When Marita was 13, it was the era of tie-dyed T-shirts and frayed jeans. Even though I had grown up in the Depression and had no money for clothes, I had never dressed this poorly. One day I saw her out in the driveway rubbing the hems of her new jeans with dirt and rocks. I was aghast at her ruining these pants I had just paid for and ran out to tell her so. She continued to grind on as I recounted my soap opera of childhood deprivation. As I concluded without having moved her to tears of repentance, I asked why she was wrecking her new jeans. She replied without looking up, “You can’t wear new ones.”
“You just can’t, so I’m messing them up to make them look old.” Such total loss of logic! How could it be the style to ruin new clothes? Each morning as she would leave for school I would stare at her and sigh, “My daughter looking like that.” There she’d stand in her father’s old T-shirt, tie-dyed with big blue spots and streaks. Fit for a duster, I thought. And those jeans—so low-slung I feared if she took a deep breath, they’d drop off her rear. But where would they go? They were so tight and stiff they couldn’t move. The frayed bottoms, helped by the rocks, had strings that dragged behind her as she walked. One day after she had left for school, it was as if the Lord got my attention and said, “Do you realize what your last words are to Marita each morning? ‘My daughter looking like that.’ When she gets to school and her friends talk about their old-fashioned mothers who complain all the time, she’ll have your constant comments to contribute. Have you ever looked at the other girls in junior high? Why not give them a glance?”
I drove over to pick her up that day and observed that many of the other girls looked even worse. On the way home I mentioned how I had overreacted to her ruining her jeans. I offered a compromise: “From now on you can wear anything you want to school and with your friends, and I won’t bug you about it.”
“That’ll be a relief.”
“But when I take you out with me to church or shopping or to my friends, I’d like you to dress in something you know I like without my having to say a word.”
She thought about it. Then I added, “That means you get 95 percent your way and I get 5 percent for me. What do you think?” She got a twinkle in her eye as she put out her hand and shook mine. “Mother, you’ve got yourself a deal!” From then on I gave her a happy farewell in the morning and didn’t bug her about her clothes. When I took her out with me, she dressed properly without fussing. We had ourselves a deal!