With all of this marvelous food -- nor have I retailed the half of it -- along with some bad food entering his gut, the Babe could have been fat, but generally he was on the scrawny side, with not enough weight to knock a big boy down or to bat a ball over the outfielder's head, both feats that he wished strongly to accomplish from the time he began to walk.
When he was in his sixth year, he had actually gone on a hunger strike, for no evident reason; for months he lost his interest in food and no one, not he certainly, could guess why. He was pressed to eat this or that; tempting dishes were set before him: all to no avail. He scarcely lost weight, his grades did not suffer, he played as actively as ever, but he would only "pick at his food." Could he have believed incredibly that he was getting insufficient attention at home and school -- there is no limit to human demands -- and employed famine as a technique for attracting the media of attention, unconsciously of course? Could his Mother have unconsciously withdrawn attention as her pregnancy with Edward pointed her inward and forward? And could the Babe have somehow felt the withdrawal without noticing it? Whatever caused the ailment ceased in his seventh year (Edward was born in February of 1927) and he began to eat heartily.
More serious, almost deadly, however, was the illness that shortly followed. As he sat alone drawing at the big round dark oak kitchen table one day, he was seized by a sharp pain in the groin and slipped down beneath the table writhing in agony. All he could see was the fat curved wooden table legs embracing him. The pain passed. No one could imagine what might have caused it -- the eating of some fruit, a cold in the stomach, growing pains, constipation, "something he ate"? The pain came a second time, then a third, months apart. The Dad was recommended a Dr. Louis Campione, surgeon and general practitioner attached to Columbus Hospital, who was called to examine the boy.
The diagnosis of appendicitis was logical. The choice was clear, too, either an operation to remove the vermiform vestige, or risk its ultimate rupture, if the diagnosis were correct, then followed by emergency removal and likely death from peritonitis. The fearless and confident Babe was conveyed to the hospital and the operation set up. The Dad insisted upon standing by the operating table.
A gas mask was placed over the Babe's mouth and nose and he breathed in the sour-smelling ether. His mind began to fill with visual whorls, lines of black against light-grey, issuing ceaselessly, growing into ever-wider and more numerous cycles; his mind seemed to become the whole world, he fell unconscious.
When he returned to his senses, he found himself in a large white room on a large white bed with a nurse and his parents looking down upon him. He felt nauseous. His stomach had a heavy packet of gauze strapped to it. His mind cleared up quickly. His was the only bed in the room. He could see flowers placed here and there. Voices were quite clear, and he was told that his window had a lovely view of the trees and shrubbery of Lincoln Park.
The others had to leave but the nurse stayed with him all night, every night, and he suffered convalescence well since he could eat all the ice cream he wanted without a word of reproach, indeed with indulgent smiles. His side hurt when he laughed and he pleaded with visiting Bro Bus not to make him laugh, thereupon only to laugh again uncontrollably and agonizedly. The inextricable combining of pain with pleasure was surprising. It could only happen because he felt that he was recovering. What he noticed most about pain was that it seemed as if it might last forever. Not so with pleasure, which ended too soon; really, this was part of its very definition. At least physical pleasure; the pleasures of fantasy could go on and on. And when sometimes he was suffering pain, a tooth-ache perhaps, or a sore knee, he would practice thinking pleasurable thoughts, of ice cream, or of a coming baseball game, or of an impending vacation. It helped a little. It would also help to imagine himself in some glorious combat, wounded, yet slashing away valiantly with his saber. He early heard of stoic Spartans and Romans and American "tough guy" endurance of pain, but always felt that he fell short of their standard. His older brother bore pain "better." He hated to be a sissy, but he hated pain worse; he was ashamed of the ratio.
The day came to leave and his Father gave the nurse a fat tip while she insisted that her patient had been a pleasure to attend. They brought him out and home, but he struck up a fever again, and peritonitis was feared, so they brought him back to the hospital for another two weeks. Then he returned home and was really fit, carrying only the jagged scar, three times as large and ugly as it should have been, and a little jar containing his diseased appendix pickled in formaldehyde, which Dr. Campione pointed out, see, had deteriorated, to which the Babe acceded, although he had never seen a healthy appendix and the Doctor was not asked whether he had ever seen one himself ("Now see here, ye medical students of the Class of 1916, the corpse of a skid row bum, and pay attention particularly to his organ #311, a healthy vermiform appendix.")
