“There she is momma, the girl I told you about!” said Millie Bidman, Juju’s arch nemesis in third grade. “She NEVER wears a dress!!” Both Momma and Millie laughed and walked past Juju into the school cafeteria to attend the PTA meeting. Juju looked down at her faded blue jeans, her favorite pair with the peace sign patch on the left knee.
I could wear dresses again Juju thought to herself, and I will one day when the mood hits me. Little did Juju know that urge would not come around until fifteen years later on October 11, 1986 at a relative’s wedding. But on that night she strutted over and took a seat next to her mother who wore denim peddle pushers and a starched white shirt. The president of the PTA was talking about the price of chocolate milk as they both yawned in unison.
Juju’s third year at Harrison Lane Elementary was the first year that the school had lifted the rule that girls no longer had to wear dresses everyday. Until that day, Juju had shopped each summer’s end with her mother at Watson’s Department Store. Five new dresses in August for weekly rotation in the Hurst, Texas school. A pair of shorts was purchased to match each dress; to prevent Juju’s bum from making a public appearance on the kick-ball field during recess.
After the big announcement, Juju moved on from Watson’s to the Army Navy Store that her older sister adored. Faded blue jeans in every conceivable style, with huge bell-bottoms. They also had a huge rack of blue jean patches to make the jeans display your personality. (“Pieces of flair” for kids coming of age in the 1970s). The jeans had to be worn with chukka boots, Chuck
Taylors, or huarache sandals…some sort of rule Juju heard about that came from California. Everything weird came from California according to Juju’s father. “Fruits and nuts” he used to say. Juju thought California just had good crops and better shoe fashion sense.
After getting home from the PTA meeting, Juju went to her room to lay out what she was going to wear to school the next day. T-shirt with Keith Partridge silk screened on the front? Check! Hip hugger jeans with the H.R. Pufnstuf patch? Check! Tan chukkas? Check! This outfit was really going to chap Millie’s ass…as Juju’s mother had a habit of saying.
The next day at recess Millie and her two friends skipped up to Juju as she sat on the grass behind the kickball field backstop. The trio all had colorful dresses on and knee high white go-go boots. They looked like the dancers on Laugh-In Juju thought, how can they run in those things? “You better stay away from Gary said the short red head. Gary? Juju inquired? He was a boy in her homeroom that always smelled like a cross between Old Spice and a Whataburger. He picked his nose and then skillfully placed the boogers at the back of the desk in front of him. The kid had a certain skill set. Yeah, Gary the red head snotted back. He likes you, we have proof! It seems Millie was carrying a torch for the nose picker and that revelation made Juju smile. A crumpled piece of lined notebook paper was thrown down to Juju’s chukka wearing feet. She unwadded it and read the following: Which girl do you like best in the third grade? A scratchy reply spelled out J-u-j-u. Millie screamed down at Juju, “You wear boys shoes!!!” The squeak of vinyl filled the air as the girls marched off.
Millie would never find out why Gary loved Juju, but Juju instantly knew. Gary was the only boy on his little league team that could actually throw a curve ball. He would go the rest of his life and never admit a girl in a Beatles t-shirt showed him how one day on a lonely field off Redbud Lane. Juju wasn’t bothered by Millie or her back up dancers again the rest of that year. Millie was left to ponder what the tomboy had over her, watching as Juju and Gary sat up in the bleachers talking about Brooks Robinson.
Closets can be filled with all sorts of stuff in adolescence; cleats, jeans, baseball gloves & bats, Battleship games, and plastic snakes. Juju wondered what a boy kept in his closet?
She, herself, might be in one for the better part of the 1970s, but nary a dress would ever be found.