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Old Spice and Jean Naté

Old Spice and Jean Naté

Isn’t it funny how some moments stay with you for a lifetime? Our oldest just started her first year in middle school this year. This has brought back a lot of the memories from when I started middle school, or “junior high” as we called it back in the ‘80s and our typical Chicago suburb.

Every morning, my brother and I were running out the front door to jump in the car as we headed off to school. First, we dropped my brother off by the baseball field at his high school. I was never sure if he had us drop him off there because it was faster, or because he was embarrassed by our burnt orange station wagon and my dad’s odd, Russian Cossack fur hat with ear flaps. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure it was the ear flaps.

We wore stone washed jeans folded over at the bottoms, and our mile high bangs were sprayed in place with Aqua Net hairspray. The boys had grown taller and their voices deeper over the summer. Homeroom smelled like a mixture of Old Spice and Jean Naté.

Looking back on those days, one memory stuck with me. I shared it with our daughter before her first day of middle school. There was a boy in my class who wore the same clothes everyday, and didn’t bathe often. He was pretty quiet, but pretty nice too. I remember not understanding why he wouldn’t just shower and change. But it wasn’t his fault, and he probably didn’t have parents around much to take care of him, like a lot of other latch key kids in the 80’s.

A group of kids had the habit of teasing him and it was worsening daily because no one would stand up to the ring leader. Until one day in Art class, a girl named Jamie B. said “That’s it, no more, stop it, you can make fun of me, but you’re not going to make fun of him anymore.” The little tyrant who made this kid’s life miserable was suddenly struck speechless. Finally, someone was brave enough to stand up to him. The whole room just got silent and stared at this 12-year old girl who had the courage to stand up to the class bully. The bell rang and we had to change classes, but on the inside I remember feeling something like awe.

I don’t really remember much from my classes that year, or the names of all the other kids in my classes, but I never forget Jamie B. Mean kids are a dime a dozen. You can find them at any given moment in any school in the country. But there might only be one “Jamie.” I wish I had the courage to say what Jamie did in that moment. And I told our girls before they stepped out of the car, “Years from now someone might remember your name the way I remember Jamie’s, if you speak up for those who need your voice.” 

Submitted by Brook Reed

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