved from a peacock of a clothes-horse, displaying my alpha male physique in as much of-the-moment fahionery as possible, to a more conservative, less audacious and thought consuming simplicity. Probably in much the same course of events sixty years before that my predecessors experienced and for many of the same reasons. They too had once been young. They too grew old. They too have been influenced by life, lesson and necessity.
I now almost exclusively wear Levis 517 low rise, boot cut. I wear them to work in for comfortable practicality and without deviation slip on the darker wash to go out in. I have a custom leather belt with one of a kind buckle, to be somewhat unique and have stacks and stacks of paper thin, crew neck navy blue, black, and gray fitted t-shirts. I wear pricier than the average guys Cole Haan boot shoes no matter what the occassion as they always get compliments, look better over time and the heels are easily replaced.This is where I begin everyday in much the same way my Grandfather did. I look about as good as I am ever going to at my age, with enough edge to not be invisible. Not over doing it in our now too casual world, and not understating the line that I will never cross thanks to a sister-like aunt that siimply would not allow me to be less than appropriately accessorized to properly separate myslef from the apes. I have lots of jackets, scarves, glasses. cashmere and watches to keep me vainly interesting, while spending less time and money on the bullshit which leaves me with an appropriate amount left for the classic things that will last me the rest of my life. I have a daily palette that I start with and add touches of interest for my personality and needs of the moment. I buy things I love and I wear them every day. I may have learned to wear my favorite clothes by having spent too much time saving the towels:) The point is to be comfortable, look good and not waste half of your life trying to make your body and style who and what you're not. This is not a unique idea as Einstein had a closet full of the same black pants, white shirts, tie and shoes that he rotated for the same daily look so as not to waste time on unnecessary decisions. Mark Zuckerberg actually has the same concept of jeans and gray t-shirt to keep things simple. Who new that Grandma and Grandpa were so socially progressive and intellectually upscale?
Now I'm not sure wether my current uniform is the cause of my post 9'11 need for simplicity and gratitude, self- impressed intellectualism, or effect of the closer to the ledge mature thought and body I now inhabit. I can't help but believe that traces of Grandma and Poppie live inside me. Their life lessons have etched my soul. that in some way skips a generation as our parents try so desperately to deviate from them while the uncoditional grand-parental influence is less labored and natural in a way that we unconsciously are more drawn to. In other words while Mom and Dad fight it, we embrace it. Perhaps this is why each generation frequently teeter from more conservative to liberal and fight the life-style choices of their parents. This gives us our own internal balance much like leaning more Democratic to Republican every election as a safeguard to excess and extremes.
In any case, as I was primarily raised in a time of plenty, my past and teachings have prepared me for a more conservative time. Wether it be a personal choice, a time in my maturity or by political, planetary or sociological trends. I'm prepared.. What goes around comes around as history repeats itself, as my past and forefathers have proven. I just hope I don't have to don any unchosen uniforms to prove what is cyclical and natural as a turn of events. It has now become my time to pass on my experience. To share my unique set of circumstances that in some way mirror us all. We have a responsibility to be good to ourselves and embrace that which makes us individual, with respect to those around us keeping things in line and, yes............perfectly uniform.