A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Whenever I think of going back to school, I think of pants.

Oh, sure, there were other back to school clothes for which Mom and I shopped: two or three shirts, generally, and some new school shoes (P.F. Flyers if Dad's insurance business was doing well; Keds if it was not).  

But the thing I looked forward to most was getting some new pants.  This is because I was a growing boy (both up and out – mostly out), and by the end of the summer last year's school pants were too short and too tight.  People thought my face was getting red because I was spending so much time in the sun.  Actually, my face was getting red because I couldn't breathe.

So every year around this time Mom and I made our traditional pilgrimage to Sears to check out the latest in husky boy pant fashions.  I think Mom liked to buy my pants at Sears because she figured that any company that could make a good, sturdy washing machine could also make good, sturdy boy's pants.

And for Mom, that was the bottom line, if you'll pardon the pun.  If she was going to invest in two pair of jeans and a pair of dark corduroy pants – $20, at least – she wanted to be sure they would last the entire school year.  That is why she always went for the Sears jeans that had steel-reinforced knees that only bent when heated to 1,200 degrees Centigrade, and the corduroy pants with cords so deep and so solidly compacted that the Gemini astronauts could pick up the sound of my thighs rubbing together.

Oh, and she always bought them two sizes too big – "You'll grow into them," she would say.  Which was true, of course. 

But until I did, I was forced to walk around school with dorky looking turned up cuffs and a tightly cinched belt that gathered the extra material in a way that looked for all the world like a denim ruffle around my waist.

All of which was fine until the sixth grade.  For some reason, the idea of going to my first day of sixth grade wearing Sears Kenmore Heavy Duty Husky Boy jeans that were two sizes too big and made me move like the Tin Woodsman on "The Wizard of Oz" . . . well, it was just intolerable.  All of my friends were getting Levi Straus jeans.  They were cool.  And for the first time in my life, I wanted to be cool too.

"These look fine," Mom said as the sales clerk held up the Sears jeans with a forklift.  She clanged the knees together.  "And see how sturdy they are?  They'll last the whole year."

"Levi Straus are sturdy, too," I said.  "Cowboys wear ‘em.  When's the last time you saw a cowboy with holy knees?"

"But they're so expensive," she said.

"And they bend, Mom," I continued.  "Even the first time you wear them!  They bend!"

"I don't know . . ."

"Levi Straus are cool," I whined.  "All of my friends will be wearing them!"

"If all of your friends were going to jump off a bridge . . ."

"Oh, Mom."  At this point I think I even mustered up a tear or two.  "Please?"

Mom looked at me and sighed.  "Well, I guess we could get you two pair, but we won't be able to get cords," she said.  "You'll have to wear your Sunday slacks on special days."

Sunday slacks?  To school?  There would be significant teasing for that. But it would be worth it if I could wear Levi Straus jeans the first day of school. 

So I made the deal, and felt pretty smart until School Picture Day, when I couldn't play basketball during recess because I was wearing my Sunday slacks.  I felt even worse on Christmas Party Day, when I ripped a whole in my Sunday slacks because I played basketball during recess anyway (that was the year I got new Sunday slacks for Christmas instead of the Bob Hayes signature football I really wanted).  And by late winter I was feeling kind of dumb as I walked to school with March winds blowing through the holes in my jeans.

Cool.  REALLY cool.

By late summer, when Mom and I were ready to go back to school shopping again, not only were my Levi Straus jeans too short and too tight – they were also holy.

And Mom once again wore the pants when it came time to pick new pants.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through