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Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: “13 Buttons”

Bell Bottoms
rustyzipper.com

The bell bottom thirteen button gaberdine uniform I owned for a short time as a young sailor is still, in my mind, the coolest thing I have ever worn, in or out of the navy. Just re-reading this memory makes me long for the feel and look of them.

Thirteen Buttons

I joined the navy in 1955 when I was 17, and by the time I was 18, I had nearly a year at sea aboard a navy destroyer. I felt that salt was a part of my blood and I could swagger with the best of them. I wore my regulation, standard issue uniform with pride. It had always been good enough for me, although it was a little loose in the seat. That, however, was before a shipmate named Lonnie brought a set of gabardine dress blues into my world.

For the third time in my life I found the true meaning of sartorial beauty, and it had 13 buttons. I rushed right out and spent a months pay for my own set of those skin tight beauties at the very next port my ship the U.S.S. Hawkins pulled into. I remember feeling like what a new bride must feel like as she slips on that white wedding gown for the first time.

One of the things that helped make those gabardines so desirable, along with that skin tight look of course, was the fact that they were outlawed aboard my ship. They were not regulation, and were therefore not even allowed in our lockers, which meant we were forced to keep them hidden. Lonnie and I would sneak them ashore and then back aboard ship. We were forced to change clothes in restrooms or any other place we could find.  This was an inconvenience to be sure, but not enough to deter us.

The thirteen button pants fit so snug they nearly cutoff my circulation, and the jumper hugged me so tight I could hardly breathe, but it was worth it. Lonnie and I would walk down the street, swinging our arms so the silk dragons on the rolled back cuffs of our jumpers could be seen and admired by all those who passed by us. The bell bottom pant legs slapping around our ankles completed our salty look. We were “cool” years before that word was even used to describe a hip style of dressing. My girlfriend said they even made me look older, “maybe even 20.” I was in gabardine heaven, and it seemed that all eyes had to be on me when I wore them.  Life was perfect. Almost.

One night I woke up in a cold sweat. I’d had a terrible dream that mom was standing at the foot of my bunk with her wringer washer, demanding the gabardines. It was a warning- I know that now. The dream turned out to be prophetic. Lonnie and I were only allowed to be “cool” for a little while, before a surprise inspection, the scourge of the enlisted man, uncovered our outlawed 13 buttons hidden under our regulation sets at the bottom of our lockers. The Inspecting Officer tossed them casually to the Master at Arms, who stuffed them into his contraband bag,but not before he had rubbed the fabric between his thumb and forefinger to feel the fine texture of the material.

A somber silence fell over the Crew’s quarters, as they took them away, and I thought I heard Lonnie whimpering.  Then I realized; it was me.  I still think about those Gabardine Blues now and then and how good they made me feel when I wore them. I could have bought another set of course, but as it is with the first time for everything, it wouldn’t have been the same.

The memory of that uniform is still with me, and I can still feel the texture of the material, as well as the texture of my life back then when I think of them. There have been other clothes and “Texture” memories as I have matured, but none like those of my youth. I think that’s because, as soon as something gets real comfortable now, my wife classifies it as worn out and gets rid of it. She learned that from my mother.

Tune in to Jack Miller on Newstalk 1050 KSIS every Monday morning to hear excerpts from his book of Mid-Missouri memories, titled ‘Unhurried Days.’

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