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Chuck Hinman: IJMA. Long Johns Weather In Nebraska

Chuck Hinman: Long Johns Weather In Nebraska Chuck dreads winter weather because of having to wear "hokey" underwear which other boys had decided was not keen (cool).
Next earlier Chuck Hinman column - The Ever Burning Light Of Love

By Chuck Hinman

Long Johns Weather In Nebraska

These cool mornings we've been having remind me of dreaded winter weather when I was a teen-age boy growing up on a farm in Nebraska. It was dreaded by me for an unusual reason; cold weather was synonymous with "long johns weather."


Long Johns was the name for winter underwear, long with regard to the sleeves and legs. They were a one-piece "suit" of heavy cream-colored cotton knit material that buttoned up the front from the crotch to the neck. In addition, they had a vertical slit (trap door) in the back so you didn't have to totally undress to go to the bathroom. They were intended to keep you warm on cold days.

Boy's fashion and peer pressure

So what's to be dreaded about being warm on a cold day?

Well, I'll tell you. Teen-age boys in those days decided long johns made you look "hokey" what with your underwear creeping out from under your shirt sleeves or around the neck. How "rural"! I learned the power of peer-pressure (vs. parental pressure) before I learned anything academically at remote Liberty High. No teenage boy would be caught wearing long-johns. Isn't it interesting how fast boy's fashion news travels.

I learned what was keen (cool) and what wasn't keen the first time I undressed in the locker room before the other boys to put on my gym clothes. I was laughed at when everyone saw and pointed at my long-johns at a time in my life when I still enjoyed carrying bugs in my overall pockets.

Mom's no option changes Chuck's mind

When I told Mom I wasn't going to wear long johns anymore, she changed my mind and said that it wasn't an option so "get used to it." Case closed!

Oh Lord, I didn't know which was worse, taking the scorn of the other boys in the locker room or facing the X-ray eyes of a Mom who sees and knows every thing! Do you know what I mean?

Solution to home versus school underwear wearing

So I decided on a solution and kept it from Mom, my best friend, all those cold, teeth chattering years. Here's how it worked. I rode a bicycle to school every day -- eight miles round trip. I wore the long johns around home, but on my way to school, I dropped by the outdoor toilet at the country-grade school where I went to elementary school the first eight years. I undressed in the outdoor toilet, took off my long johns, placed them in a paper bag and went to school without any underwear on. On the way home from school, I took a detour by way of the outdoor privy at New Hope grade school and put my winter underwear back on and appeared at home as if nothing had happened.

I was so cold from December until April each of those years I don't have much enamel left on my teeth from chattering.

But it seemed worth it at the time. And who thought teen-age girls are the only weirdoes?

Written by Chuck Hinman. Emailed Wednesday, 2 December 2009. Three months later Chuck forwarded this response he got from Randall E. Corlis:

Reader recounts his own winter wear story

Mr. Hinman:

My son sent me a copy of your December article, "Long Johns Weather in Nebraska." Like you, I was born in Nebraska (Kearney) and, like you, I wore union suits in the winter time around the house and to school as a boy. We moved to Colorado in the mid-1950s and I became a city boy. Since I had a paper route, I didn't mind long underwear and wore them about six months out of the year.

Undressing for phys ed was embarrassing to me as a teen-age boy as well. And sometimes my underwear would poke out the bottoms of my jeans when sitting at my desk. I wasn't as inventive as you, though. I just always wore my union suits, rain or shine.

Fortunately, some of the other boys wore union suits and other long underwear to school as well so there was a kind of camaraderie between us. Besides, coach told the other boys to knock it off when they poked fun of our long johns, and the novelty soon wore off. The one time I was really embarrassed was when I forgot my gym clothes one Monday morning. We were into basketball season then and coach made me play the whole hour in just my union suit and socks. I never forgot my gym clothes after that!

Union suit laundry and cold weather

The funny thing about unionsuits and cold weather was laundry day. Mom would hang our union suits out on the clothes line. In the winter time they would freeze so hard, you could bring them inside stiff as a board and they would stand up all by themselves. Remember?

I guess I wasn't too traumatized as a boy because believe it or not I still wear union suits (red ones) to this day. I am an appraiser so I work outside some most every day. My grandsons think grandpa's long red underwear is the funniest underwear they ever saw. I'm 58 years old and just can't get away from having my long johns being poked fun of. But, my 14 year old grandson decided they weren't so bad after all and wanted a union suit to wear snowboarding. So, we got him one this past Christmas. I think his little brothers were jealous. They'll probably get those red long johns for Christmas next year.

Union suits will be around for another generation, at least.

Regards, R. E. Corlis
1 March 2010

Chuck sent him this note on 2 March 2010:

Responses squelch feelings of lack of interest

Hi Randall

Thanks for your well-written response to my "long-johns memory story."

My home town is Liberty, Nebraska, in Gage County near Beatrice.

I left Nebraska in 1948 to pursue a 34 year career with Phillips Petroleum Co. here in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (1 hour north of Tulsa). I am 88, widowed, legally blind, and pass the time writing....

Responses such as yours are rare and most welcome. I read (and reread) them with tremendous interest. I would write whether I received responses such as yours or not but they certainly squelch occasional impulses of not circulating what I write for feared (mine) lack of interest.

Have a nice day.

Chuck Hinman



This story was posted on 2013-02-10 04:07:32
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