by Carol Delak, Becketwood Member
My ma hated dogs. She liked cats even less. Why she put up with us kids I have no idea. Kids in the 1950s were about as close to animals as humans can get.
If, in the winter, a Fifties kid fell down an incline (I was going to say hill but any bump in the snow would do), he was bigger at the bottom of it than he was at the top. He did not slide, he rolled, picking up more snow as he rolled. Snow stuck to him, by golly, courtesy of 100% wool clothing. Wool clothing--those were the days, eh?
I had a pair of lavender wool snow pants when I was about five. Lavender. Wool. Snow pants. Did not match a single other garment in our entire household. Did Ma care? No! I was a kid. What does a kid know!?!
A kid knows better than to buy a pair of lavender wool snow pants, that's for sure.
But Ma probably didn't buy them. Somebody probably gave them to her. I can't imagine her picking them up second hand (she knew better than to pay for second-hand lavender wool snow pants, but free? she was game). I cannot imagine any female cousins wearing them. No, those pants were probably left outside our back door by some poor kid just thrilled to be rid of them. I can just imagine this unknown happy kid skipping away, freezing his or her little tush but happy just the same.
(Parent: Where are your lavender wool snow pants? Kid: The Boogie Man ate 'em.)
Dang but that Boogie Man was sneaky!
You know what was the worst thing about those snow pants (besides the color and the fact that they were a couple of inches too short for me)? They were fuzzy. Really, really fuzzy. That fuzziness (along with the quilted lining) made them warm. It allegedly kept me dry, because melted snow clung to those fuzzy hairs, never able to penetrate close to my body. As long as I was moving, I supposedly shed those water droplets. But stand still and they froze, usually around the ankles (thank you, gravity).
I'd come in the back door and Ma would immediately order me outside. She'd come out with a straw broom (was there any other kind?) and order me to put my hands against the wall and spread 'em, just like a tiny criminal. And then she'd go at me with the broom . She'd particularly worry the spot just behind my knees. The knees would buckle. "Stand up straight!" I'd struggle to remain upright as she'd attack my tender ankles, where the melted snow had turned into icicles. Only when we were entirely snow free would Ma let any kids into the house. Snow pants and jackets were thrown over the basement clothesline. Mitts, scarves and hats would go on the radiator in the entryway to dry.
Let's talk about mittens, shall we? No kid (unless the family was really, really poor) had only one pair. No, each kid had lots of mittens (shared with siblings), few of them matching. Those mitts were wool, probably knit by Gramma, who never used a pattern. She probably didn't use new wool either. No, she patiently unraveled some sweater or scarf no longer needed, wanted, or in good repair. She'd knit up a bunch of mittens and we'd be happy just to get them. We wore two pairs at one time. Why? Because those dang things were wool! Wool keeps you warm but it just attracts snow.
And then we'd have snowball fights, my brother, boy cousins and I. Fast and furious, at first fairly accurate, then increasingly erratic. What happened to those errant snowballs? Was the Boogie Man putting some kind of jinx on them? Was the old arm getting tired? No! It was those dang wool mittens. They became encrusted with snow, and with snow they grew. In short order the mitts got icy until reaching the critical stage: you threw a snowball and your mitten went with it. (No, Gramma didn't make idiot strings; they did not have idiot strings in Croatia.)
And oh how we hated putting that frozen mitten back on! It was icy, it was big, it wouldn't stay on. And the best worst part of it all? There were icicles hanging around the cuff. Icicles that came in handy: you could suck on them. You had to be careful. Suck too hard and it came off with the fuzz still attached. Oh, the taste of wool! Former-sweater-now-mitten wool. Sheep hair. Gag. Pooey pooey, spit it out.
And then, pooped out, exhilarated, really tired from dragging those snow-encrusted wool snow pants around, ready to do something else, we'd go back into the house. And we'd have to go through that whole broom routine; only when we were a bit bigger, the biggest kid wielded the broom. That's when you truly knew what it meant to be the younger sibling. The wet jackets and snow pants went over the clothesline in the basement, the mitts went on the radiator to dry. Long after the cousins left, the wet animal smell of wool hats and mittens would waft into the kitchen.
No, we didn't have a dog or a cat. We had kids with wet wool mittens. That was more than enough "wild" for my ma.
Photo Credit: Wellcome Library, London
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