Calico saw a group of Alabama students on campus yesterday. She didn’t know why they were visiting, but their crimson University of Alabama shirts were hard to miss in the sea of purple and gold attire worn by the Tennessee Tech crowd.
It brought back memories of a bright red school jacket, the not-so-secret desire of my high school days. The jackets were primarily worn by athletes and cheerleaders, who had earned the school letter awarded for athletic achievement. The letter was out of reach for a budding geek girl, but the jackets could be purchased from the high school supply room for fifty dollars. My oldest brother, a basketball star, had been wearing his for two years. My other brother had been pestering my parents for one.
“You can have one, when you earn your letter”, my parents had replied in unison.
My heart sunk, but I continued to pursue my goal, squirreling away my babysitting earnings. I didn’t need to be mathematically gifted, however, to figure out that I would graduate before accumulating enough to buy one.
In my junior year, the school announced a change in policy. Letters would be awarded for significant academic achievement. When I took second place in the state’s math competition, I crossed my fingers and hoped. At the next assembly, my name was called and I became the first student in our school to win a letter for academic achievement.
The story should have had a happy ending, but my mother dashed my hopes. She told me that the jacket was made for guys and unfitting for a young woman. No amount of argument would change her mind. I placed the letter in my treasure box, where it still remains today.
A red jacket wouldn’t make me an athlete or a member of the popular crowd. Still, I longed for the pride of representing my school and displaying the letter signifying my achievement. I understand the enthusiasm of students wearing crimson Alabama apparel or sporting symbols of “purple pride”. Most of us enjoy that sense of belonging. I eventually acquired a few pieces of college attire, but the longing for that jacket remained. I was in my forties, when I took the letter from my treasure box and gently affixed it to an old red blazer. At first, I just wore it in the house, then for a couple of evening walks. Finally I got brave and wore it on a trip to the grocery store. Nobody pointed or stared, but I began to feel a bit silly. I was hundreds of miles from my high school and years removed from that object of my desire. When I returned home, I removed the letter from my blazer and returned it to my treasure box.
Here, the whole community shares in college pride. Purple Pride markers adorn front lawns and cars wear TTU bumper stickers. Last week, Calico purchased sweat jackets for each of us and affixed school letters to them. I can’t wait for an opportunity to wear mine.