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Reflections from the SwampThe History of Ripped Jeans, Grandmas, and Edmond

The History of Ripped Jeans, Grandmas, and Edmond

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

I imagined taking my deceased mother for a walk in downtown Almonte to see the changes happening on the main street. She didn’t comment on the construction but noticed, to her chagrin, that many girls and even older women had holes in their jeans. Mom saw holes in jeans as a sign of neglect and poverty. It wasn’t the demise of our medical system or climate change that belayed the breakdown of society. For my mother, the shredding and deliberate tearing of jeans signalled the decline of civilization. It was just a matter of days before Gabrielle would sound the trumpets of the last day. Armageddon was on its way.

There was a time in this fair land when mothers would patch their children’s jeans. We had three boys in our family, and my nearby relatives had four boy cousins who were just younger than our family’s boys. My princess sister didn’t have the luxury of wearing secondhand clothes or jeans. She wore diamonds( my story) and was allowed to have a pet hamster in the house. We, boys, couldn’t have pets except for our favourite chickens that eventually came into the house when they were decapitated and served for dinner. We often thought of decapitating “Hammy,” but there isn’t much ham on a hamster, and we were afraid of the powers invested in our mother.

A pair of jeans in our family would make it through seven boys before becoming yet more patches for other holy jeans. My mother called jeans” Spijkerbroeks.” We wore regular jeans as well as denim coveralls. Mom would sew on patches as soon as she could. Holes in your pants were considered a sign of poverty or neglectful parenting. I suspect that my mother was concerned about her reputation. All mothers in the neighbourhood had a similar disposition about jeans and worked tirelessly at mending them. As a result, almost all boys had patches on their jeans, and none of us walked around with holes in the knees of our jeans. My mother noticed that some mothers were starting to use the iron-on -patches, that she considered cheating. The universe was unfolding as it should, and no bare knees protruded from gaps in our pants. Then came the late sixties and early seventies.

Rips and faded jeans became popular in the late sixties and early seventies. Hippies would embroider designs on their jeans and add decorative patches.  Later, the grunge movement “was based on anti-fashion and the notion of not caring about what clothes you wore. Combined with a rise in thrifting and secondhand clothing, wearing ripped jeans was not an intentional fashion statement but a byproduct of the anti-fashion movement.

Grandmas looked different back in the sixties. The Omas in our church often sat together near the back. They usually wore dresses, their hair in tight buns, had big purses full of peppermints, and often had fake plastic fruit on their view-blocking hats. I was always afraid that an oma would clobber me with her cane for asking for more peppermints. Today’s grandmas don’t wear their hair in buns; they usually wear pants, even pants with deliberate holes or rips. I think today’s grandmas look younger, fitter, and better-looking than those of the past. My bride didn’t pay me to write this, and it’s true. My younger self probably wouldn’t imagine that I’d be writing about good-looking grandmas; however, the times are changing.

I’ll end this story with a few recollections of old Edmond. I used to hay with Edmond when he was in his eighties. His tractor had a leaky battery that he removed almost daily to recharge in the house. The battery acid seemed to be able to flow freely onto his denim coveralls. Never in the history of humanity did a pair of coveralls have as many patches as Edmond’s coveralls. The patches were of different colours, making Edmond’s pants look like a quilted mosaic of wonder and beauty. Why he didn’t buy a few caps for his battery or a new pair of coveralls is beyond me.

Edmond and his almost blind brother, the priest, were offered a chance to go to Toronto, Hogtown, in the late ’80s. I’m sure Edmond’s bride didn’t go because Edmond decided to wear his favourite pants, the acid coveralls with the two thousand patches. While walking down Yonge Street in his magic coveralls, Edmond, swarmed by “youngens” who wanted to buy his pants, couldn’t believe the interest his pants had created. “Yuts” had open scuffles on the street to determine who would get the coveralls. Someone yelled,” I’ll give you a hundred dollars for your coveralls!” Finally, one determined youth dragged Edmond and his brother into a clothing store that sold jeans and coveralls.

Edmond recalled looking at the jeans in the store. “They had some perfectly good new jeans in the store for about $12. On another shelf, they had worn-out, faded jeans with holes in the knees for $60. I was surprised that they were allowed to sell the damaged jeans. People were deliberately buying the wrecked jeans for more money than the good new jeans! I tell you, the people in Toronto have gone completely crazy! They put chemicals in the water around Toronto.”

The” kid” in Toronto traded Edmond’s acidy coveralls for a brand-new pair of coveralls and a new green worker’s shirt. I’m sure I’m not the only one who heard a story from Edmond about how crazy Toronto had become since “the war.” I’m sure the kid had stories to tell his friends about the man from Corkery that sold his overalls for a song on Yonge Street. He’d be wearing authentic worn-out coveralls and not the trendy fake damaged coveralls sold at the time.

When we wear our coveralls, the acids sometimes corrode through, and others can see and become aware of all our spills and rips. We can get new coveralls or let our rips, tears, and corrosion show who we are.

Too bad about the oma hats with the plastic fruits. I miss them. The good-looking grandmas of Almonte would look even better if those plastic fruit hats made a comeback. Bring on the holy ripped pants and the plastic fruit!




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