The small bottle was placed on the mantlepiece in the parlor where no one paid notice; one day it disappeared, why, how, where, no one cared. (It was better that way. When Lucia Heffelfinger got Her little appendix bottle at his age, she carried it proudly to a concert of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and dropped it, it broke, right in front of the people clustered in the foyer during intermission.)
At least two doctors independently discovered heart murmurs in the two brothers upon playing the chill stethoscope around their chests and backs. The concern aroused by the news abated in the face of their boundless energy. The prognosis, that the leaky valves, which created the sound of lapping water, would close as the boys grew up, was verified with the passage of time.
The Babe spent few days of his years in bed -- several for measles, again for whooping cough, then chicken pox, then scarlet fever, in this last case experiencing a sinking spell and a momentary faint, his first and last, from which he recovered even as he hit the floor.
Once or twice a year, he caught cold. He coughed, sneezed, tried to clear his nose: "Blow one nostril at a time," advised the Dad, "otherwise your ears will be clogged;" and so they were. Miserable affairs. But shared with half a million other Chicagoans simultaneously.
He was taken to the dentist on Division Street on several occasions, the same who was progressively removing the Mom's teeth, and he had his share of cavities filled and teeth removed. After losing his primitive set and plucking out a number of dimes from the glass in which each was exposed overnight, gifts of the Tooth Fairy, according to myth, rewarding his heroism in letting it be pulled out by a string or by the dentist or merely pried out by himself -- but he knew her to be a spoof, not a real spook -- it appeared that he was blessed by four extra teeth, two uppers on either side, which gave him a slightly monstrous look whenever he wished and a permanent positive malocclusion, but, upon the removal seriatim of four decayed teeth in their vicinity, it all came out even, and a broad smile could play about his mouth unthreateningly. The dentist, his ardor to pull teeth dampened by the patient being ahead of the game, urged now braces, but the Babe would have none of this "sissy business" and, hard times being upon the family, no one insisted.
His adolescent acne was sub-normal; his anxiety at the possibility of having his older brother's skin problems turned out to be unnecessary. No need to having stood around on scores of occasions watching Bro Bus scraping, soaping, squeezing, drying, powdering, pasting over his skin to erase the prolific and ineffaceable bumps and pimples, and hearing the folklore of how they originate and how to extinguish them, that they come from fats and oils, so avoid these, that they disappear upon regular masturbation (this, of course, being only heard in boy's street talk), that they come from dirt, clogging the pores of the skin, ergo wash and scrub.
Bussie suffered from boils, too, which appeared occasionally on his arms and the back of his neck and hipbone, and had to be lanced and squeezed by the Dad. It seemed a grim business to the watching Babe, the needles, the cauterizing flame, the cotton, the sheep-to- slaughter-look in Bussie's eyes, the stern paternal fingers, the pus and blood, the ouch-making alcohol, the admonitions "let it alone now," "don't touch it," "let it dry."
The Babe had more than his share of warts, however, on his index fingers and knuckles, and even on his eyelids. These were as mysterious as acne. There was no validated medical knowledge then on these irritations, but the folklore warned against handling toads. He had handled toads, a hundred washings earlier -- but who knows? Infections brought about the warts somehow, he thought. Were they contagious? Were they from the blood? Or from dirt? Or from animals? Or from some nervous disposition? He picked at them, tried scraping and sanding them, soaking them in hot water, and rubbing them. The household appealed to a doctor who supplied a medicine for him to apply. It burned them. It helped. But mainly the warts ceased on their own account to appear. How did it happen that the two brothers in the same environment got such different cutaneous maladies? No one could say, and when these disappeared, no one cared much to know. Now how did it happen that neither Eddie nor Vic came up with either problem to any significant degree?
And how did it happen that the Babe was so prone to poison ivy, itching plants, animals, and clothes? The Dad meanwhile was continually searching the grasses and underbrush everywhere for edible plants, but never suffered an allergy or reaction to poisonous plants. The Mom on the other hand exhibited rashes from eating strawberries and from exposing herself to the rays of the sun for more than a few minutes. She envied the Dad's smooth thick skin, which, though whiter, could still more easily tan in the sun.
