Young adolescents fear looking different from the rest of the kids. This poem describes an experience I had in the seventh grade. At the time “cool” shoes were black slip-ons with a long and narrow look, ending with a pointed toe. It’s obviously a trivial thing, except if you’re the kid who’s wearing the “wrong” thing.
Much more serious was my father’s plight. During the Great Depression his father deserted his family of thirteen kids. Having to quit school in order to earn money for his family as a caddy didn’t seem to hurt my father for a while. He got to practice during slow times at the course and eventually earned his Class A PGA card in tournaments. He also worked his way from assistant to head pro. Dad even designed some courses. However, when he herniated a disc the pain was so severe he could no longer work as a golf pro.
So then what, for him and for his family? Golf was all he knew. Well, he didn’t desert us as some guys do. He did the right but difficult thing: he worked jobs that made him feel ashamed in order to support us.
don’t accuse me…
of being an ex-hippie…
‘cause dressing down held no appeal
for us who could never dress up.
my well-meaning mother
bought me black oxfords
with toes so bulbous
they looked like submarines
and when I floated them forward
through the halls of the junior high
I felt everyone staring
as they squeezed toward the walls
desperate to escape crushing
by those thick black soles
that I would‘ve hid
if I could’ve figured a way
to walk and hide my feet
at the same time.
but I’ve just written that into the past.
time to let go of sixty-year-old scars I say to myself.
yet I’ll never get over my father’s shame
as school janitor
my father with little school
with wife and sons to feed to clothe
and with daily courage
to work a job
by the soft-handed, ham-bellied
by the same chest-thumpers
who boast they value