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Lou Charloff: Knickers

Lou Charloff
November 30, 2011

by Lou Charloff

My father’s sister, that is to say my Tante Fayge, was a very small woman. When I was a teenager, a source of great hilarity was for me to say, every single time that we were standing next to one another, that I could eat an apple off her head. Odd that saying that sentence now does not make me laugh at all, but I guess that’s merely a sign of my current vast age.

Her family consisted of herself, my Uncle Yankl, and their four sons and one daughter. That is, until my parents separated when I was a very young child. Then I went to live with my father, who moved in with his sister and her family. It did not take very long for me to start calling her Mom and for me to become the youngest of her children.

Now the family consisted of six children and three adults and Mom’s already large workload became even larger. She cooked for nine people, each of whom usually ate dinner at a different hour. She shopped, she cleaned, she laundered – she almost never seemed to have an idle moment.

And I can recall that she almost never laughed. Despite the large workload, which I made larger by being something of a hellacious brat, she was not a gloomy or particularly pessimistic woman, but I think that she was simply too busy and perhaps too tired to laugh (except, of course, at the apple on her head joke).

One day, I went with her to help do some food shopping. I must have been about 12; I was still wearing knickers. For those of you deprived of enough years to remember, knickers were the bane of young boys’ existences. They were trousers which extended only to just below the knees, where they were tightened by clasps.

Most boys did not reach the golden day when they put on their first pair of longies until they were 13. Some of us, however, were kept back from that signal of attained maturity until we were 14. I hope that none of you ever has to live through such a year of longing and anguish.

At some point in history, all young boys were liberated from that shame and agony when knickers suddenly simply went out of style for kids. Then, for a few short years, they were worn only by grown men who played golf – and they looked ridiculous too. But I digress.

Mom and I had finished our shopping and we were heading home, each of us laden with a large bag in each arm. We must have gone to some special store instead of the corner grocer because we had about a five block walk to our apartment house.

Suddenly I felt the clasps at the bottom of the knickers giving way. Now, instead of neatly finishing below my knees, they would sag loosely and sloppily to somewhere along the middle of my shins. I, of course, was helpless to do anything about it since I was unable to use either arm. There must have been an odd look on my face, because Mom asked me, “Leybl, what’s the matter?”

I answered woefully, “My pants are falling down.” Understandably, she misinterpreted my answer and assumed that they were falling from my waist — and she began to laugh. I had never heard her laugh hard, and it lasted for the entire three blocks that were left to us.

I, of course, joined in her laughter, and that scene remains one of my most cherished recollections.