Wednesday, July 20, 2011


The belt is nice. But a cape is better.

We are just home from a family road-trip that I would like to dub, the "You went what way? Tour of 2011" because it turns out you can use a map and your memory as you drive around the state you grew up in (but have not lived in for 25 years) or you can use the GPS but if you try to use the GPS for part of it and your memory for part of it you will make mistakes. Big mistakes. Like thinking you are driving south on 23 while actuallygoing east on 96 when trying to get from Brighton to Ann Arbor to visit your grandma who has lived in the same place for 51 years.

Which is how I accidentally ended up in my hometown of Northville Michigan last week. It wasn't part of the plan but I figured I might as well give the kids a quick tour and as I drove them around and told them stories of my youth I soon had them roaring with laughter. The only problem is, I was not trying to be funny; I was just telling them real life things that happened in my childhood and not even in an ironic way.

Here's the story that really slayed them: when I was in the fifth grade at Moraine Elementary, I was a Service Girl. Yes, a Service Girl. This was the 1960s sexist answer to being a Safety Boy.

The boys patrolled the outdoors keeping us all safe from, safe from I don't know what, but they got to wear reflective belts that went around their waists and across their shoulders as they patrolled the playground and yelled at the "walkers" if they ran and told the "bussers" where to line up. They got to be outside because they were boys and everyone knows boys are meant to be outdoors in the wild.

Meanwhile, we Service Girls stayed indoors safe from the elements (that we had just walked to school through...did this make any sense?) We did not get to wear the reflective belts like the Safety Boys but we did not care. We did not care because we got to wear something waaay better-- we got to wear capes. No, not full capes, more like cape-lets that came to about elbow length. They were a muted orange and one of the front flaps of the cape was tacked back to reveal the yellow lining and the orange chenille letters "SG"--for Service Girl of course.

When we wore these we were empowered to boss everyone in the whole school around which we already did (have you ever met a fifth grade girl?) but with the cape we were official bossy girls. We kept the peace by patrolling the lunchroom to make sure people lined up properly in the milk line and didn't talk too loud or have any fun.

Even among the Service Girls I was extra bossy and this trait propelled me through the Service Girl ranks to lieutenant. I wish I could say I made it to captain but I did not. Jane Mach was our captain (damn her!) and though I envied her I served her faithfully and loyally and to this day would follow Jane into any kind of skirmish if called upon.

Because she and I held these elite stations we were called upon to fulfill the highest post in the land --Office Service Girls (I think that's what we were called, if I messed any of this up I hope a former Service Girl will set me straight).

In this capacity we were left alone to answer the phone and greet visitors while the secretary Mrs. Zeuner and the principal Mr. Jacobi went to the teachers' lounge for lunch (and no doubt a smoke). We were highly trained and answered the phone dutifully with "Hello, Moraine School student speaking, may I help you?" and also learned never to say things like, "Yes, Mr. Jacobi is here but he's in the bathroom right now" and other valuable life skills. We also got to dole out ice packs and band aids to the wounded furthering our social status to giddy heights.

I have fond memories of my official bossy time but when I told all of this to my kids they just found it all hilarious (especially the part about the capes) and they were a little amazed that there was ever a time when 10-year-olds were allowed to run a school office as they have grown up in a world where school offices are run not unlike Homeland Security.

Anyhoo, even though we arrived an hour and a half late to my Grandma's house it was worth it to have the opportunity to show my kids the house I grew up in and the schools I attended and tell them "funny" stories.

I just wish I still had my Service Girl cape because this place could use a little discipline.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting concept, those Service Jugend capes, hahaha.