A timeless rule for being 'cool'

Now that my generation has been labeled the greatest one - because of our conquering the Depression and winning World War II - I want to let the present generation of teenagers know that we were successful because we did not indulge in such stunts as orange, spiked hair, nose rings, or baggy pants.

Oh yes, we were serious and conservative. And none of us wore the weird fashions of today - unless you could count our broomstick skirts (no, not for witches) as weird. We washed them and wrapped them around a broomstick to dry. (Yes, we did have vacuum cleaners in those days.)

Still, I will admit, as I look at my prewar high-school yearbook, that the saddle shoes we all wore appear to have been dug from garbage dumps. To achieve this well-worn look, we rubbed even new shoes in dirt or beat them on rocks. Only the brains and grinds (read: dorks or nerds) would not have worn their shoes to look as though they were penniless from the ankles down.

And even our ankles would have been encircled in a chain of bells that tinkled when we walked. Other times we wore wooden shoes that made a delicious sound to annoy our teachers as we clomped and jingled our way down the school halls. And what about those plaid shoelaces? Of course they weren't used to lace up our shoes, but the requisite white bobby socks, which were slit open in front.

We didn't go to the extremes of today's hair colors, but a peroxided blond streak in front was high fashion. Only one girl was brave enough to bleach her entire head of hair, and she was thought pretty risqu.

Because my family were teetotalers, I couldn't set my hair with beer (no hair spray then) and was forbidden to wear a beer jacket, the rage among high-school kids in New Jersey. It had nothing to do with drink, but was simply a khaki jacket on which all our friends signed their names. We sewed hooks on the back to hang all kinds of fun things like cups or kitchen utensils. To mollify me, my mother bought me a similar jacket without the name, and I became a walking autograph book and kitchen cupboard like the rest of my peers.

Today I see schoolkids with sensible backpacks holding their books, but in my day, that would have been the ickiest (read: nerdiest) thing to do. We had to carry all our books, papers, etc. in our two arms in front of us, no matter how inconvenient. Even the grinds and brains didn't dare digress from this unwritten rule.

High school society, as today, was divided into cliques. There were the football heroes (jocks), and the cheerleaders, who were so handsome or beautiful they were in a league of their own. The aforementioned brains and grinds usually intended to become teachers or other equally abhorrent (to us) professionals. I turned down a date for my senior prom because it was the valedictorian who asked me to go, and he was planning to become a Latin teacher. That would have been like dating Bill Gates as he was at 18.

Of course we were always up on the latest trend. I knew who was first on the Hit Parade every week. But one Saturday my current boyfriend said he was taking me to the Rustic Cabin to hear a singing waiter named Frank Sinatra. I said, "Who is Frank Sinatra?"

This will give you some idea of how our greatest generation did it all by being the neatest (read: coolest) dudes ever. Now they even write books about us. All you present high-schoolers just wait about 50 years. Then you'll get your turn.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.