S is for Space flights, Sweater sets and Slam books. Nineteenth of 26 posts in the April 2021 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: “Endwell: My Early Teen Years”— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
Today, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is in the U.S. space exploration spotlight — sending back amazing photos, videos and data from the red planet and launching a mini-helicopter for the first time.
Yet in my early teens (1963-65), when space flights were still new, they somehow seemed like a much bigger deal — preempting TV broadcasts while we stopped everything to watch the NASA countdowns. And I remember an amusing example of this , from when I was 13 — a quintessential early-sixties moment!
My mom had taken me to my orthodontist appointment, but it coincided with a space flight launch — possibly the May 15, 1963 launch of astronaut L. Gordon Cooper into orbit in the final manned flight of Project Mercury, since manned flights were an especially big deal.
Anyway, none of us wanted to miss the live launch — so after adjusting my braces the orthodontist quickly waved me and Mom into his office and the three of us stood in front of his little black-and-white TV and watched the fiery liftoff.
Of course, at age 13-15 I had to be dressed correctly to go to the dentist, watch space flights and attend school — which is where sweater sets came in.
One of the popular outfits in my early teens was a frothy pastel mohair cardigan worn with a matching pleated wool skirt. All the girls at school wore them — and I badly wanted a sweater set of my own.
The problem was, with five children at home my parents kept to a budget — which meant I usually had to wear the “next best version” that was available at the discount store.
Not that the knockoff clothing wasn’t nice — I just felt out of sync because it wasn’t what the other teen girls were wearing.
So when Christmas rolled around, I sighed and put the sweater set on my wish list as the number one item — hoping for a miracle.
Happily, Santa heard my plea and dropped a hint to my parents — because that year, under the tree, were a gorgeous baby-pink mohair sweater and matching skirt! And not the knockoffs, either. I couldn’t wait to proudly wear them to school!
Clothes were part of fitting in — and so was acceptance by teen peers. And one tough way to test that acceptance was with a slam book.
Alas, the concept of slam books originated in the 1940s as a form of bullying, where teens would “slam” someone in writing in a notebook that was passed around. Fortunately, by the early 1960s slam books had morphed into something a bit less sinister.
You created a slam book using a spiral bound notebook, putting the word SLAM on the front, and writing the names of the people you wanted to include on the top of each page.
Then you’d go up to students and ask, “Do you want to sign my slam book?” And they could anonymously write whatever they wanted — good or bad — on the person’s page.
Yes, there were teens who vented in slam books and wrote derogatory comments on someone’s page — which we all lived in fear of. But oddly, the other fear was being left out of slam books altogether.
So the slam books I started — and the ones I remember signing — usually had my friends in them and we mainly wrote compliments about one another, striving in our own way for social acceptance during our early teen years.
Up next, T is for Talking on the busy signal. Please leave a comment, then join me as Endwell: My Early Teen Years unfolds one letter at a time!
© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.