THAT shrill, blood-chilling scream that came from our place the other day had better be explained. It was just my wife’s first reaction to a certain remark I make every year about this time. She was simply expressing her democratic opinion on the matter.
“Dear,” I had announced in a forthright whisper, “I think it’s high time I was getting some long underwear for the chill blasts of King Winter.” That was when she screamed.
I propose to make this delicate subject a public issue since it is a veteran’s rehabilitation problem and I am getting no help whatever from either the Government or my wife.
Before the war, you see, I used to wear bright cotton shorts and “vests.” Should you have seen me in my boudoir, revolving before my mirror and casually holding a rugby ball in one hand as they do in the advertisements, you would have thought to yourself, “My, there’s a well-adjusted man nattily attired in his form-fitting, balloon-seat Brevs, worn everywhere by discerning young executives.”
And then came the horrors of war. A large, uncouth fellow thrust an enormous suit of long underwear into my soft, civilian hands, I pulled the wool over my thighs and spent the next four years encased (or trapped, if you like) in a jute suit.
They weren’t the happiest years of my life, by a long shot, but they were certainly the warmest.
1 realized this no more than six weeks after His Majesty and I had parted company. What a thrill it had been to peel off those long, adhesive woollies and resume life in the cool, crisp underpants of civilized man. Indeed, the thrill lasted right up to one sharp November day when I realized that I faced an early date with double pneumonia unless I hurried back into my portable eider down. How well I remember that night
when I held the fashion parade for my wife to convince her that we should have a woolly little union suit in the home.
I recall seating her in the chair beside the fireplace, turning the lights down low and putting “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” on the phonograph. She was full of eager little questions, but I would tell her nothing. “I don’t want to spoil the effect,” I explained.
Then I hurried to my room, found my old army duffel bag and there it was, right at the bottom . . . the Soldier’s Home Companion. I may have had some lingering doubts in my mind, but as soon as I’d lowered myself into my old longies I knew that neither of us had changed.
This particular suit was in the size known in the Army as “Medium.” Long underwear, like eggs, always came in three sizes, clearly stenciled across the midriff in eight-inch block letters; Large, Medium and Small. (A man wearing “small” long underwear could always be identified, though fully clothed, because he appeared to be walking constantly on tiptoe and there was a man in my own platoon who claimed to have been lifted clear off the ground by such a suit.)
Now, as I surveyed myself in the mirror, I congratulated myself again on having got such a near hit.
It was true that the row of imitation pearl buttons had turned green, but not a single one of the entire 25 that stretched from my Adam’s apple to my knees was missing. The legs themselves were in their old position. They had always been a tiny bit too long for
Don’t panic, neighbors— the little woman screams like that along about this time every year
me and I had taken up the slack at the knees, creating the interesting effect of a man permanently about to leap.
1 rejected the idea of carrying a rose in my teeth as perhaps too theatrical and with simple dignity opened the door into the living room and walked slowly past my wife, pivoting gracefully at one end of the room and undulating back again.
Well, you know the rest. First the scream and then I was administering the smelling salts. I remember bending over her as her eyes fluttered weakly open and hearing her first shocked words: “The honeymoon is over.”
Goodness knows, I tried to make her see the logic in my plan. After all, I pointed out, the mail-order cat alogues are full of decent, red-blooded young Canadians in long underwear. “Obviously single men,” my wife countered. Well, what did she want: a happy
husband in a union suit or a romantic dependent in an oxygen tent? “Anything but that,” she replied with a grimace at the limp derrière of my Old Look.
All this was three years ago, yet somehow I’ve got through the grim winters since that fateful November night with nothing more serious than prolonged bouts of influenza and a few man-to-man words of warning from the family physician.
The “Medium” suit itself has gone away to the Salvation Army and on cold nights I like to think of it surrounding some less fortunate citizen, a man upon whom life has frowned and who has nothing to look for in the future but a life expectancy six times greater than any balloon-seated young executive. ★
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.