April 28, 2013

Maine Observer: No regrets when 'dungarees' show signs of age

A random little jolt of reality at the redemption center proves mostly harmless and amusing to a former English teacher.

By FRED CHENEY

The other afternoon, I took a big bag of empty bottles and cans to the redemption center.

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The attendant, about my age (significant, but thanks for not asking), was laughing under his breath. Pretty soon, however, "under" was not a factor.

"These young kids. They're ... they're ..."

"Young," I offered.

He shook his head in agreement. He went on to explain that he had mentioned to his young co-workers that a prominent local person had just been in, and she'd just gone into the main store connected to the redemption room.

Evidently, they were entranced with this person. Looking through the door to the store, they asked how to identify her.

"Gray jacket and dungarees."

Blank stares all around.

" 'Dungarees'?"

"Well, go on in there and see for yourself."

This is about where I came in and got all the background information.

The two young co-workers came back from the main store, and my checker laughed at them. They tried unsuccessfully to ignore him.

One of them looked straight at me and asked, "Do you know what 'dungarees' are?"

"Take a look. I'm wearing a pair," I answered.

I was trying my best not to be dismissive because I really like young people, having taught ... and taught.

I guess my attitude took because he smiled back and said, "You learn something every day."

"Make it your goal." I couldn't hold back the teacher.

Aging is like that. Random little jolts. Mostly harmless, hopefully.

That same evening, a former student put a post on Facebook saying that Ralph Macchio is now the same age Pat Morita was when they made "The Karate Kid" together. He then posed the question, "How old does that make you feel?"

The comments poured in, all names I remembered, all admitting that they were truly getting long of tooth.

I had had enough. I summoned my best acerbic posture and informed them that I am the age of Pat Morita now!

I do have to be fair here. I remember noting with interest when the word "jeans" replaced "dungarees." It still feels a little off to me.

And it was around that same time that I had these FB friends in class. I taught English, and I genuinely appreciate the democracy of language. Words really mean what the users intend them to mean. No more, no less. End of case.

Sometimes, commercial forces intervene to change the image of something and meaning morphs a bit. But the democracy of even that is huge. I'll take it.

That said, to me, where and when I grew up, "dung" was a euphemism. And I still revel in my dungarees.

Fred Cheney is a resident of Bowdoinham.

 

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