December 21, 2014

Sitting at a table in the southwest corner of the Cougar Den I watch youth arrive. The Cougar Den is as close as it gets to a restaurant in White Swan—a gas station with a grill and a few tables. Across the street from the middle and high school, youth get off the morning bus, walk through the school and across the street to grab a mable bar, sit down, and hang out until first bell.

The last week of school before the Christmas break is like no other. Unlike the week before summer break, everyone knows their back in a few weeks, but unlike a three day weekend, there is plenty of time get in trouble, both small t and big T, both innocuous and obstinate. Many of us recall school days leading up to Christmas break. The energy, the excitement, and the making of big plans—that mostly never came to fruition.

Tuesday morning with a cup of coffee and opened book, I listened as girls laughed a couple tables in front of me and boys prattled and cussed (bouncing between whispering and almost bellowing) a table to my right. The level of noise had me wondering how this week before Christmas break is shaping my teacher friends.

It was 7:20 am when five high school girls walked into the Cougar Den. Excited and talking up a storm they moved toward a table kitty-corner to myself. Two of the five had on jeans, with holes. I don’t know when holey jeans became popular, but it’s been some time. Now holey jeans are natural. If you wear a pair of jeans long enough, holes are bound to find their way to the knees. I guess it was sometime around the time I graduated high school that you could walk into a store and buy a brand new pair of worn Levis. Why someone would buy half worn out jeans was beyond me. Before long though, you could go and by a brand new pair of jeans with holes! I haven’t quite figured that one out either.

In the weeks leading up to the first day of school my sister, brother, and I always got a new set of clothes. Come Christmas we got a few more. Our appreciation for Christmas day clothes was never as great as for the first-day-of-school clothes, but it was normal, we weren’t going to change it, so we all learned to feign appreciation as we hoped for that present we really wanted.

Maybe that has changed over the years. But I would bet many sitting around the Cougar Den on Tuesday would rather have a new video game, shotgun, or phone, than a brand new, bright blue, stiff, pair of Levis on Christmas morning.

My age is telling as I watch students with brand-new holey worn-out jeans. I remember the stiffness of pulling on new Levis in the morning. Comfortable is not the word for new Levis. It wasn’t until third period you could sit down at the desk and not hear them crack. And the stark blueness? NO one missed a new pair of jeans, everyone knew what they felt like, and to a one, they all enjoyed making a comment.

In time, bright blue Levis faded and lost their blue. What never happened, though today’s brand new worn out jeans would speak otherwise, was for them to be threadbare on the thigh before a hole appeared on the knee. Probably had something to do with falling, climbing trees and falling, bucking bales, and being pulled half way across the county behind 4-H steers who took little to the notion of being led.

Developing holes never lasted too long. Mother made sure of that. Us kids may have been a generation of holey jeans, but mamma made sure it didn’t look that way. Instead we were a people of the patch.

Mother worked outside the home as soon as the youngest entered school. Life became better for us kids not only because mamma worked outside the home, but because that income was in addition to the taking-care-of- basics. And a basic, was the patch.

Patching clothes is now outdated. Occasionally I see a patch these days, but they are more likely to appear on the jeans of an elder rancher than a teenager. With all the flower patches on sixties and seventies bell-bottom jeans, one might thought the case would be different today, but it isn’t. One might have thought that generation’s commitment to peace, love and environment would have resulted in their passing the value of the patch down to their children, but it didn’t.

I remember mother sewing patches onto those holey jeans before the holes become too big to be un-patchable. Patching might not seem like much, but patching jeans is not an easy task. Jean is a material that doesn’t take well to the patch. This is probably why mamma tried iron-on patches as soon as they came to the store. A hope for the next best discovery. However, they were not. The folk who invented the iron-on patch must have never spent time being dragged around by a four hundred pound steer; for in truth, those iron-on patches never made it as far as the first bus stop. Mamma went back to the thread and needle.

Too bad we no longer patch (I’m as bad as everyone when it comes to patching), because there’s nothing more sustainable than the patch. It held britches together until they were actually thread bare and hardly worth being used as a rag. The patch allowed for the wearing of jeans from first-day-of-school till mid-summer and Christmas jeans till Labor Day and the first day of school.

Having concern and finding ways to improve the environment and live into a more sustainable world is important these days. I’m thinking a new pair of Christmas jeans and a patch every now and then would go a long way to make that happen. Yep, (Belinda…you’re listening?) a new pair of Christmas jeans would not only look real good with a cup of coffee at the Cougar Den, but would do wonders for the environment too!


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