Tuesday, August 3, 2010


As a boy growing up in the South, I was always intrigued by the well dressed men in my family. We lived in the country so I trip to town was like a mini vacation. I remember hitting main street, my brother and I, trailing behind our mother like "Just Married" cans. We would go to Vincent's Drug Store to get supplies for the medicine cabinet, or pick up grandma's "pressure" pills. If we were lucky, Momma would get a freshly squeezed cup of lemonade and share it with us. Mr Vincent, the pharmacist, was a nice man with snow white hair, and dark rimmed glasses. He always seem to be enjoying what he was doing behind the counter. We weren't sure what it was, but it sure was loud.
After we left the Drug Store, we would hit main street again, and head down to Allied. On the way, my brother and I would stop and beg momma to let us go back up the street first so that we could look inside of Ruth's Wardrobe Men Haberdashery. It was like a dreamland inside. The finest clothes we had ever seen danced in plate glass windows while grown men "dressed to the hilt" stood along the registers welcoming customers into the hall of clothing. They had suits in every color, purples, grays, greens, and navy, with the shoes to match. Hats, feathers out to the side, were lined at the top of each shelf hanging over the suits. When the front door would open, the sun would hit the display case just right, and the luster of gold and silver cuff links dazzled us like disco balls hanging over soul train lines. "Come on here", momma would yell. We would take off running like black comets behind her, settling into the reality of our Allied or B. C. Moore purchase. Our parents were together then, so our clothes were nice, but they weren't Ruth's.
Granddad seemed to have a style all is own; the older I got, I realized that Ruth's had a lot to do with it. We didn't have much, but the men in my family looked good when they stepped out with their families. Pictures of my Dad in the best looking suits filled the walls of my grandparents' house. Granddad told me that my dad won best-dressed all during high school. I could see that. Granddad and Grandma both dressed well, and maintained all of their children in the same way.
I told myself, one day, you too will have the best life has to offer. I too will be able to wear suits and step out looking as "sharp as a tack." The men in my family were not perfect by any means, but they taught me through their style that we had standards. Men in the Young family had standards, and we were expected to carry ourselves in a certain way. The standards in how I dressed helped me establish standards at schools, with choosing friends, and ultimately with living life. I miss the days of my childhood when there was no mistaking a man's man, and no mistaking a woman. I miss neighbors holding each other's kids accountable for the actions, and being accountable to each other. I miss the deference given to elders, familiar or strange. But most of all, I miss the sense of self that my family had. They loved themselves hard, and because of it, we knew we were loved wholly and without hesitation. We didn't expect it, but it was all we knew. It was the standard.