Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: “Textures of Life” and “That Hoppy Sweater”
This story came to me as I thought about my Grandmother Wickliffe. The wit and wisdom she dispensed along with love to her other grandchildren and me was priceless. She died over 40 years ago, but she was such an influence on my life that I can close my eyes and see her as clearly as if she were here yesterday. The story “Texture of Life” should ring a bell with anyone who knew someone like my grandmother, who could never pass up the opportunity to check the quality of what they were wearing, by feeling the material.
Textures of Life
I was Born in Sedalia, Mo. in 1938, and grew up in the (at least for kids) uncomplicated ’40s and ’50s. I feel lucky to have been young at that point in time, and I have some wonderful memories of those carefree days. Unlike some people, whose memories are tied to certain events, many of mine are marked more by the clothes I wore in those younger days. I call them “Texture Memories,” a phrase inspired by my grandmother, who had the habit of rubbing the material of the clothes I wore between her thumb and forefinger to gauge its quality. Grandma said the texture of a material told her if it was a good quality. She made a lot of the things her grandchildren wore in what I now think of as my flour sack period, so I guess she knew something about texture and quality.
I believe there was texture to my life back then, too, and I can feel it whenever I think of the clothes I wore in those days. It is as if the memories were part of their fabric. Those feelings are strong when I think about the old Hopalong Cassidy sweater and army surplus pants of my school days. They are also strong when thoughts of the cherished set of Gabardine Blues I wore as a young sailor come to mind. I can still feel the warmth of the “Hoppy” sweater I wore day after day until mom would nearly pull it off of me to wash. I can also feel the weight of those army surplus fatigues with the large bulging pockets that held all the things necessary to get a young boy through the day. The Gabardine Blues hold my more grown-up memories, with their thigh hugging tightness, and swishing bell bottoms, that wrapped around my ankles as I walked. They made me feel like that guy on the navy recruiting poster (but shorter of course).
My grandmother also said good texture in the material meant the clothes would last a long time. I guess that goes for memories too.
I’ve added the Mid-Missouri Memory “The Hoppy Sweater” to this post because “Textures of Life” introduces the first three memories in my book ‘Unhurried Days.’ I hope you enjoy both memories and will come to this website to read my weekly offering.
That Hoppy Sweater
The amazing thing was, I didn’t get a permanent rash from that sweater. It did itch sometimes, but not enough to discourage me from wearing it day after day. I think mom would have gladly burned it, but it was a gift from my grandmother. I wore that old sweater to school, to church, and even to bed if I could. I loved it, and was sure it was what attracted my very first girlfriend.
I was in the fourth grade, when a black haired girl, who was at least a head taller than I was, passed me a note that said from now on I was her boyfriend and that I shouldn’t talk to other girls. At that point in my life, to say I was shy was like saying Mount Everest was a hill. I could brag with the best of them, and lie as good as any young boy about my knowledge of girls, but put one in front of me, and I became a stammering idiot.
So it was that before I could work up the courage to approach the black haired girl a week had passed, and another note had been delivered that said it was Paul she really liked. I was sad of course, but also quite relieved. Now it was Paul’s turn to sweat. The worst part was the P.S. she put in the note was that it said “You have mustard on your Hoppy Sweater.”
“Hopalong Cassidy was a lot more important to me than girls,” I told myself as I scraped the mustard off Hoppy and went on with my life. Paul lost out to Larry a week later, and that made me feel a little better, too.
I wish I could say the Hoppy Sweater was in my closet, moth proofed and safe, but I’m afraid it was a casualty of a wringer washer incident. I was always a little suspicious, as was my grandmother. Mom never seemed that sorry. The rest of grade school is a blur to me, but I do remember Paul and I always seemed to like the same girls, but since we were both shorter then most of the girls our age neither one of us had much luck with them.
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.’