Copyright 1999
Sam Elmore


Recently I was pecking away on my computer, chatting on the Internet with two of my nieces. The subject got around to the shoebox of family pictures that we all have. We laughed self-consciously, and with a smidgen of relief, about the way we looked in the school pictures that were taken way back yonder in Grammar School days. The relief was generated by the fact that we ‘survived' that period, with most everything intact.

There were times in my life when I would have paid a king's ransom for the negatives (and all existing copies) of those school pictures of myself. It is beyond my understanding how the photographers, in those days, could make everybody look so ugly. Oh, I know all the standard things they say: "The camera doesn't lie"....and: "The camera only records what it sees". Wa'al, mebbe so, and mebbe no.

Take a look at the pictures of modern-day grammar school students (of the same age group as we were.) Every last one of these modern boys have their hair combed real neat, and the girls have their tresses nicely coifed (I looked it's a good word.) They all have a beautimus smile on their face, and not one errant sock has crawled down around a country boys ankle. There are no uncontrolled cow-licks, few fist-fight scars from recent encounters on the playground, and the modern girls all look prepared for a Hollywood screen test.

I have an opinion as to how come there is such a big difference in the way kids look in school pictures now, as opposed to then: kids today are notified well in advance when school pictures are going to be taken. That gives every boy a chance to get a decent haircut, and the girls can primp real good, and wear their best dress to school on picture-taking day. Mama's have the opportunity to fuss over their kids long enough to make them look their best for the picture-taking session. Shoot, now-a-days they even help the kids pose for school pictures.

On the other hand, the taking of school pictures in my time was handled something like this (on the same day the pictures were made):

"Everybody stand up from your desk; single file outside. When your name is spoke, go set down on the bottom step yonder. Quit fidgiting! Button that top button on your shirt. Who told you to smile? Stop that! Now get back in the classroom and recite "Lowengrin's Come-Uppance"...That's how come we are so ugly in them old-timey school pictures.

One particular incident stands out in my recall from that period. One evening, we got off'n the school bus when it stopped at the end of the sand road leading up to our house. I was all down in the dumps, and feeling about like a pullet after it's been run over by one of Mr. Smead Stewart's pu'p-wood trucks. Usually, me'n my two brothers (Barge and Baucum) would change out of our school clothes and play in the yard until called to wash up for supper. Well, that day, my brothers played...I jest moped.

Mama must have caught on that something wasn't right (you know how Mama's can do that) because she came out'n the kitchen, and set down on the back porch steps. She called me over there. I sidled over, draggin' my feet, with my head tucked down.

"Bud, you been actin' like a sick dawg ever since you got off'n the school bus. What's the matter?"

"Awwww, nuthin'."

"Yes, there is sump'm. Now, you tell me what's wrong. Are you ailin' or sump'm?"

"N'ome...I ain't sick."

"Well, what is it, then?"

"It's jest's jest..."

She reached out and put a finger under my chin, and hefted my head up where she could ketch my eye-balls.

"What is it, son?", she asked, real gentle-like.

" come I'm so ugly?"

"Whaaaaat? Who told you that?"

"Wa'al, at school...we was being moved from one room to next, and everybody was bein' paired off with desks. These two fellers, they...sort of...put me up to asking Cecelia Benjamin if she wanted to set at the same desk with me. She jest laughed at me and said sump'm about me being ugly."

" she purty?"

"Mama, she's the purtiest thang I ever seen't in my whole life!"

"Naw, she ain't, son."

"Hunh?" (Translation: ‘Please continue with that train of thought, Mama, and elucidate further, if you don't mind.')

"She ain't purty, son. She might be purty to look at, but there ain't nobody purty unless they purty on the inside...and I can tell she ain't."

(You have probably noticed that, up to this point, Mama has not confirmed that I was the handsomest boy in Clay Township.)

"Uhhh...what'che mean, Mama?"

"Son, it's what's on the inside of a person that makes them purty;" (She wipes the cow-lick out'n my face) "' you are; 'cause you're purty...(her finger touches the bib pocket of my overalls)...on the inside, where it counts. Now, go tell ye' brothers I said wash up for supper."

I ran to the front yard where my brothers were hunkered down playing marvels. I rek'n they could tell that sump'm had changed, ‘tween the time we got off'n the school bus, and now. They didn't know what it was...and there weren't no way I could s'plain it to ‘em.

I'll wager them two brothers of mine was the most baffled boys in the world, there for a good while. After a couple of weeks had passed, they still hadn't figgered out what the change was, and how come I was running without touchin' the ground, and grinnin' like a fool. But they accepted it. They jest scratched their heads, looked at each other, and shrugged. Shoot. It was plumb simple...I wuz purty! (On the inside, where it counted.)

I've been around long enough to see the birth of a multitude of inventions and new technologies, and I've seen all kinds of fads and trends come and go...and come around again, in many cases. I am also aware that jillions of people spend waaaay too many of their hard-earned dollars on getting (and staying) ‘in shape.'

Men and women everywhere seem to be going on, and falling off of, some ‘miracle' diet; buying tons of cosmetic stuff to make themselves pretty on the outside. Seems like every new ‘medicine' that comes along goes immediately onto the ‘most wanted' list. Just look at all the hullabaloo in recent times about hair-growing formulas for men...and the "Viagra" pill. Look at all the women who go to them ‘aerobic work-out' saloons; all for the purpose of looking pretty---to other folks.

I am not on a soap-box here, preaching that people should let themselves go and not try to take care of themselves. What I am trying to say is that they seem to have got their priorities out of kilter. Now I'm not saying that I grabbed a-holt of Miz Hattie's philosophy right off'n the bat, neither. Noooo. It took me many a year to find out ‘where she was coming from' (as the hippies say it.)

That first time, when she convinced me that I was ‘purty on the inside'...well, it needed reinforcing more'n a few times along the way, as I was growing up. Somewhere along the line though, and I rightly can't say just when, I did come to believe that what Mama said was the pure-dee gospel truth.

As a result, I have come to believe the following:

a) I still am ugly on the outside; but I'm sure ‘nuff purty on the inside. (I know that for a fact, because my Mama said so...and you don't never argue with your Mama.)

b) If everybody would cotton to the idy that purty on the outside ain't worth no more'n half a haircut, they'd be a whole lot better off.

c) If you are purty on the inside (and most everybody can be), then you can ‘dance with what brung you' (on the outside), and never, ever, be a wall-flower at this-here square-dance of life.