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Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: “Pockets Galore”

Army Surplus Fatigues
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This Mid-Missouri Memory continues my “Texture Memories,” similar to the “Hoppy Sweater” story I posted last week. Watch for my Navy Bell Bottoms Memory next week.

Pockets Galore

I was in the eighth grade when an uncle gave me the next piece of clothing that would become my new obsession. It was a set of Army surplus fatigues with more pocket space than four pairs of Levi’s. They even had extra pockets at the calves of the legs, with flaps that buttoned down (pre-Velcro). The boys loved them, the girls marveled at their capacity, and my mom plotted their demise. I wore them to school, to church, and would have gladly worn them to bed, if mom hadn’t watched me close.

My interest in girls had nearly surpassed Hoppy by then, but I was still shy. A friend of mine named Sonny, who was years ahead of the rest of us boys in his professed knowledge of girls, decided to help me get over that shyness. He coached me, and even gave me some of his “surefire never miss lines,” making me repeat them over and over again, until he felt I was ready to try them out on a real girl.

My moment of truth came at a Saturday matinee. I wore a new shirt and those prized fatigues. A young girl sat alone in the flickering projector light of the darkened Uptown Theater. My coach and I sat several rows back. He gave me last minute instructions, and made sure I hadn’t forgotten “The Line.” Then I walked slowly down the aisle and stood just behins the girl’s seat trying to muster the courage to go on.

My throat was dry, and I could hear my heart racing in time with the hoof beats on the screen. I must have stood there too long because a crushed popcorn box hit me in the head, and Sonny yelled, “down in front.” I rubbed my head, took a deep breath and uttered “the never miss line.” In a nearly empty theater I asked “Is that seat taken?” as I pointed to the one next to her. She slowly swung her legs to the side, so I could get by, but she never looked up.

“My name is Jack” I said settling into the seat next to her.  ”I know” she said. “I recognized the pants!”  ”You did?” I asked, sure she was about to compliment me on style.  ”Of course, you wear them almost everyday to school,” she said, sounding almost like mom. She looked at me and I recognized her for the first time in the flickering light. It was the prettiest girl in my class. She stood up and started to walk away as I slid lower in the seat, then she turned and hit me with the other barrel. “By the way,” she said coolly, “I hope you get the gum off your back pocket before school Monday!”

I sat there oblivious to everything for what seemed like hours, until Sonny sat down beside me. “Is she coming back?” He asked.  “Nah,” I lied, “She had to go home, some kind of emergency.”  “An emergency named Paul in the balcony,” he chuckled.

During the bus ride home, I told Sonny what she had said, expecting a little sympathy.  ”Yeah, those pants are a little rank,” he said instead. I looked down at my pants, and for the first time, the little stains I had not noticed before became visible to me. Mom hadn’t served gravy for three days, but there it was on my pant leg, and the dried up noodle that came out of my pocket earlier had to be from the first of the week.  ”I’m a pig!!” I cried out. The driver glared at me in the rear view mirror, but didn’t say anything.  ”You know,” Sonny whispered “You did actually get to sit with a girl.”

He was right. I had conquered my shyness, but I was soon to learn something else about girls. They always seemed to want someone older, taller and with a better car. Those beloved Army surplus pants were destroyed in another wash day accident a short time later. The wringer washer got the blame, but only mom knew the real truth.

Tune in to Jack Miller on Newstalk 1050 KSIS every Monday morning to hear excerpts from his book of Mid-Missouri memories, titled ‘Unhurried Days.’

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