January 27, 2014

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

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.”

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