Full Flannel

Going full flannel is like going full monty except in the opposite direction.

The farmhouse closet is divided in half, if not quite in half because Wisconsin is slightly more Mars than it is Venus. Furthermore I do not know if it is legal to sell flannel shirts in Florida as it should be illegal to sell Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts north of the fortieth parallel. To note yet the rather odd thing about the Wisconsin/Minnesota/Dakota climate, as demented as it can be in winter, come some mid-summer what was a polar bear township can ripple with Sahara heat. As perhaps explains flannel.

Like most agricultural practitioners I wear flannel three quarters of the year, as a result flannel shirts go through a metamorphosis. The first phase of their career is long-sleeve flannel, the next age as short-sleeve flannel. At a farm occupation nasty things happen to shirtsleeves. Welding gloves do well enough for the hands but a shirtsleeve can only take so many meteorite hits. At which point they become short-sleeve flannel.

At some moment in the summer the average costume is down to t-shirts, never mind at first light it was flannel, explaining why my wife buys me a new flannel shirt every Christmas. Because I lose that shirt, left hanging on a convenient fencepost, on a truck fender, a few die by fire. If flannel shirts have a recurrent problem it is they are remarkably good fire tinder, a spark can be kept alive in flannel for minutes, even hours. Not precisely on fire instead a seething sort of spark mindful of a grudge. Should the wearer remove this shirt uninspected and hang it on a close nail, likelihood is to find on their return the shirt absent if the nail is still there. Occasionally the shed itself goes missing. As explains why some in the farm community believe flannel shirts are divine, because they disappear at odd moments, sometimes taking the shed with them.

My wife has her degree in clinical psychology. Her mother thought it justified self-defense when she couldn’t be dissuaded from marrying a farmer. I never did learn how much money they offered in lieu of that fate, she didn’t refuse so much as I counter-offered. She, the psychologist, has told me I suffer from separation anxiety, that is why I never throw away an old flannel shirt. A specimen she thinks has sunk beneath the horizon of social acceptability. I admit I do have a problem here if more theological in nature, saving an old flannel shirt the only thing a self-respecting former seminarian would do. Flannel explains the origin of the human soul. Which has been debated for ages, whether we each have our own or just a chip off the old block, also whether the Irish have souls, whether black slaves, or trees and trout and dirt have souls; on which I concur since my visceral sense is it’s the shirt as has the soul.

Soul is mentioned in the Bible 51 times, not one mention of a flannel shirt. Not a promising onset for a theological argument claiming the soul is a flannel shirt. Besides, what would happen to people in Florida? Which is to neglect the Middle English root of the word flannel, coincidentally Middle English is where most of our words come from, same for the King James Version. In its early guise flannel was flanneol, a soft woolen cloth, twilled or worsted with a loose texture and slightly napped surface. I have worn innumerable dress shirts, ties, turtlenecks, sweaters, bow ties; all suffer a discernable, despicable quality, at least to those persons who enjoy full range of axis motion. A lobbyist might be able to do somersaults and underwater welding while wearing a white shirt and tie, perhaps even editors and lawyers, bankers and brokers. But when it comes to low-down, creeper-gear, knuckle-busting, dirtball, grease gun, fencing pliers sort of work, the kind that actually makes a nation wise and wonderful, a dress shirt doesn’t do it. Hammer and nails, rechargeable drills, impact wrenches and manure forks require a fluid form of shirt. An articulate and graceful shirt. A soulful shirt.

According the Genesis, chapter 3 verse 7 mankind did not know he (1) was naked and (2) had a soul, until he left Eden –suggesting several interpretations, the easiest being when you are naked your soul disappears. Belying the truth that clothes make the man. The second theological leap is that clothes are something God either doesn’t need or is jealous of. The third theological jump is the soul isn’t standard equipment and is therefore a craft skill. Mindful here of a garden, or maybe a quilt. Soul is the putting together of things and elements to create something as delightful at life with no high-grade paradise involved. In summary that may be what civilization is about, more than just zoological humanity but a daring, conspiratorial, inventive humanity. As requires a good shirt.

As a child I thought this exact implement was a coonskin cap, followed after by a cowboy hat; now I’m pretty sure it’s the shirt. So maybe they don’t feel this way in Hawaii or Arizona. But wait until they too leave Eden, that old nip in the air, a forecast for snow; odds are they’ll want a flannel shirt.