When we were children and my parents still hadn’t been in America very long, there were certain cultural short circuits that had to be sorted out. Some customs of the country were so foreign as to seem outlandish to my parents. Sleepovers, for example, made no sense at all to them. When we’d ask if we could spend the night at a friend’s house their faces would register astonishment. They would ask, “Why would you do that? What’s wrong with your own bed at home?” Trick or Treating was another concept they found bizarre. They were mortified by the idea that their children would dress up in costumes to go begging door to door for candy. And then there was the issue of jeans. For many years this particular article of clothing did not exist in our wardrobes, because my parents insisted that it would be disrespectful to our teachers to wear jeans to school.
They finally realized that the dress code was different in the States, when they had their first parent teacher conference with my little brother Teddy’s kindergarten teacher. Teddy’s teacher had a long shaggy beard, he often tucked a daisy into his grey mane behind his ear, and he always wore a pair of denim overalls to school. Faced with this incontrovertible evidence, my parents had to concede that wearing jeans to school would be acceptable. It still wasn’t smooth sailing, by any means. My mom decided that rather than buying jeans, she would make them for us. She threw herself wholeheartedly into the project. She even used red thread along the seams and to stitch artful, free-form designs on the back pockets. To give you an idea of how successful we thought this particular DIY experiment was, we would choose to wear our velvet upholstery pantsuit ensembles rather than the homemade jeans.
One day the inconceivable happened. This man, my father, aka the Easter Island Head:
…emerged from his room wearing a pair of jeans. For a moment the earth stood still. We all stared, blinking, dumbfounded, our mouths agape. And then my sister broke the silence when she started singing under her breath, “Here comes Wrangler. He’s one tough customer. He knows what he likes, when he sees it.”