History might have forgotten stockings; I have not

World War II seemed so far away that chilly morning, Palm Sunday, the 25th of March 1945, when I stood at the altar of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Savannah with the rest of my confirmation class. Choir members had taken their places facing each other on either side of the chancel where the reds, greens, blues of the stained glass window, Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, were reflected on the marble floor, and the pipe organ boomed sonorously as organs do on solemn occasions.This was it, my first communion, the culmination of Pastor C. A. Linn’s Saturday morning catechism instruction, where for the entire school year we sat once a week for the required hour, not understanding half of what he was talking about. In three more months, I would be 13. No more wearing socks with my patent leather dress-up shoes. For the first time I wore a pair of stockings, rayon stockings held up by suspenders connected to one of my Mama’s garter belts and which, as I stood there in front of the entire congregation, to my horror and ignored pleas to heaven, were slowly, ever so slowly beginning to slide down my nonexistent hips. I knew I should have used plain old garters, rolled my stockings tight above my knees. At least, then, if the garter didn’t hold, the stockings would only slip down to my ankles. But no, I had to have the suspender belt, a potential disaster. And I prayed. The service went on and on and on, and I prayed, harder, fervently, desperately. At the very same time, on the other side of the world, the U. S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, with more than 180,000 US Army and Marine Corps troops, was at sea, readying for an assault on the Pacific island of Okinawa, where Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, commanding 130,000 men of Japan’s 32nd Army, waited, hidden, entrenched in rugged mountain terrain, set up in a triangle known as the Shuri Defense Line. Operation ICEBOX was to begin a week later on Easter Sunday, a bloody battle lasting 82 days. And I thought I had troubles. During the war, other than on the black market, there were no silk or nylon stockings to be had. Those materials were used by the military for parachutes and things we weren’t told about. We were reduced to wearing stockings of rayon or cotton. Understand, unless you were going someplace casual, you did not go out of the house bare-legged. Max Factor of Hollywood, with his pancake makeup, was the saving grace. We smeared it on our legs with a wet sponge and when it dried, twisted and bent in ways our bodies were not meant to move so we could draw a seam line up the back with a sharpened eyebrow pencil. You had to have a seam.  Even a crooked one.When the war ended, silk and nylon stockings were back. At Adler’s Department Store, you sat at a counter, and a clerk asked your size and color preference before pulling a selection from the wall storage unit. There were two pairs of stockings, each wrapped in a fold of tissue paper, in a box, about the size of a super skinny book. The clerk would lay open the tissue, put her fist in the top of the stocking, and present it for your approval. A long-forgotten procedure called “service.”We’ve gone from socks to stockings to pantyhose to thigh-highs that have their own means of support. And they are so available.Racks of stockings and pantyhose sealed in plastic hang on hooks in mercantiles from mini marts to super conglomerates like Walmart and Target, and don’t you even think about opening that package before you’ve paid for it. Somewhere there must be boutiques that pamper customers, allowing one the pleasure of quiet selection. Stockings have a long history, a pair of socks, not stockings, was found in a 500 AD tomb in Egypt. Queen Elizabeth I was gifted a pair of silk hosiery in 1562 or was it 1563? Can’t help but wonder if she showed them to Raleigh.Days are long gone when I sat and darned my nylons or leaned over and tried to stop a run with a glop of fingernail polish. My garter belt, white lace, yellow with age, lies undisturbed in the lingerie drawer. Wads of pantyhose, rubbery with dry rot, await disposal.Somehow, my Crocs and Danskos manage with socks or just a sprinkling of foot powder. But there was a time, when sheer black stockings, with seams – of course, and a pair of Troylings were de rigueur for a Saturday night date. I rather miss that.Annelore Harrell lives in Bluffton and can be reached at anneloreh@aol.com.

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