Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When I wore a younger man's clothes

I’ve been culling through boxes of old clothes in the attic of the house we’re preparing to sell and stuffing them into garbage bags to take to the Salvation Army, which will probably throw most of them away.

I’ve tossed sweaters, wide-wale corduroy slacks, dress shirts, flannel shirts, polo shirts, wide ties, narrow ties, bow ties, even a suit David Letterman wore as host of Late Night on NBC in the early 80s, back when everyone assumed he would inherit Johnny Carson’s job on Tonight.

Phil’s Men’s Shop on East 48th in Manhattan provided Late Night with suits for Letterman to wear one time -- the trouser bottoms were pinned rather than stitched -- in exchange for mention in the closing credits. Phil, the proprietor, then sold the suits to a handful of his favorite customers for half price. I must have purchased half a dozen Letterman suits over the years. This was the last of the bunch.

There are, however, two items of clothing I can’t bring myself to toss:

       1)   A pair of Brittannia patchwork bell bottom jeans.
       2)   A red hoodie that says “Wentworth Military Academy” on the front. 

The jeans came from Woody’s in Columbia, Mo., where most of the guys who belonged to fraternities at the University of Missouri bought their clothes. Woody’s clothes tended to be preppy – Gant shirts, Corbin trousers and the like – but these jeans were anything but. I wore them backpacking around Europe the summer of '72. Seems unbelievable I was ever that skinny. The waistband barely fits around my thigh these days.

The hoodie was issued the day I enrolled at Wentworth in September, 1968, for my senior year of high school. Why, you ask, did I go to military school? Because, believe it or not, I wanted to. My father had died during my freshman year and I was living with my mom. My sister landed a teaching job nearby and announced she was moving home. About the same time my brother, a career Army officer, was sent to Vietnam and his wife and three young daughters moved across the street. No 16-year-old boy, I explained to my mother, should have to live with six Dryden females. She couldn't argue with that, so off I went. 

The year I spent at Wentworth was one of the best of my life. I ran off 65 pounds (half of which I’ve managed to keep off ), learned self-discipline, and encountered the best teacher I ever had, Major John Gover, who read The Canterbury Tales aloud in the medieval English in which Chaucer had written them. Major Gover liked the way I wrote and called me into his office one day to tell me I should go to journalism school rather than return to Wentworth for junior college, as I was planning to do. I took his advice.

The hoodie still has my laundry number, D-61,written upside down in indelible marker on the front.

Someday my children or grandkids will run across those ridiculous-looking jeans and the hoodie hanging in my closet. They’ll laugh and toss them in the trash which is where they belong.

But not as long as I’m still kicking.


  1. Muito bom o blog, parabéns pelo o tópico está ótimo.

  2. Hi Tom - I found your blog by mistake but enjoyed the story of your WMA experience. I have a similar one. Sadly though, I regret to inform you that Major Gover passed a few days ago. - Steve Smith WMA '83