But this was the dawning age of sun-bathing. Everyone who wasn't already brown or black in America was inclined to drench herself in ultra-violet rays, and the newspapers were expressing concern with the serious burns that people were getting from their new ultra-violet lamps. The Babe tanned readily and sought the first opportunity of the summer to burn himself at Oak Street Beach; his cowboy friends of the western novels were always tanned, even had a "leathery tan." The more they worked indoors, the more people sought the hint of leisure expressed in a suntan. A tan was healthy, too, part of the cult of personal hygiene.
The phrase "personal hygiene" may not have been invented in his day but it came into its inheritance then. Actually the word originated in ancient Greece from the Goddess of Health, Hygieia, and the adjective hygieinos for healthy, whence it joined the Romans who were strong on public baths for meeting, frolicking, and salubrious (from Salus, the Roman god of health) immersion. The teachers and the press were using it to whip everyone into a frenzy of cleanliness, and a new science of hygienics came forward with a stack of rules of conduct, which the Babe's family took to like ducks to water. John Wesley, the Founder of Methodism in England over a century earlier, had lectured the non-bathing working classes (poor, freezing, newly urbanized, crowded, and trapped in filthy factories) and coined the saying, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" to impress them forcibly. In heaven only the clean of body, as well as of mind, were allowed. "Personal hygiene" was now to be the supplemental secular version of the dogma. Heaven knows that the pollution and crowding of Chicago required drastic propaganda, and, be it said to their credit, that the people responded well, whether they had originated in the English slums or on the steppes of Russia.
The Babe acquitted himself well in this struggle against (d)evil Dirtiness. There was a small element of hypocrisy, of course; he was not always quick to wash the dirt from his ankles, the rancid oils from his genitals and crevices, the dust from his scalp, at least not in the wintertime. Nor to change his socks and underclothing. And his tennis shoes, well, they came in time to live a life of their own. Notwithstanding, he fell under constant pressure from the other members of the household, just as he pressured them, and as they responded to social pressures to be cleaner and therefore better than other people. And in the end the Babe became a monitor of the Personal Hygiene of others and their settings.
He dreaded and detested the toilets at school and in public places. They were begrimed, beshat and bepissed. He had to run in and run out, if he had to go at all. The custodians must have been out working for the Republican political machine of "Big Bill Thompson The Builder." The teachers, prone to degrade smelly little girls and boys, seemed to be quite divorced from the reeking toilets down the hall.
This was the age when statisticians (of American colleges and the clean U.S. Bureau of the Census) found one of their most useful indices of social welfare to be the proportion of households that enjoyed indoor toilets with running water. It was also the triumphal age of home plumbing (Chicago was a major world center for its manufacture), and year by year one measured Progress by the % (per cent) of dwelling units with toilets and running water, so that any fool could see how backward were the Southern States and the working-class areas of the North. The Babe believed in this standard, and once when he had to pee where his Mother had stopped to visit briefly (why did she always talk and talk when he wanted to move along?) and was shown a closet where a huge half-filled bowl invited his contribution, he fled retching. He was even concerned that his own toilet be polluted and looked at it suspiciously after someone else had used it and before going himself. Sometimes his uncles, while visiting, would use the toilet and forget to pull the chain to flush it, which annoyed and perplexed him until he reported the impropriety to the Dad, and was satisfied to receive a grunt of contempt at such barbarism.
To him households were classified more finely than the Census Authorities could manage to do. He liked to visit the toilet of Aunt Lillie first, then Aunt Anna's, etc. down the line to the aforesaid unique toilet pot of his experience. He adapted rather well to camp toilets, which were, after all, managed by evangelists and puritans, and to his country cabins where he had to use an outhouse; but this was familial and was rationalized as "roughing it" and what was good enough for Teddy Roosevelt was good enough for him, almost, for he saw to it that the elders were prompted to dump copious countervailing chemicals into the hole before his turn came. It comes down to this, that he disliked human odors and excretions, except his own. And this may be the general condition of the population, for all I know.
