Porkpie hats, white bucks: Thank God I’m a country boyEarlier this month I wrote about the return of “The Waltons” to TV and how I can’t get enough of the show.
Earlier this month I wrote about the return of “The Waltons” to TV and how I can’t get enough of the show.
Some folks think I’m batty, but there are reasons that keep bringing me back to the Inspiration Channel. For one thing, it inspires me to write this column.
Just last night I watched the episode in which John-Boy Walton is going to graduate from the little school at the foot of the mountain. He’s the valedictorian and scheduled to deliver his class’ valedictory and then go to Boatwright University in nearby Charlottesville on a scholarship.
To celebrate, his cash-strapped Depression-era family takes him into town and buys him a blue blazer, tan slacks, white bucks, suspenders, a red tie, so he won’t look like a hillbilly when he goes off to college. They return to the homestead and find that their only milch cow, a husky Guernsey named “Chance” has died of old age.
What will the big family do for milk?
His father hopes to trade some fence posts to a neighbor for his 3-year-old Guernsey, but the neighbor demands cash. John-Boy sneaks back to Charlottesville with his new duds and persuades the haberdasher to refund the money.
That done, his father has money to buy the cow.
So all’s well that ends well. Except John-Boy is short a suit to deliver the valedictory.
But guess what? His mother and grandma take Grandpa Walton’s tweed suit, the one he hopes to be buried in, and cuts it down into a fine new suit for John-Boy.
The show ends with narrator Earl Hamner mentioning that his family survived the Depression wearing hand-me-downs.
Well, I should say. Those of us born in the 1930s know all about hand-me-downs. When I went off to college in Eau Claire, lots of students wore porkpie hats. For those too young to remember, porkpies had narrow brims and the crowns resembled a British pastry, the porkpie.
Of course, I couldn’t afford such a luxury and mentioned it to my older cousin, Bud, a recent Eau Claire grad and the Beau Brummel of the Third Ward.
Bud, said, “I’ll fix you up. He grabbed one of his many felt hats, took a scissors, cut the brim back about two inches, smashed down the crown, stuck it on my head and said, there you have it, a porkpie.
I wore it everywhere and finally I wore it home to Whitehall for a weekend. As soon as I entered my parents’ restaurant, an older guy, a Korean War veteran, saw my silly hat and sneered, “Look at Joe College!”
He grabbed my hat, carefully inspected it and said, “This is a homemade porkpie!”
That’s the last I ever wore cousin Bud’s creation. And that’s why the Walton episode rang so true.
At the end of the show, John-Boy has a snazzy suit, but his father warns his son that people at Boatwright University will still know that he’s a country boy, whatever he wears.
I tried for a time to dress like a city boy. I found a good job and spent lots of money on all the stylish stuff: Pink button-down shirts, charcoal gray belted-back trousers, seersucker suits, knit ties and, yes, white bucks.
I didn’t fool anyone. I was a country boy.
So for many years I’ve tried to dress like one.
When my uncle, a fellow with the unlikely name of Gene Harlow, passed on, his widow gave me his clothes. Gene was in the Navy during World War II, because as our hired man LeRoy Helgeson said, “Gene couldn’t be in the Army because no foxhole would fit him.”
Fortunately for me, I was pretty tubby, so I took the gift from Aunt Wylis.
Uncle Gene wore nothing but the best, but they were somewhat out of style. But I wore them and I wore them out.
My favorite was a Pendleton wool plaid shirt, which was so old it had snap-in deodorant pads for the armpits. It was in perfect shape and I wore it until you could see through it.
When Uncle Gene’s clothes wore out, my brother-in-law Sam died. I’m still wearing his shoes.
Sam wasn’t much for style and why he bought a pair of shoes that were purple, I’ll never know. But I covered the purple up with black polish, which lasts until the next rainstorm when I have to polish them over again.
My favorite remembrance of Sam is his Green Bay Packer heavy duty sweatshirt, size XXXL. I like to wear it to Johnnie’s when I go there to watch the Packers play. After years of strutting around in it, one of the Johnnie’s denizens pointed out that the logo on it indicated it was more than 20 years old.
Shades of porkpie hats and other memorabilia.
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