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Column: The hunt for winter underwear on a hot summer day
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

I was driving through a town not long ago. I saw a sign about watching out for children at play. At the bottom was a sponsor line for a local bank. I drove through the central business district and noticed that the bank named on the sign was no longer there.

I think the same thing is true for children at play.

Growing up, I think we spent every day outside, unless it was raining. Mama would make me a sack lunch, and I would get a Coke for a dime at Mr. Jim Paul Shepherd’s gas station. I didn’t come home until it was almost dark.

Everybody knew everybody, and if we were doing something we shouldn’t, somebody was going to see us.

It was summer, and it was hot. I grew up in a house without air conditioning, and we sometimes would go to bed with one of the outside doors open to bring in a little breeze.

Folks act like this whole idea of hot weather in the summer is something new.

My great-granddaddy, Atticus Dillard, died on May 30, 1971. He was 93-years-old. Folks called him “Mr. Att.”

He had given my mother some very clear instructions. If he was going to be laid 6 feet under, it would probably get cold down there. He wanted to have a pair of long underwear beneath his little blue suit. He was a rather small and slim man and would wear a large boy’s size in underwear.

Something was wrong with Mama’s car on the morning we learned he had died. We had an old Chevy pickup with a three-speed manual transmission that many referred to as “three on the tree.” The gearshift was on the steering wheel column. They don’t make them like that anymore.

Mama could not master the manual transmission, but I was convinced that I could talk her through it.

We drove to Monroe with me doing the shifting, and I would say “go” when it was time to shift. Mama sometimes forgot to take her right foot off the accelerator and would rev the engine when we would change gears.

It was hot as blue blazes. The old truck only had a “two 50” air conditioner, which is two windows rolled down at 50 miles per hour (if we ever got that fast).

Our first stop was the Lewis and Lewis dry goods store in downtown Monroe. They had an assortment of clothes, including a variety of sizes of long underwear. The store was owned by Lewis Whitley and his son, Frank.

My mama told Mr. Lewis what she needed. He looked a bit puzzled. On a day that the temperature was flirting with 90 degrees, this woman wanted to buy long handles. He had some, but like the rest of his long underwear selection, they were put away for the summer in the non-air conditioned warehouse.

He went out to the warehouse and returned in a few minutes with a package of long underwear. The poor man was drenched in sweat and didn’t have a dry stitch of clothes on him.

We paid for them and took them out to local undertaker Arthur Bowick, who put them on Granddaddy Dillard when he was ready to go in the casket. To the best of our knowledge, Atticus Dillard is well-insulated and resting comfortably.

If you’re hot enough this summer that you feel like you might die, you may want to check your supply of long handles.

In this day and time, you won’t see children at play or an old timey dry goods store that has a pair of winter underwear in a warehouse.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the weekend Life page and on