Sentinel-Echo.com

January 27, 2014

Points East: Long johns might have been the first unisex garment

By Ike Adams
Columnist

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The long john tales just keep on pouring in.  My grandniece, Shelbi Poole, wrote to say that her husband, Steven, still wears the one-piece “union suit” jobs that my brothers and I grew up with before going to the two-piece type in adulthood.  Shelbi wanted to know if there is a name for that opening in the rear end.  I told her that we always called it “the back door.”

Several folks wrote to complain about how “scratchy” the ones they had in their early years were. 

And they were that for sure.  Mom ordered ours mostly from Spiegel’s mail order house, and sometimes from Montgomery Ward’s. They were made of a fabric advertised as 50 percent linen for comfort and 50 percent wool for warmth.  Mom called the fabric blend “linsey-woolsie.”

Brother Keeter said, “Call it whatever you want to, but it ought to be called itchy-cracky.”  Our teachers knew not to ask what was wrong when one of her students kept scratching all the time.  It meant that the kid had already moved into his long johns, but no student was going to fess up and tell the entire classroom that his underwear was bothering him.  Keeter once told a teacher he’d slept with the house dog last night and a flea must have gotten on him.  But such a confession, whether true or not, was apt to wind up with the entire school nicknaming you “Fleabait.”   

So the best thing to do was just say something was making you itch and let it go at that and nobody would laugh because they knew what was going on and that they, too, were soon going to be having the same problem.  The rest of the class might kid you a little at recess and you’d have to say, “Well, it frosted in the head of the holler last night.”

Mom made us start wearing the ridiculous things immediately after the first frost even though most other folks seemed to wait until the first, hard freeze. 

Still, by the middle of November, the classroom would be a blur of motion because everybody would be scratching for all they were worth. Girls wore them too. I have no idea what theirs looked like above the knees because I didn’t have sisters, but I always wondered if they had a back door too.  Now that I think about it, I guess they ‘bout had to. Long johns were probably the first unisex garment. 

Jim Cornett, fellow writer and Letcher County native who now lives in Burnside, Ky., wrote to tell me that one time his grandpa had a terrible accident because of long johns.

Jim said his grandpa had a huge pear tree in the back yard that his chickens roosted in and he had a prize flock of heavyweight egg layers.

One night, the dogs went to barking treed and the chickens started squawking real loud, so Grandpa grabbed his shotgun and a carbide light and ran outside in just his boots and underwear because he figured a possum or weasel was trying to kill his chickens.

He had the shotgun cocked and up to his shoulder with one arm while he used the other one to shine the light up in the tree to spot the varmint. 

But he had inadvertently left the back door to his long johns open, so one of the dogs that had lost interest in whatever critter it was that had come on the place, sneaked up behind Grandpa and cold nosed his bottom that was poked out through the opening. 

 The dog startled Gramps so badly he pulled the trigger on his shotgun and it kicked him down and, while he was lying there on the frozen ground, three of his best laying hens fell out of the top of the pear tree and landed on top of him. I reckon the possum or weasel, or whatever it was, escaped the blast.

        

ikeadams@aol.com