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Trade you an itchy shirt for a little shiver

op frWe called it “in-between weather,” too warm for a coat, too chilly for short sleeves. Back then, just about every boy in town — and many of the girls, too — wore flannel shirts from late September until spring came around again, when mothers would neatly fold a whole slew of them and pack them up in boxes labeled “Winter Clothes” with a black magic marker. It seemed that all I ever wore were flannel shirts or tee shirts, unless I had to go to church or a funeral, or unless I had to dress up for a rare family picture. Mom made us dress up for Easter and Christmas, but we didn’t go to church that often otherwise, so my dress shirt and dark navy pants hung in the back of my closet, segregated from the others, a “uniform for special occasions” that I would outgrow before anyone would be able to tell it had ever been worn at all.

 

I hated dressing up, hated special occasions for that reason. The clothes were itchy, stiff, altogether uncomfortable, and I was a portrait in misery in the back of our big silver Chrysler as we made our biannual pilgrimage to church, my pockets filled with jelly beans or Hershey Kisses which I had stashed for later, when we’d be standing and singing “Rock of Ages” or, after a few more hymns, when the preacher would be instructing us on the birth or the resurrection of Jesus, depending on the occasion, from the Gospel of Luke. I wondered if anybody ever noticed me fishing around in my pocket with one hand while scratching irritably at various itches with the other. If it was warm enough in the church, the Kisses would occasionally melt, seeping like lava through the twisted tin foil at the top, soaking the little white tags and making a nice soupy chocolate mess in the bottom of my pocket.

After church on Easter Sunday, all the kids would gather for the annual Easter egg hunt, searching for brightly colored and sometimes intricately decorated eggs that were nestled under clumps of grass along fences or in drainpipes or in bushes or in the nooks of small trees. The girls in their dresses, the boys wearing their clip-on ties, all of us scouring the churchyard in our rigid, Bible-black shoes, which gleamed in the sun like a fleet of tiny cars driving off in all directions at once.

After church, we were off to grandma’s for the family feast — fried chicken, rabbit, squirrel, green beans, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, creamed corn, cornbread, pintos, squash casserole, four kinds of desserts. While the women worked on getting all of that food ready to eat and the men congregated in the living room or the front yard to talk about sports and the weather, the kids compared Easter baskets, sometimes trading a Tootsie Roll for a bag of Sugar Babies. We weren’t allowed to start in on our giant chocolate rabbits until dinner was over.

I couldn’t wait to get home and rip those clothes off as fast as humanly possible, reaching for the nearest pair of worn-out Levis and the first visible tee shirt in my chest of drawers. Then we’d play for an hour or two, stuff ourselves with candy, and get ready to go up to Papaw and Nana’s house for our second Easter feast of the day. This side of the family was much smaller, and sometimes my brother, sister and I would be the only kids there. If the neighbor kids were home, they would come over and we would play Wiffle ball or touch football in the yard, or maybe the boys would chase the girls around the barn or the garden until their mother would come out on the porch and “yoo hoo” from across the road.

“Greg! Laurinda! Suppertime!”

Inside, my mother and Nana worked on our supper, cutting up a Virginia ham and slicing sweet onions for the pinto beans. We could hear the music of the family dinner: the tinkle of silverware, of ice cubes dropping into big glasses, the percussion of ladles in the pots, the familiar rhythms of plates set on the kitchen table. If Papaw were still out roaming the ridge or puttering around the old house, that meant the television might be on, and the melancholy tick, tick, ticking of “Sixty Minutes” played in counterpoint, a dirge, reminding us, as it always did, of another weekend shutting down, another school week closing in fast, with summer still too far off to be real.

We stayed on the front porch rocking in the porch swing until Nana appeared to announce that supper was served, and that Papaw would just have to catch up the best he could. He always seemed to be losing track of the time.

“You kids get on in there and get washed up. You’ll catch your death out here in short sleeves, I swear.”

I guess I didn’t mind a little shiver, as long as I didn’t have to put back on my itchy shirt until Christmas.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. His most recent book, The Way We Say Goodbye, is available in bookstores and online.)

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