Saturday, April 18, 2009

Private School Vs. Private Parts.....

I went to private school in one of the oldest cities in America, a school to which George Washington sent his stepchildren and where a large bell from that era still heralds the start of the school day.

We wore uniforms that consisted of pleated plaid skirts, navy blazers piped with the same plaid under which we had short-sleeved white shirts with Peter Pan collars (the collar closed with a circle pin), navy blue knee socks and dark loafers (Weejuns were the thing in those days. The ones with the leather fringe that you'd bend back to make the shoes look worn).

Our rebellion consisted - among the girls - of seeing how high we could hike up our skirts until the dreaded headmistress dragged us down to her office or we were sent there by a new algebra teacher with a mission. The headmistress, let's call her Miss McCray, was a tall, slightly mannish woman with unruly black curls and, usually, a smile on her face. Except when she was called to skirt duty - then she was all business. We would go into her office where first she would make us kneel and then she would take out her old wooden ruler.

I know you are expecting some horrific story of child abuse, but all Miss McCray wanted was to measure the length of our skirts and make sure they were NO MORE than 4 inches above the knee while kneeling. It was the absolute law - even written in a terse letter to our parents, guardians of our virtue. I was in that office at least twice a week, while (let's call her) Poppy Mast was in there more but got detention less. Poppy's dad was on the board of trustees until indicted for tax issues years later. I once sat in Poppy's living room and listened to her father kick a suitcase around in the room over us, upset that I was there on a school night or perhaps for other reasons not relevant here.

Anyway, I digress. I usually got detention along with a thorough scolding that my underwear was not meant for public view. Detention consisted of being sent to a boys' home room (we had separate classes). Where anyone got the idea that this was punishment for girls, I'll never know. It was a chance to try and pull down Mark Maresco's socks with my toes, or to smile at Mr. Miracolo, the yummy teacher of French who ran the home room and who, 8 years later, actually asked me for a date. I was usually exiled to the boys' side with Susie Sperber, a buxom blonde with a big laugh and lots of jangly gold bracelets. You could hear us laughing and jangling, I think, in the next county.

So here I am, poverty stricken and suddenly, once again, creating a uniform that I can vary slightly day to day so i do not have to buy new clothes. I have my private school to thank for the idea - it's extremely liberating. Black pants, black top, red top, black pants, colorful scarf, long coat, short trench, earrings or no earrings. Gone are the days when I am thrilled to show off my Hanes cotton bikinis, but I do like a little cleavage now and then. Sometimes I wonder if I go too far and what Miss McCray might think the appropriate decollete would be. 5 inches from the base of the throat while looking straight ahead? I think Miss McCray would find that acceptable.

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