Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Necktie

The tie Joyce made for me
in 1970.
A few days ago, writing about how I recently got rid of scores of neckties, I mentioned one that Joyce had made for me in 1970. The picture shows it.

We didn't have much money then, the first year of our marriage. I was not yet making $10,000 a year, and Joyce was making $2500/year as a grad assistant in the English Department at Kent State, where she was beginning work on her Ph.D. Yes, things were cheaper (our rent at 323 College Court was $75/month + utilities; our car pmt., about $90/mo.)--but not that much cheaper. Things were tight in that little apartment (1 bedroom, 1 bath--sans shower, kitchen living room, dining room).

I was still wearing neckties every day to teach at Aurora Middle School (Harmon did not yet exist); all the men did. My father, a professor, had worn (and still wore) a tie every day; all my male teachers in junior high and high school had worn them; so had my college and grad school professors. It was just part of the uniform. You teach? You wear a tie (if you're a guy).

Gradually, over the years, however, the dress code softened, and by the end of my public school career (1997), I was wearing chinos and polo shirts in the warm weather, chinos and sweaters in the cold. I would have worn blue jeans and sandals--but the principal thought that was a bit much; in fact, he once took me aside and told me that the slacks I was wearing looked too much like blue jeans. (Message: Don't wear those again! I didn't.) After I retired from Aurora in January 1997, I wore ties only to weddings and funerals and other occasions when I couldn't avoid the odious practice. Then in the fall of 2001 I returned to teaching and neckties at Western Reserve Academy; all male students and faculty and administrators had to wear them. The code. I owned very few ties in 2001 and was always at TJ Maxx or the like looking for new ones during my ten years at the Academy.

Poet Sharon Olds
One of the ties I liked was a black-and-brown tiger-striped one (I wore it probably once a week). In April 2006, poet Sharon Olds spent a day at WRA, a day I'd initially arranged with her (with help from a parents' funding group on campus + with help from colleague Jeannie Kidera; she took over because I was not teaching at the time but was instead dealing with prostate cancer surgery and its aftermath). I'd exchanged many emails with Sharon Olds, and we sort of knew each other in that way. I did not meet her face-to-face, however, until the book-signing after school that day. When she came into the room, she approached me and said, "What a beautiful tie." (I was wearing the tiger one.) I flushed, not knowing how to handle a compliment like that (I rarely get compliments on my appearance, and I'm no Fashion Hound). And I swaggered around the signing in my Olds-admired tie feeling pretty special. I happened to drift near the signing table later on; a colleague was standing there while she signed his book. And I heard her say to him, "What a beautiful tie!" And he blushed and stammered. And I learned something ... about Sharon Olds, about the power of a compliment.

Anyway, back to 1970 ... little money. Joyce's mother was a wonderful seamstress (that word does not sound PC--but there you go) and had taught Joyce as much as she could. (Joyce has a wonderful essay called "My Mother's Singer" (here's a link to Joyce's webpage; she talks about the essay there.), an essay about her mother's Singer sewing machine (which we now have) and about her mother's skill.)

Joyce told me that she would make me a tie if I'd pick out the fabric. Much cheaper than buying one--and, once we had the pattern, she could make others. (That didn't happen!)

The Sixties were barely over, and people were still wearing bright colors and bell-bottoms and flowery things--men and women. So, as you can see in the picture, I picked out something in rhythm with the times. Joyce made the tie very efficiently, and I wore it all the time for a few years (kids liked it). Then ... times and fashions changed and, as I said, I'd quit wearing ties every day. And it hung on my tie rack--for decades. Even when I started back at WRA in 2001, I didn't put it on.

Then came Thursday, 19 May 2011, the last day I would ever teach a class. Going through the closet, I noticed Joyce's tie, and I knew I would wear it that day. I did--and when I told the kids its story, I got lots of Awwwwwwwwww's.

It's back on the hook now--one of the few survivors of the Great Tie Purge of last week. Not sure when/if I'll wear it again. Maybe if Sharon Olds again comes to town?

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