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Archive for July, 2012

“It’s cold out there, colder than a ticket taker’s smile at the Ivar Theater on a Saturday night.” Emotional Weather Report by Tom Waits

Men writing dress codes for high school girls is about as ridiculous as giraffes telling earthworms how to mate. But in the 1960s Iowa farmers and school officials thought they knew the best attire for the CedarValleyHigh School girls.

Prior to the days of climate change, Iowa winters were cold. Just how cold? The last winter I lived in Iowa, the high never got above zero for over a month. Old timers said it got too cold to snow. That winter proved it. No snow, no ice, and air molecules froze your nostrils if you breathed directly without first passing air through a scarf. Other winters in my youth usually included copious amounts of snow for constructing snowmen and forts used for killer snow ball fights.

As kids heading out the door to play, we heard, “Got your long underwear on? Put on your hat. Zip up your coat. Wear your mittens. Put a scarf over your face.” Without New Age wicking materials like Gore-Tex, our attire included flannel-lined blue jeans, cotton mittens, and wool scarves.

In elementary school, we girls wore jeans under our dresses to keep our skinny legs warm while waiting for the school bus. As we aged into junior high school, knee high socks replaced our jeans. This left a few inches of leg exposed between the top of socks and the bottom of the hemline. The harsh Canadian winds blew across the Iowa prairie, hitting that small exposed area and frost-nipping our legs.  At this age, none of the girls thought to question authority.

When we reached high school, a new material changed our lives. Polyester, the miracle fiber made from petroleum, was first introduced to the American public in 1951.  Still, throughout the fifties and early sixties, Minnesota Woolens supplied most of our winter clothing. Eventually, all fads reached rural Iowa, and about my junior year, along came polyester pant suits. But, we were not allowed to wear this new fashion to school, only dresses and skirts were permitted.

A typical school day started with, “Bye, Mom. See you after basketball practice.” I then exited the front door of our large, pink-sided house for a six block walk to the elementary school where the high school students caught the school bus to Somers, the location of our high school. Unfortunately, the introduction of school backpacks lagged behind pant suits, so I nestled a pile of books in the bend of my left elbow while my right hand gripped the handle of my tenor saxophone case. I left home oblivious to the weather report because it made no difference. Every day, I donned a dress or skirt with a hemline no more than three finger’s width above the knee; any higher and you got sent home to change clothes. Pants were absolutely forbidden. None of the girls wore nylons because knee socks provided more warmth. Every day throughout the winter, I selected a dress and socks to match. The school colors of red and black matched my black knee socks with legs brighter than Marilyn Monroe’s lipstick. Damnation, those winter days were cold!

The Cedar Valley School Board consisted of four men and two women. The superintendent of the school system was male, and so were the principals of the three schools. These officials created the rules for the pupils, including the dress code.

Finally, the girls matured enough to revolt. For the umpteenth time, we approached the high school principal wearing his white dress shirt, suit, tie, and black executive socks and pleaded our case. “Our legs freeze with dresses on. Why can’t we wear pant suits on cold days?” One day, in a moment of weakness, the principal fired back, “If 70% of the parents agree to a change in the dress code, then the school will change it.”

Well hot damn, I thought, certainly 70% of our parents are smart enough to vote for common sense. This sounded easy. The next day, I entered the typing room and hammered away on the keys.

                                     Cedar Valley High School Dress Code

The girls of Cedar Valley High School wish to wear pant suits on cold days and we need 70% of the parents to agree to this change in the dress code. Please mark this ballot and return to the school.

            __________Yes, I agree the girls may wear pant suits to school.

            __________No, girls should only be allowed to wear dresses or skirts.

The next step entailed a trip to the office to make copies on the mimeograph machine. Cleo Wyatt, the principal’s secretary and a friend’s mother, sat at her desk working on office papers, “Hi, Moni, how you doing?”

“Just fine, I need to make a few copies, I won’t be long.”

“Alright, have a nice afternoon.”

Without a care in the world, and oblivious to future trouble, I entered classrooms as the bell rang and handed out the questionnaires to students for their parents’ consideration. I ended the day with a clear conscience, confident that soon the days of red legs would be history.

Wrong.

The next day, shortly after I arrived at school, my home room teacher informed me, “Mr. Hairston would like a word with you.”

“Me?” My mind whizzed around searching for an answer as to why.

“Yes, go ahead to his office now during home room.”

Slowly, I picked up my books and walked up the stairway to the principal’s office wondering if I were in trouble and, if so, what for? Or had I won an award?

I entered the secretary’s office and Cleo announced my presence, “Mr. Hairston, Moni is here.”

For my first visit to the principal’s office, my eyes surveyed the books and papers scattered across his desk and a photo of his family, all neatly dressed.

Mr. Hairston greeted me, “Good morning, Moni. Please take a seat.”

I sat in the chair in front of his desk, being certain to cross my legs daintily and not expose any leg to an adult male. “Good morning,” I replied.

Next, he looked me directly in my eyes and asked, “Yesterday a student passed out a dress code survey. Was that your doings?”

Unaware of any problem and raised to always tell the truth, I answered honestly, “Yes.”

“What was your thinking when you did this?”

“Well, you mentioned that if 70% of the parents agreed to a change in the dress code, then we could wear pants to school. And my legs get pretty darn cold when waiting for the school bus.”

Mr. Hairston slowly explained, “You know there is a process that we must follow to implement a change in the dress code.”

Naïve about policy and regulations, I was unfamiliar with what he meant by “process.” I asked, “Isn’t a survey the only way to figure out if the parents support a change?” Since I upheld a “good girl” reputation, he suppressed anger and an expression of dismay crossed his face.

Next, he proceeded to describe the steps required to initiate change which included the approval of the faculty, staff, and School Board. This encounter introduced me to the “real world” of discussions, meetings, committees, building support, enrolling others and all the necessary processes to elicit change in our world, which to this day can still cause frustration for this weathered older lady.

The students and parents heard nothing until the following winter, my senior year, when girls were allowed to wear pant suits provided the temperature was 32 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.

Rhonda’s pant suit was acceptable with the new dress code. My white jeans would have sent me packing home for a change of attire.

 
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