Revulsion against the excretions of the world implied recoiling against the words referring to them. When you can search vainly in practically all encyclopedias, dictionaries, and so-called thesauruses of the English and American languages for certain words that are used daily by large numbers of the population and that are not slang, but proper words such as shit, fart, and fuck, not to mention damn and hell in their most common pejorative senses, you can be sure that they were banned in the Babe's household. But the penalties for their use were not severe, unless the words were used in "company," which included all outsiders and relatives. In fact the Dad and the Babe were the worst swearers around. As for using the words in their appropriate context, this was generally avoided, even by these two.
To make vulgar noises, by belching, for instance, was considered ill-mannered. So, as in most families and social circles, the young came tardily to hear the explicit words for natural functions and organs of digestion and sex, but picked them up by the age of six, along with a variety of stipulations as to the use of words and the performance of actions involving bodily functions. It became clear about then that the word "belly" was for animals, the word "stomach" for people, and the word "bitch" for neither.
There were a couple of diseases that could not be named, sexually transmitted, it later appeared, when the Dad got around to warning the boys against bad girls and loose women, at thirteen or fourteen, following upon various innuendos, bleakly and darkly hinted, by which time various pulp magazine ads had already acquainted the boys, very probably Bussie before Babe, that personal hygiene and disease were inextricably linked with sex. The nexus of syphilis and toilet seats reinforced the antipathy to strange toilets, for it seemed logical that the violation of the senses of smell and sight and touch was forceful evidence of hidden germs, of the invisible bacteria with no visible mode of transport.
It is with relief that we may pass on from his phobias to some additional physical traits. He walked prodigiously, could trot interminably (the word "jog" was not much used), and ran at an average boy's speed, even though his arches barely lifted themselves above ground. His feet were large and heavy, matching his hands, like his Mother's, whereas Bro Bus had his Father's elongated digits and palms. He had a compact form, hard-fleshed, with a waist small enough to be respectable and an abdomen kept hard by almost daily self-drumming. His musculature was typically stronger in the lower torso than in the arms; his chest was larger than average, thanks to a hereditary advantage from both sides of the family, and to running and swimming and blowing his trumpet loudly and long.
His hair turned brown and straight at the age of three and then became wavy as he approached puberty. He grew slowly and steadily. Whereas Bro Bus' stature leapt up in two bounds, in early childhood and at puberty, to strike six feet at sixteen, the Babe's crept up incrementally to measure five feet eight inches at fifteen and continued for a couple of more inches thereafter. His weight meanwhile increased gradually to 125 pounds at fifteen and also continued slowly upwards to 155 pounds before he leveled off for a few years. He was thus of average size for American boys of the times. A number of them were bulkier while eating less and his Mother joshed him saying that "You must have a tapeworm," an interesting phenomenon, disgusting, rather unbelievable, although he had heard on occasions of children having worms, and thought they were small tapeworms, also disgusting, like having lice in their scalp, which the same types had, "cooties" they were called, and when he combed his hair, and parted it, it was to create a "cootie highway."
His eye sockets were large, his eyes a bright dark brown, like his Mother's, unlike his Father's, that were hazel, nor Victor's or the Bus', which were sharp and blacker, more like Edward's. If one were interested, a chart could be made up: further, thus, Bro Bus and Ed had the slightly bumped nose of the Mom, the Roman nose. Victor had the slightly pug nose of the Dad, a Celtic nose. The Babe had his own nose, maybe like Uncle Charley's before it was smashed in the boxing ring, the Grecian, which was straight and lacked a groove at its juncture with the forehead. His eyebrows were dark and distinct, and he could raise and lower them like Clark Gable, one at a time, which he practiced before the mirror and essayed from time to time on girls. His forehead was high, slightly bulging (unlike Clark Gable's or the Mom's or Vic's or Bussie's, but like Dad's and Ed's). His ears were large, somewhat protuberant, with fleshy lobes that wagged as he chomped his food, like Pope John XXIII. One more item for the chart: the Mom, Bro Bus and Vic had large-boned statures, the Babe, Ed and the Dad small-boned and tight-fleshed physiques.
