When I was in the sixth grade, I wanted to fit in with all of the really popular kids in the worst way.
One way I could have achieved this goal was through fashion. You see, when I was in the sixth grade, there were several things that mattered most in the world: wrestling, Pokemon, Nintendo 64 and two articles of clothing that would place you in the upper-echelon of coolness.
Snap-on pants and Nike Cortez running shoes (the shoes that Jenny gives Forrest in “Forrest Gump”).
At this point of time, I was still developing a way to find comfort in my own skin, something I have no issue with now, and my interest in the fashion world was minimum at best. However, I knew I wanted those shoes and those pants.
Anybody who was somebody at Eisenhower Middle School had both, and I wanted to be one of those somebody’s.
I begged and begged my mother to get them for me. You see, at this point in time, my mom had gotten a great job at a fiber glass plant, where she also met my future step-father. Together, they provided great stability and my mother and I were back on our feet after a couple of really down years financially.
My mom always did things like this, I would get two pair of shoes, one black and one white, to start the school year and another pair to start the next semester depending on if either the black or white pair was more run down.
This system worked perfectly for me throughout elementary school, I was more concerned with getting toys, video games and new “Goosebumps” books than shoes anyway. So this sudden interest in luxury footwear caught my mom off guard.
We had some extra income for all of five minutes and here I was pleading for new shoes. Like I said, this wasn’t my style before, but before I wasn’t a middle school student with the desire to fit in with all of these new and cool kids.
I’ve never been associated with the cool kids. I was always the “goody good,” smart and overachieving nerdy kid. This was my chance to try something new, but it would only be possible with those shoes and those snap-on pants.
On Christmas Day in 1998 my dreams came true.
My mom had outdone herself. I got a new bubble coat that was both fashionable (it was the ’90s), warm and unbelievably cool. I got a red Nintendo 64 controller, four new games and lots of other stuff. But the grand poobah of presents had yet be revealed.
When I first opened a package that revealed my blue snap-on pants with the white stripe going down the sides, I could barely contain my glee. As I opened my next present, which revealed the orange Nike shoebox that held my black-on-black leather Cortezes, I lost it.
I couldn’t believe she has pulled off this miracle of all miracles for Christmas (remember, this is my train of thought at 11).
Never in my life had I wanted winter break to end so badly.
Once classes resumed, I strolled though the hallways of Eisenhower as not only a new man, but as the man. Here I was with my new coat, those killer snap-on pants (again, this was the ’90s) and my Cortezes. I knew I was untouchable.
To put into perspective how cool my coat was, I actually caught three guys trying to break into my locker to steal it once. I gently tapped the lead thief, C.J., on the shoulder and opened my locker, took my coat and books out and walked off.
Like I said, “Untouchable.”
This all came to a crushing end after less than a month.
I spent a ton of time at my Papa and Grandma’s place growing up, so naturally, I wanted to show all of my friends in the neighborhood all of my cool new stuff from Christmas. So sometime in January, I took my 13-inch TV, my N64, new coat, snap-on pants and my cherished Nikes over there with me for a weekend visit.
This was a mistake.
I woke up around 1 a.m. to see my grandparents’ battling a fire on the couch opposite of the one I was sleeping on. The smoke was choking me and the smoke detector was deafening me with its unmistakable siren that signaled there was a fire.
I started yelling for them to get out of the house and as I started coughing, I remembered the lessons learned in school, and went low to the ground to breathe fresh air.
My grandparents tried their best to fight it, but it was pretty obvious it was getting out of hand and my grandmother and I ran out of the house as my Papa stayed back and tried his best to win a battle he wasn’t meant to win against the fire.
Despite how much I longed for all of the items I got for Christmas, I didn’t think twice about going back for them. My only concern was for my grandparents and making sure we all got out. So once we were all safe and outside (barefoot and in pajamas, except for Papa, he managed to throw on boots, a jumpsuit and a baseball cap) I did what any kid would do at the time — I cried.
This was one of the best and worse Christmases I’ve experienced.
While I lost a lot of material things and reverted back to being just another kid in the hallways, we all survived and I got to enjoy time with my grandmother for another six years before she passed away in 2004.
So I have to say a belated happy birthday to my Grandma Rushing, whose birthday on Dec. 20, would have saw her turn 71 years old.
It may not be the most delightful Christmas story ever told, but it’s mine and it was another of life’s little tent poles that helped make me who I am today.
At least I didn’t have Lucy pulling a football out from under me.