Peer Pressure

Everyone has a desire to be accepted and to feel comfortable with those around them. It is strange the extent to which some will go in order to achieve acceptance and inclusion in the group. I began to deal with this situation very early when, because of my small stature and light weight, I was the last guy ever chosen for a football team. Whatever! Anyway, the desire to be accepted and included is a very strong emotion. Enter the term "peer pressure." The kids of today, to be accepted, have to deal with much more than we did back in the fifties. It is a miracle that we have as many young people today who are really quality people. But, peer pressure is always a strong motivator no matter the generation in which one lives.

When my mother, Martha Raye Harrell, was ninety-one, I asked her a question one day while visiting her in Tifton. I asked her what was a good positive thing about being ninety-one. She didn't hesitate at all when she replied: "no peer pressure." She had lived long enough that all those who formerly could put peer pressure on her were no longer around. I thought it was a profound answer to my question.

When I was growing up, along with several other siblings in the household, we were not able to have the "latest fashion" most of the time. My mother, was one of the best seamstresses in the whole world. She could take a simple piece of cloth and turn it into a beautiful dress for one of my sisters or a handsome shirt for me or one of my brothers. She was always at the sewing machine and kept it humming. For many years her machine was a Singer which was operated with a foot pedal. I often thought that my mother must have the strongest leg muscles in the world. She pedaled that sewing machine for hours each week making clothes for a large family because we didn't have the money to get store bought things very often. In those days, the Birdsey Flour Store sold flour that was bagged in beautiful fabric bags which could be turned into clothes by someone as talented at sewing as my mother. A woman would buy flour in a particular pattern until she had enough material to make something from it. Early on in life, my father, Frank Harrell, was the manager of a the Birdsey Flour Store on Love Avenue in Tifton so she had an "inside source" for the fabric designs she wanted and even after he pursued other avenues in life, she continued to get those flour bags. Dresses and shirts would suddenly appear after her talented hands finished their work. I remember one shirt she made me. It was my favorite. It had a dark blue body and sleeves but the collar and the front placket were white with dark blue polka dots on them. It was a slip over shirt and only had about two buttons on the front. It was a "cool" shirt. I wore it as often as I could. Most of my shirts were acquired the same way; from mother's sewing machine.

There were many times at school when some guy who came from a family who could afford to buy expensive and well-labeled shirts would be bragging about the name of his shirt and flash the label around. Well, my problem was that my beautiful shirts were more well-made and more handsome but they didn't have a label which carried bragging rights with it. In fact, there was no label at all! So, being the "creator" she was, the problem was not hard to solve. Mother would find the label from a popular shirt maker and quietly place it in my home-made shirt. Suddenly, the peer pressure was gone. All I had to do was show my label and I felt good about myself immediately. It solved the problem of the peer pressure. In later years, as I looked back on the situation, peer pressure seemed so childish but I can assure you it wasn't childish at the time. A simple label, with the right name on it, brought acceptance into the proper peer group.

I also remember that while I was in Tifton High School, there was a particular brand of shoes which, if you were "with it," you had to be wearing. Lee or Levi jeans with one cuff turned up coupled with a pair of Bass Weejuns was the way to go! You had to have some Bass Weejuns to be cool, and I wanted to be cool (peer pressure applied). So what did I do? There were other penny loafers that could be purchased that looked exactly like the Bass Weejuns. Same color. Same design. Held pennies the same. They were identical in every way except that they didn't have the two little holes at the rear of the shoe just above the heel like the more expensive shoes had. Now, those little holes were there for a purpose. As the shoes were going through the manufacturing process there came the point where they had to be hung up to dry after they were dyed. The clip which held the shoe on the line for drying made those two little holes at the top of the back strap. People would actually walk around behind another person to see if his shoes had those two little identifying holes. Mine, which were bought at the Big Store and were far less expensive, didn't have the holes. During the teen age years this peer pressure can cause one to do strange things and feel rejected over basically nothing. I was always suspicious when I caught someone moving around behind me. Were they looking for the two little holes in my shoes? Or, were they going to slip up behind me and place a lit cigarette butt in the cuff of my jeans and burn a hold in them. Dangerous days! Well, what did I do? The solution was not hard. In fact, it was in my mother's cooking utensil drawer. A simple tool which solved a big problem for me. It was an ice pick. I took that ice pick and punched two little holes at the back of both shoes. I was careful to place them just perfectly and make sure that they were the right diameter. They had to pass the "peer pressure" test. And, thankfully, they did. No one knew that my Big Store shoes were not Bass Weejuns. They didn't cost thirty dollars (a lot of money in those days) but only about half that much. But, with those ice-pick-made holes, the value suddenly doubled. It was my secret but also my inventive way of dealing with the peer pressure associated with the fashion of the day.

Peer pressure never seems to go away. The older one gets they find that there is something of some nature that drives them to be accepted and overcome peer pressure. I guess "Keeping up with the Joneses" is a good way of expressing it. I have come to the conclusion that the final solution is to be like my mother and outlive all those who ever brought upon her that thing that can make one so miserable: Peer Pressure!

William F. Harrell

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