He could be classified as a Mediterranean Gracile Type of the Caucasian sub-race, a constitution that archaeologists have found and exists to some extent today in a large region extending from the Middle-East to the Strait of Gibraltar, and from Northwestern Europe to the fringes of the Sahara Desert, and makes up about 18% of the American population. A study of this grouping was published lately, based upon excavation of cemeteries dating back 4000 years in time. The diggers found to their surprise that there had been almost no change in the racial characteristics of the population of the area, St. Martin de Fontenay, in Normandy, across the Channel from Britain, during this long period of time that witnessed Neolithic, Mycenean, pre-Celtic, Celtic, Roman, Frankish, Holy Roman, and Norman occupations and cultures. If the Babe had lived there anytime, less so now, he would have been typical of them, with their average height of about 170 cm (5ft 6in), and dolichocephalic (long-headed) and pedomorphic (boyish) physiques. Significantly, the study found the characteristic trait of "the alveolar proclivity, a kind of advanced superior machoire below the nose," mentioned above as a feature of the Babe's dentition, which was exclusive to him except for a paternal aunt, and which might help explain why he was prone to nose colds and stuffiness of the nostrils.
Statistics are both deceptive and discerning. I speak now of averages and types. An average denotes the total number of a trait found within a specified group divided by the size of the group. Thus if ten people earn very different monthly incomes but the total comes up to $10,000 then the average income is said to be $1,000 monthly. Or take skin color, where, if you take into account all Americans, the average skin color would be cafe au lait; the total shades of color compiled for the population, divided by the number of people would result in an octoroon, meaning that the statistically average American is one-eighth negro, one-eighth black, although there are really not many octoroons or "Americans with the average skin color."
At the time of the Nation's founding, the average American was darker because blacks numbered 20% of the population, the Indians another 20%, the French and Hispanics were more numerous proportionately then than now, the Irish less, the British, including the Scots-Irish, about 35%, almost the same proportion as today, and the numerous heavily blonde or light-complexioned immigration from the Teutonic, Scandinavian, and Baltic nations had not yet come ashore. But Chicago in the Babe's days had more Nordics and blonde Alpines than all of the Northwest States stretching to the Pacific Ocean put together, and the Babe felt at times to be in a sea of blondes, because the aforesaid immigration had indeed now hit the City, and the Blacks, presently 40% of the population (though less of Chicagoland), had not yet arrived from the South.
At the same time as he was brunette of hair and pale by comparison with the average, he was typical (that is, of a frequently encountered kind) of about 20% of the Chicagoans who were descended from Jews, Italians, Greeks, Welsh, and many another minor element or minor part of larger elements. The ancient Mediterranean type, as I said, was widespread, and lends its traits everywhere in the vast Caucasian racial region.
He was more toward the average than toward the typical when it came to other traits. He walked like the average Chicagoan, rapidly and with determination as if he had somewhere to go, he talked with the slight nasalism and the hard "r" of the Chicagoans, and, so far as I can tell, thought like one (meaning perspectives rather than conclusions of thought). He was most typical of the big-city midwestern middle-class non-sectarian, and, therefore, since this is a very large aggregate, and pulls in the traits of other types, and was emigrating to the Pacific Coast in great numbers and came from the Middle Atlantic and New England States, it is close to being an average American in speech, manner, dress, gait, and perspective on the world, even though he would not be typically New England, Middle Atlantic, Southern, or cowboy Western (alas!)
The psychologist William James tried defining the typical American look a century ago (and, of course, forgot to take in about half the population). He came up with a Northeastern trait, after fumbling around for some pages, a look that came from "the need to feel responsible all the livelong day." And indeed, in this regard, the Babe was typical. No blank-faced, slack-jawed, dull-eyed shambling rustic he -- he was "all business" all the time.
What does it all add up to? Whatever you have in mind: as an average in this and that part of Chicago, unique for better or worse in some regards -- actually, for better or worse in all of these regards. Please recall how, appalled by the infinite improbabilities that he and only he should come about, and by the average or random equality from which he emerged as a zygote, we have thereafter been beating a path back and forth from the universal to the unique. Nor have we described here yet all of his physical traits.
