Summer Sunday: Summer Uniforms

Summer Sunday: Summer Uniforms


We all wore them.

We had to.

Without exception, every single kid employed at the amusement park by the lake was obliged to wear the same uniform, red and blue striped collared jerseys, khaki shorts. The teenagers who served cotton candy, the ones that squeezed families into rollercoaster seats, sold tickets, put people in paddleboats on the lake, or mopped the bathroom floors. Even the lifeguards, when they were not in bathing suits guarding the beach.

I hated them. At first, anyway. They were sort of universally unattractive, not anything any teenager in the 90s would pick to wear. The sort of outfit your grandparents might find appropriate, I guess, and that’s probably why they were selected. To make everyone look wholesome. To make everyone look the same.

They worked, those uniforms.

They did make everyone look the same.

Whether it was a jock from Bristol, a druggie from Plainville, a punk from Southington. Poor kids, rich kids, well-adjusted kids, troubled kids with challenging situations at home. Once we put on the uniform, we were all the same. It was kind of magical…it was this great equalizer. It was completely unlike high school, where the way you dressed manufactured a persona; preppy clothes or ripped jeans, dresses or parachute pants. At the lake, all of these stereotypes melted away, like snow cones in the sun. At the lake, we all blended in. It was a little bit like “The Breakfast Club”—socializing with people who were different. Making friends with kids we’d never otherwise have met or had the chance to really get to know.

In the end, I loved the summer uniform.

Not the matronly khaki shorts; not the toddler-style jerseys. But what the uniforms represented: we were all a part of a team, a big group of young adults spending their summer days together, working and playing and bridging socio-economic gaps and the differences in our personalities. We all belonged to this group, with no outsiders, no insiders, and no false hierarchy. I had worn other uniforms; soccer shirts and shorts, girl scout clothes, but this was different. This was something bigger, and broader, and more special. I don’t think I ever really felt like I belonged anywhere until I worked at the lake. Those summers and the people I met changed my life, like a billiard ball being struck and spun in so many different directions.

So I wasn’t surprised when my five-year-old son found his first “summer uniform.”

After a few days at skateboard camp, he was entrenched. He had found his tribe. He didn’t want to take his helmet off—he wore it every morning in the car on the way to camp – and I could barely get him to take it off afterward. As we walked through town, on one of the hottest days of June, his hair matted and his face shining with rivulets of sweat, we spotted some of the kids from school down the street. He grabbed at my hand and wrenched his helmet from it, put it back on his head and stood up tall, walking confidently. I had never seen him carry himself like this, but I recognized the feeling. This helmet was his uniform, and he was a part of something bigger than himself—he belonged.

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