By Tim Hayes
After finally finding a garage with open spaces in Downtown Pittsburgh the other day, I dodged raindrops for the four-block walk to my next client appointment. Fold-up umbrella in my hand, the sporadic drizzle didn’t warrant opening the thing up and carrying it all that distance.
But it got me thinking about how my attitude toward protective raingear has changed. Radically so.
Picture this. A little kid. The mid-1960s. Heading off to parochial school, black dress slacks, white polyester shirt, penny loafers, mini-trench coat, carrying a fun-sized briefcase with a big buckle on the front. And the piece de resistance? A full-length, grown-up sized, standard-issue umbrella.
You know, the one about three feet long, with a big curved wooden handle and the steel point on the end. The one your Dad used to bring Grandma into the family car, so her perm stayed dry. Yeah, that model. The big one. In the hands of a six-year-old dipstick hoofing his way to school.
I carried that monster umbrella every day in first grade. Every. Blessed. Day.
It wasn’t enough, I suppose, to look like some pint-sized accountant, fresh from the Harvard Business School. No, I had to carry this ridiculous bumbershoot, to boot.
Nobody had to tell me to dress for success, baby. No, sir. I was knockin’ ‘em dead in Sister Dorothy’s class, let me tell you. Of course, nobody at that moment in time and in that parochial school’s culture wore T-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes. Perish the thought, thought the parish. But between the trench coat and the full-scale black umbrella – carried diligently, even on the sunniest days – I was GQ before any of us little first-grade twits knew what GQ was.
But one grows older and perspectives change. That, plus by second grade, peer pressure had sunk its talons into my brain so deeply that the mere suggestion of taking an umbrella to school yielded dripping disdain. An insult to my blossoming manhood. It could be pouring buckets as my buddies and I began our 15-minute trek to school, but we just machoed it out all the way, sloshy socks and flat-hair heads be damned.
Of course, we walked home for lunch, then back to school, then home again every day. So if the rain never let up, well, let’s just say that if the average human body is 60% water, us city punks had that beat by a country mile. We weighed 10 more pounds, too, just from the waterlogged clothes on our backs.
Maybe the obsession with that umbrella in first grade laid the foundation for a lifetime of preparation. Of cautious wisdom. Of measuring twice and cutting once. Or, to hell with all of that forced justification BS. Maybe I was just a weird little kid who didn’t want his shrinky-dink trench coat or Tinkertoy briefcase to get wet.
Whatever the reason, it remains a real head-scratcher a half-century later. None of our kids got the “I-must-carry-an-umbrella-every-single-day” gene. In fact, one of them somehow always managed to find the sloppiest puddle of mud and water and bugs and crap and dog poop with every outdoor excursion.
I still don’t like to get soaked. At least that insufferable pre-teen bravado nonsense got smacked out of me somewhere along the way. But even now, unless it is absolutely coming down in sheets, I’ll keep the Totes tucked safely away, nice and dry, inside my real, grown-up, big-boy briefcase.
Somehow, I still believe, Sister Dorothy thought I was one of the cool kids. That crazy first-grade briefcase, trench coat, and umbrella. What an unforgettable combo. Somewhere, she remembers. And smiles. Me, too.
Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes