Early one morning I followed the blinking, grinding, lumbering school bus on its routine route to pick up students. Always the consummate people-watcher, I studied the colorful collection of gangly, boisterous pre-teens waiting at each stop. Then I saw her – the girl standing alone. She was me, fifty years ago.
Her disheveled brown hair was wild and frizzy, her clothes weren’t stylish, she wore big black eyeglasses, and she carried a saxophone case. I waved at her. She smiled faintly and climbed onto the bus behind the others. I wish I had jumped out of my car and hugged her, but that’s not appropriate in this age of Stranger Danger.
A week later, I happened to follow the same bus, and I saw her again. She was sitting on her saxophone case reading a book. I wanted to shout, “I know you!” But, I restrained myself, waved, and watched her board the bus. I’d like to write and tell her that all the things that consume this most awkward stage of life eventually don’t matter anymore.
Hair. I remember my classmate Mary Trounson with her silky black hair that was long enough to sit on, and Jeneal Jones who was allowed to tease her hair into the perfect bubble. My plain hair was wrinkly and brittle, and my parents wouldn’t allow me to rat it. They even cut my bangs into inch-long fringe when the trend was to have bangs that brushed the eyelashes. I hated my hair. Even now, I’ll get a sassy new do and concentrate to see how the hairdresser fixes it, but I never manage to duplicate the style. After many decades of trial and error, now I just blow it dry and hope it isn’t awful.
Clothes. Back in the 1960s, girls didn’t wear pants to school. My mother sewed many of my dresses, and my store-bought outfits consisted of basic jumpers and long-sleeved shirts. Our shoes were practical because many of us walked to school. There weren’t any drop-off lanes back then. As an adult working woman, I finally could afford fashionable clothes, and I proudly wore the best suits and dresses. Now, I’m semi-retired and work from home in my jeans and comfortable sweaters, and it takes a major event with a free buffet and wine bar to make me wear fancy clothes. I want the girl at the bus stop to know her lack of fashion sense doesn’t matter.
Glasses. I was 10 when I tried on Sally Maltz’ glasses and was amazed that the distant trees had leaves. I’ve worn glasses since then. Twenty years ago, my ophthalmologist tried PRK to correct my near-sighted vision, but it didn’t work. I tried contacts for several decades, but soon needed one to read and one to see distance. I settle now for my transition bi-focal eyeglasses with cute frames. It’s okay.
Musical instruments. In school, only nerds lugged bulky cases for musical instruments, but I’m thankful I learned how to practice and play music. I have fond memories of blasting my saxophone in the Wendell High School Pep Band, and I continue to play my piano into my sixties. It’s great therapy.
Books. Students once teased me, “You’ve always got your nose in a book!” I still read books, and have written a few. Books are lifelong friends, and they never go out of style. The stories sparked my imagination and encouraged me to explore and travel. I enjoyed reading to my children, and now I read some of the same books to my grandkids. Reading a book while perched on a cold saxophone case can lead to grand adventures.
To the girl at the bus stop, I hope you gain some self-confidence through this complicated stage of your life. I envision you in the future as you speak with self-confidence, play wonderful music, write a few books, and laugh with friends and lovers. Someday you might drive behind a noisy school bus and see your younger self waiting alone. Wave to her, with profound vigor and sincere encouragement because you both dance to the beat of a different drummer.
Published on The Huffington Post Feb. 10, 2016.