Friday, May 16, 2008

Hand-Me-Downs -- jcarolek

It seems I have lived a life of hand-me-downs. Of course, I was the second child in a family of six children, with parents who had to make the best use of every resource they had, and once clothes were purchased or made for my sister, they could not be discarded when she outgrew them. So, thankful at least that I WAS a GIRL and these hand-me-downs were GIRL clothes, I accepted the clothes that fit my tall skinny sister well, and which would stretch uncomfortably around my chubbier frame, while ALWAYS requiring hemming....since I grew up 40 years before it became fashionable to walk on the hems of pants and such.

I remember thinking how unfair it was that Jeannie got all the "good stuff" and I got all the used stuff. Truthfully, Jeannie also got lots of hand-me-downs from neighbor kids who were "only children", but THOSE clothes were always better than ours too. Still, I endured and managed to find my way to school every day clad in something that covered me sufficiently and life went on.

When I was in Jr. High and started working jobs where I earned money, my OWN money, I started buying NEW clothes...clothes which I would be the first to wear and which were purchased only after I ensured they fit ME without alterations. And I discovered something rather quickly. New clothes were expensive. Not only that, but they took some time to really get "comfortable." Itchy tags and stiff fabric had not been a regular experience for me, and I was not impressed with them now! I started to appreciate the softer, "broken in" models that lay piled in heaps on my pig sty of a bedroom floor, whilst my newly purchased clothes hung neatly in the closet...protected from aging, by not being worn.

I also started to realize that my sister had broken in more than just clothing for me. She had broken in my parents. Sure, it appeared they thought she could do no wrong, whilst their perceptions of my brothers and me were not so stellar. But in reality, they were harder on Jeannie than on the rest of us. With the expectation of perfection comes huge responsibility. Now, in retrospect, I of course realize, my parents neither thought my my sister perfect nor had any expectations that she BE perfect, but this was something I could only discover after having children of my own. As a youngster, I was convinced this was true.

So Jeannie "tried on" being "in charge" of her younger siblings first and I learned from her...I was the opposite baby-sitter from her style, allowing my brothers to do "fun" stuff, whilst Jeannie always wanted us to "work" whilst Mom and Dad were gone. And Jeannie "tried on" dating first, and I watched with dread at the thought of my OWN dating experiences yet to come. Thankfully, Jeannie started MUCH younger than did I, allowing me lots of time to learn what NOT to do to get my parents' attention. And Jeannie's wearing of the dating game for several years before I chose to participate also ensured I had more mellow, comfortable parental attention, when attention was focused in my direction.

Driving the red and white '58 Chevy Station Wagon (the car in which all of us learned to drive) was, again, easier for me, because Jeannie had already "taught" my parents how to teach their children to drive. And, while I was embarrassed to drive that huge old car, I was comfortable doing so, knowing that my sister had to drive it too....and that my brothers would all get their opportunity too.

Jeannie even went off to FSU to seek her college degree, and at Dad's encouragement, I also applied there. (don't worry, you'll never be accepted at your first choice of schools.) And so I followed my sister, accepting the path she had already trampled, thereby making it easier for me to traverse. I even secured a room in the same dorm as my sister, at Dad''s suggestion... (don't worry, you NEVER get your first choice of dorms...) But, Jeannie, clearly tiring of the tag-a-long, albeit, the unwilling tag-a-long, managed to move out of the dorm into an apartment before I arrived on the scene, and I was left with the hand-me-down friends she had made there...and they made MY experience that much more comfortable.

My sister turns 51 on Monday. I'm glad she is doing so, because it is my turn to "try on" 50, and if she does not discard it, outgrow it, I will be left, forever 49. I've certainly enjoyed my year of being the perfect square, but, in July, I will be ready to put 49 on the shelf for my brother Tim to use in October. And I will slip into the comfortable, "gently worn" 50 that Jeannie will leave hanging in the closet for me, as she dons 51.

This weekend will be one of much celebration in my family. We will be officially celebrating my niece's 21st birthday, and having the reception party for my daughter and son-in-law who were married in April at a very small wedding. But, we will also be unofficially celebrating my Dad and step-mom's 30th wedding anniversary, and Jeannie's 51st birthday....and I will be eying with great interest, the 50 she has made comfortable for me. Somehow, I just know it will fit comfortably. And today I appreciate the hand-me-down more than I could ever have imagined as a kid!

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