Al Batt: Mother turned tying necktie into a team roping event

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I took a sales course early in my life.

Al Batt

One thing stressed in the course was that how a man dressed could be telling of his character. The world has become much more casual in dress since then.

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I gave a eulogy recently. I have given many, each one has been a great honor and a humbling experience. As the inscription on the sundial reads, “I wait for no one.”

When I was a puppy, people up and died. I’d hear something said like this, “He was going to go on a cruise to Alaska, then he up and died.” Jerry Jeff Walker wrote, “Mr. Bojangles,” which included the lyrics, “The dog up and died, he up and died. After twenty years he still grieves.”

I put on a necktie. It was the right thing to do. Growing up, one of my favorite books was “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and in that lovely novel was this sentence, “You look right peart.” I looked up “peart” in my Webster’s Dictionary. It meant lively, chipper, sprightly or smart. My necktie looked right peart.

Crocheted crickets! When I was both ram and bunctious, wearing a necktie made me as nervous as a polecat in a perfume parlor or a cat in the rocking chair department. I’d seen too many horse thieves invited to necktie parties in cowboy movies. Wearing a tie was like being hitched to a post. Little boys sometimes wore pre-tied neckties or bow ties held in place by elastic neck straps. This allowed older boys to torment them by pulling on the tie and allowing it to snap back.

Seeing a necktie isn’t as uncommon as a pound of pennies in a collection plate, but it has become rarer. My father polished his wingtip shoes and wore a suit and tie anytime he went into a church. I saw an old photo of a Chicago Cubs game. The fans in the stands of Wrigley Field were mostly men wearing neckties. There were men in the stands who could live for a week on the food stains on their neckties.

My Cousin Pam told me she didn’t think Uncle Vern liked her. Vern was a Watkins Man. In “The Open Door to Success,” a J. R. Watkins Company promotional booklet, it said, “You can have opportunities limited only by your own personal ambition, willingness to work and ability to follow our practical guidance!” The direct-sales model used by the Watkins Company gave rise to the door-to-door salesman known as “the Watkins Man.” The Watkins Man was a traveling salesman of good standing who sold petro-carbo first-aid salve (a dark ointment in an exotic-colored tin), vanilla, liniment, spices, nectar syrups and many other items brought to the door by a rolling store. One day, Pam was visiting when Vern’s wife, Aunt Helen, took a break from ironing socks and brought out a bottle of Watkins nectar syrup and told Pam, “Vern thought you’d like this.”

Pam liked the nectar a great deal and she’d learned that Uncle Vern liked her. We show our love in small ways.

My mother was an active member of the TSC, the Tie Straighteners Club. She’d inspect me when I’d put on my best bib and tucker. She had to look up to me because she was over a foot shorter. A wise and short man told me we grow until we reach perfection and then we stop becoming taller. He used that to explain my tallness and my mother’s short stature. Mom reached up, grabbed my tie and gave it a slight twist before tightening it enough that I turned blue. She said, “There, that’s better.” She really liked the color blue. My necktie had reached perfection and I never will. My mother had shown her love in a small, blue way.

I’ve become adept at roping and tying myself with neckwear.

I teared up while giving the eulogy, but I didn’t need to wipe my eyes with my necktie because I had more smiles than tears by virtue of the dearly departed being a part of my life.

In that ancient sales course, I’d learned that of all the things I wear, my expression is the most important.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.