Clothes Don't Make The Man
Dad quit his one-room farm school after eighth grade because he was ashamed of his clothes.
One of 10 kids, his mother died when he was young, and his two sisters pretty much filled her shoes.
They had clean clothes, but often, they were not ironed; they just took something to wear from the basket each day. No one really had his or her own shirts, pants and socks.
Depression-era stories sound like this one, but his conservative habits continued a lifetime.
When he died, my sister and I found countless new sweaters we had given him for gifts over the years, hanging in the closet with the tags still in place. He was waiting until he "needed" to wear them.
My friend Tina Kissell is the manager of the guidance and social work staff at Moore County Schools, and we have collaborated for years to collect school clothes for the scores of homeless kids who attend school in Moore County.
They are often "double-bunking," sleeping in cars, staying with relatives, or maybe hidden away in shelters from an abusive parent. Their luggage is a grocery bag filled with as much as they can carry.
One young boy turned his shirt inside out every other day to fake having two shirts instead of the same one. Other kids just didn't have any shoes worthy of school attendance. My neighbor Al gave me a hundred-dollar bill to buy shoes on a list of sizes for the kids last year; the guidance counselors provided the list and we did the shopping.
The dermatologist's receptionist gives me beautiful boys' clothing every so often for distribution. The kids have play clothing; they just don't have anything to wear to school. The resale shops have clothes from the many retirees, but there is a paucity of nice school-aged clothes.
Thus, my neighbor Eileen and I go begging and fill garbage bags with random sized duds that are in good shape. No kid should have to go to school embarrassed by his or her appearance.
All students are self-conscious. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to not know where you are going to sleep each night?
Waxing philosophical, "clothes don't make the man," as Maupassant wrote in the famous short story. People are fixated on looks in our society, and it is hard to see past the package and look into the soul.
Just consider the success of Susan Boyle, the singer who won the talent competition after the judges initially dismissed her appearance. There are mentoring programs that work with young people to promote self-esteem and interpersonal skills so they can make good decisions about their behaviors, which include grooming and grammar.
But developing immunity to criticism, as well as flattery, is something we all grapple with throughout a lifetime. When friends and family point out perceived deficiencies, it can sting. Fellow school students can be brutal.
Back home, Rabbi Segal once consoled me in an "emergency" dawn phone call, as I sought his counsel. My self-esteem was in the trash can. He said that I did not need to please everyone because our maker made me perfect just as I am, and I did not need to prove myself to anyone for any reason.
So simple, yet was such a relief from this self-imposed burden. It was like a rainbow came out over my computer! I saw straight through the situation. I was grappling with a major decision, and it would be the right one if I listened to my gut. He said that God did not make junk, so let it go. We are not the product of our appearance, achievements or possessions.
We teach our young people to abide by the ideals of unconditional love and acceptance from our families and friendships. We tell them to do the right thing and all will be well, but we can do much to help them face realities while bolstering core principles.
Age does not immunize us from the judgments of others. We are not defined by the size of our house, the kind of car we drive, the golf score we earn.
That doesn't mean we don't need to put on our armor to go out the door each day. Dad went on to be a highly successful man as both a professional and sage to many.
His values never faltered, I think, though tested continually. His clothes were not important, neither money nor material things. He was a very happy man, in his "own skin" as the saying goes. I will not forget his lessons of doing good things and living a simple creed, of treating all as you would wish to be treated.
These are times of silent pain for many and our help is always needed.
Darlind Davis is a local freelance writer.
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