He boasted of a thin scar, horseshoe-shaped, that was set alongside his right nostril, for at the age of three he had tumbled while running and blowing on a tin-funnel at the same time. It was not as spectacular as his appendectomy but it enabled a schoolmate or brother now and then to call him "Scarface Al" after the world- renowned gangster, to which he might (or might not) object strongly. He also bore from the age of nine a small slit over his left eye marking where he had bounced on his head down a flight of stone stairs of the house next door.
The Dad claimed good health for the family. He himself was certainly in the pink. Aside from a rare cold he was always well. Only once did he come home drunk and then went promptly to bed. He was in the way of a load of buckshot aimed by a careless companion during a rabbit hunt onetime and arrived home with a bloody leg, which was soaked in a tub of water while the buckshot were being extracted. He scalded his forearm handing a goose from the oven one Thanksgiving Day.
But that was all, and he was sure that the family had "good blood," which the Babe was willing to believe though he had no idea what "bad blood" might be, unless it was what was causing pimples and leprosy to break out in people, nor who had "bad blood" unless, to hear his Father, it came with whoever was unfortunate enough to suffer poor health; nor -- for that matter -- was it clear as to where all this "good blood" came from in the first place; you would think from the way he talked that he had administered a blood test to his virgin fiancee from which "good blood" might be prognosticated.
There was certainly little enough medicine around the house. A small bathroom cabinet sufficed to hold all the old drugs, plus gauze, aspirin, Vicks, iodine, cotton, plaster tape, oil of camphor, castor oil, spirits of ammonia (in case anybody fainted), rubbing alcohol, mineral oil, scissors, tweezers, toothbrushes and paste. Bandages were also made of clean cotton rags, or of cotton and gauze taped around. The rags were especially handy for tying up leg and elbow bruises in their oozing crustal period, also for staunching bloody noses, and for wrapping strained ankles.
The Dad and Mom believed that children should nap, and now and then they too napped (but who knows what went on then?), so the boys napped until they went to school, but in the Fresh Air School where they spent several years they were also put to napping on army cots, with a blanket, and sometimes the cots were stained with the urine of yet incontinent children and stank, which the Babe found bothersome.
The boys disliked their naps. They had too many alternatives for spending time. They devised many tricks to simulate napping while they were really into a book, handling a toy, or whispering seriously or comically to each other. When the parents napped, the children, of course, did not.
The Dad was not well-disposed to dispensers of medicaments and was suspicious of bottled remedies. He claimed that his experience in living with a pharmacist had taught him so, but his distrust emerged from deep down in his conservative character. Nonetheless the rubber bag and tubes for administering rectal enemas were stowed within easy reach, and bringing them to light was enough to make the boys claim immediate recovery from constipation and fever. There were no anti-biotics, so infections were fought with alcohol, iodine, and fuming acids of various types, whose worth was deemed proven by the pain that they caused: one could understand how they would hurt the invisible germs.
For internal disorders, herbal teas were called for, and adjustments of diet. Bicarbonate of soda or milk could manage acid conditions of the stomach. "Bromo-seltzer" came storming out of a glass of water to relieve aches of the stomach and head. "Vicks" was employed liberally for rubdowns and stuffed noses. A really bad cold in the chest called for a burning mustard plaster, a most frightening remedy, and painful to remove once it was stuck to the tender chest. But diphtheria and pneumonia were dreaded; acquaintances died of them.
The favored soaps were Lifebuoy for its salmon color and antiseptic stink, Palmolive for its olive oil component, and Ivory Soap, because it floated and was so near the statistical apex of purity ("99 44/100 pure"). The Dad asserted the claims of bicarbonate of soda and salt as dentifrices, but allowed the use of Ipana and Colgate to coax the boys sweetly into regular prophylaxis. (The Babe avoided Ipana after he had read somewhere the case of a despairing German soldier in World War I who had committed suicide by eating a tube of it.)
The Dad used witch-hazel as an after-shave lotion and as a rub for sore spots. Ordinary soap was good enough for male hair; the Mom's hair demanded shampoos and brushes; combs were all the boys had patience for, though even then they were told often, "comb your hair!" and either the Mom or Lorraine might grab them and pull the comb through ruthlessly if they didn't do so; when they reached puberty, a pocket comb was carried along with the handkerchief which had been present for years.
