On our third or fourth date, Jean (who would later become my wife) said, “You can stay, but those pants have to go.”
Before you jump to conclusions, let me explain.
She was talking about my old Air Force britches — faded, baggy khakis that I wore daily back in my military days. After my discharge, I still wore the pants, even on dates and to Sunday morning church.
I had washed and worn those brown cotton pants to wearing perfection. They felt great, but, I’ll admit, they did look used and abused — kind of a bum’s seedy look.
I was discharged from the military with six pairs of those comfy pants. They accompanied me in my civilian life, and I wore them to work and on dates.
The Air Force nomenclature for the pants was 1505s, which we airmen pronounced “fifteen-oh-fives.” They were designed to hold up during all kinds of tough military work. The cloth was thicker and the twill weave tighter. The seat was roomier also — to accommodate lengthy sitting spells.
When we started seeing each other, Jean asked me if I wore the same pair of pants all the time. “What, no!” I replied. “I’ve got a few pairs of these pants at home. When they get dirty, I wash them, put them with the others and start over again.”
Her question kind of rattled me, though. My 1505s were my best pals. We went everywhere together. But that constant togetherness created a situation for me, whose origin stretched back to my teen years.
In those youthful days and later my college and military years, I wore only two types of pants: blue jeans and khaki britches.
I grew up near the Army base at Fort Benning, and I sold newspapers on post each day. On many mornings, I watched the soldiers march along in those sharp-looking khaki pants. I think it was then that I became attached to the military look.
I bought my first pair at the M. Asher Army Store on lower Broadway in Columbus, Ga. Mr. Asher sold both new and used khakis. Like Gen. Douglas MacArthur, I, too, liked my pants well worn, which also meant they were cheaper — a dollar or so a pair, depending on the kind of work use.
Mr. Asher, a no-nonsense merchant, purchased the used pants directly from soldiers discharging out of the Army for probably 25 to 50 cents a pair — decent money back then.
Mr. Asher called them Army wash pants, and so did we. We could wash and dry them, slip them on and keep truckin’.
I’m not sure when I started calling them khakis. Perhaps when clothing manufacturers started referring to all sand-colored pants as khakis or chinos. Back in my day, they were simply Army pants.
Today’s stylish, mass-produced chinos are very different. They are more contemporary in appearance, with pleated fronts, tight-fitting seats and slim cuts, not the baggy britches issued by the military that I preferred.
Those old khakis contained enough room in the seat to house a family of stray cats. The big round legs resembled stovepipes.
Hemingway once wrote that the secret to good writing was loose pants. He must have had these old military khakis in mind or on his body when he made that observation.
When I slid them on, I felt like I could write the sequel to “A Farewell to Arms,” climb Mount McKinley, stroll across Death Valley or swim the Mississippi. In short, I felt invincible.
A few years ago, I found a place where I could buy khakis made almost like those old Air Force 1505s. Needless to say, I acquired a well-worn stack of them.
When the stack got low, I washed and dried the worn pants. After, I slipped them on and kept on rollin’.
My fellow workers in the newspaper trade probably thought, like Jean did in the beginning, that I had only one pair of those tan, baggy britches. No matter.
My khakis are my pals. I like the way they feel and fit. The more worn they get, the better they wear.
Today, with almost a lifetime of wearing these favored pants, I still reach for my military-style trousers just about every morn. And like actor Clint Eastwood said, these treasured pants “make my day.”
Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email address is email@example.com.