This past week has seen windstorms knocking out power in the U.S. – including that of Paul, whose opinions are so crucial to today’s post. Alan was shaken badly when a serious earthquake hit New Zealand. Here in New Mexico, record high temperatures are crisping what they’re not melting.
It’s a lot more fun to wander. Page back for my Wednesday Wandering and offer your opinions on how to deal with awkward realities. Then join me and Alan as we examine some quaint customs from the days of yore.
JANE: So, once again, we return to our exploration of the mysteries of
American school terms and rituals. Alan, what’s your next question?
ALAN: What’s a letter jacket? We do have jackets with letters on them here and presumably they are copied from the American model. But the only people who seem to wear them are thuggish teenagers hanging around shopping malls, chilling out with their mates. I’m sure that’s not what letter jackets mean to you!
JANE: I don’t remember these at my high school. If they were around when I was in college, I had no idea. I know Roger (Zelazny) was very proud of having “lettered” in fencing. I knew this meant he’d been good, but I don’t know much more.
Let me ask a few people…
ALAN: By all means.
JANE: Okay. I’m back. According to my friend, Paul, the more common term is “letter sweater.” He goes on to explain:
“You could earn a letter mostly for participating in athletics – football, baseball, track, wrestling, field day, whatever. Some high schools also awarded non-athletic letters (I had one for various activities – school paper, school annual, probably some other things I’ve forgotten). But the main emphasis was on athletic letters (I got one in college for soccer, even though I didn’t get into a whole lot of the games).
“The letter would be of the school color or colors – a gray “R” for Roanoke College, a blue and white “W” for Woodstock High, etc.
“There was a popular song back in the ’50’s, “Dungaree Doll,” one verse of which went:
‘I want you to wear my high school sweater,
‘The beat-up sweater with the high school letter,
‘Gonna make a chain of paper clips,
‘Chain us together while I kiss your lips…”
I don’t even remember who the singer was, but it’s funny how songs you heard during those years tend to stay with you. Anyway, it indicates how common high school letters were.”
ALAN: Oh I see! Do you know, it had never occurred to me that the letters indicated the school name. If I thought about it at all, I thought they were just randomly chosen.
JANE: What interests me about this is the question of whether or not letter sweaters are still common. As I said, I don’t remember them. Jim says that when he was in high school in the late sixties, letter sweaters were common enough that Friday was the recognized day to wear yours to school. However, he doesn’t remember them being common when he was in college.
I’d be curious as to what our readers tell us about this custom and whether it still exists.
ALAN: Me, too.
At our school sporting achievement was rewarded by the giving of school “colours.” The recipient was allowed to wear a slightly different uniform from everybody else. The standard tie was blue with thin gold stripes. The colours tie was gold with thin blue stripes. I think the badge on the blazer was a slightly different design as well, but I don’t remember the details. I presume the tradition of colours derives from the “blues” awarded by Oxford and Cambridge.
I have another question. Why do students need a hall pass and what is it?
JANE: Students are not supposed to leave the classroom during class. A hall pass indicates that permission to be out of the classroom (in the hall) has been issued by an authority figure.
ALAN: I don’t recall us having any equivalent of a hall pass. If anyone was found out of class they might be questioned, though that was unlikely. The assumption would always be that they were on an errand of some kind.
Once we reached the sixth form (age seventeen) our timetable often had free periods where there was no formal instruction as such. We were expected to study on our own which essentially meant that we had the run of the school and nobody much cared what we did as long as it didn’t disturb other people. My friends and I used to sneak down to the cellars and smoke cigarettes, though later we developed an obsessive interest in cards and we spent the time playing bridge instead.
JANE: My school had study hall rather than free periods. You could do what you wanted with the time, but since you were required to be in a specific room, you didn’t have a lot of choice. I usually got started on my homework. My school gave a lot of homework.
ALAN: So was the room where you did homework a home room? What exactly is a home room?
JANE: Around fifth grade (at least for me, this may vary), students stop receiving all their instruction from one teacher in one room. “Home room” is where a student reports at the beginning of the day to hear announcements and such.
Again, my high school experience was atypical. I was in the orchestra and practice was right before classes started. Therefore, where other students would go to home room and chat or catch up with homework, I’d slide in just in time to hear announcements and leave for class.
ALAN: Hang on. Slow down. I understand home room now – we had the same thing, except we called it a form room. But fifth grade? High school? You’ve mentioned high school several times.
JANE: That’s long and complicated. Let’s do it next time.