The Babe was curious about girls' clothing: are most boys so? He wondered before the absolute interdictions occurred at about six years, why so much fuss was made to distinguish the one from the other by dress. He experimented with his Mother's shoes, scarves, hats. It is easy to see how a child, given amused and indulgent parents, might readily take to transvestism; tomboy jeans, unisex, suggest a dull single uniform, and, therefore, better, omnivestism, which should be philosophically justifiable and more colorful and comfortable.
The Babe was given a Buster Brown coiffure when his early curls were cut. This was regarded as especially cute by Katie when it was combined with a little Lord Fauntleroy suit, made of dark velvet, with short pants, knee-high stockings, and patent-leather buckle- fastened shoes. Short pants permitted bad bruises of the knee and soon knickerbockers came into style, buttoned below the knees or held by elastic bands overlaying full woolen or cotton stockings, and oxfords. Poor boys of ignorant mothers, it was made known, went directly from diapers to long pants.
For outside play he was provided with ankle-high canvas shoes. His underwear was of one piece, cotton in summer, wool in winter and long; the Babe had a thick, smooth, pale skin, but claimed an extraordinary sensitivity to "itchy" woolens and would not support them next to his skin. He wore light and heavy sweaters and jackets, depending upon the occasion and the season, usually with trousers of solid colors. He wore a cap with visor for cold weather, wool with ear flaps; his ears had frosted over on occasion and were sensitive to freezing weather.
Generally his clothing was serviceable and durable; a quarter of it was handed down from his older brother; it resisted dirt, was repairable by needle and threat, and displayed only the worse stains and smudges. The zipper came in late. Shirts and ties were worn to school and dirtied easily there and to and fro. So the society neatly arranged that mothers be burdened with wash and repair in the age before they had the machinery and material to handle the problem, and then when they had both, permitted washable informal wear. And had fewer children.
The Mom denied the exigencies of school and playground or pretended so, for she put up the usual parental struggle against short hair and long pants. It took a lot of whining, many protests, arguments, threats of boycott and strike before she gave in to them. All the clothes were hung in the single closet or laid in the drawers of a large "dresser" which in the American language meant a bedroom's chest of drawers. Or clothes were pushed under the bed or piled in a heap on chairs or hung on the knobs of the brass bedstead.
As the Depression worsened, clothing was made to last longer. Especially when his Mother's attention was turned to the younger children, the Babe could wear a threadbare sweater and shoes with holes, which if they were comfortable he did not mind patching with a glued tongue from an even older shoe or by sticking a heavy piece of cardboard inside. But one could not easily tell whether his sartorial scruffiness was an effect of economic distress or casual negligence; at any rate, when he attended school or the Boy Scouts, he was careful to be at least as becoming as the middle third of the group.
He was warned to wash himself and wear clean clothes without holes and tears lest he be injured in an accident and the world would be let to see his shameful condition. "What if you get into an accident," she said, "and have to be examined and your ankles are dirty, and there's wax in your ears, and your underwear is torn like that." Surprisingly this argument had some force, although she wouldn't much care about such matters were a calamity to befall the Babe. He dramatized himself readily, so he was affected by the scenario, thinking that no blemish should divert the gathering crowd from the attention, pity and condolences that should be lavished upon his clean and neatly dressed body.
Unredeemable clothing was cut up into rags and mops for polishing and cleaning, or given away to acquaintances or were sold by weight to itinerant rag dealers who came by with horses and wagons. The horses were invariably emaciated and the Babe wondered at the sight, all about the city, of these pitiable animals.
He couldn't understand why they were not fed better, considering the low cost of oats and apples, nor could he comprehend why whips were continually cracking over their poor twitching ears and stooped heads. He had never ridden a horse but his cowboy heroes loved their horses, fed them regularly, and didn't even use spurs for them to maneuver with grace and speed. In his novels, any man who mistreated a horse would be taken care of later on in the book; that was sure. He did not believe his Mother when she remarked that these collectors of rags and iron and old paper were secretly rich.