The Necktie That Inspired An Ovation

Our good friend far down south, Elliot Brack, is lamenting the invasion of Yankees in the past 50 years or so. He says so many Northerners have invaded Atlanta there is talk of having an embassy for them, and it's a shame what this infiltration has done to Southern cooking.

From my advantage way up here in the land of baked beans and haddock chowder, I'd guess this is probably the finest thing that ever happened to Southern cooking. I frequently quote my wife on this subject, who, I readily confess, is the best cook north of Boston and makes a red-flannel hash (with dropped egg) so we wonder what the poor people eat. She, when once we spent the night at Williamsburg, went with me to breakfast. A gentleman welcomed us and said, "You're just in time for a real plantation breakfast!"

To which my wife cheerily replied, "Oh, good! And can we also get something to eat?" Mr. Brack happily recalls the old days when he could get a pear salad with mayonnaise to gladden his Dixie stomach. Enough said.

Much more interesting to me is Mr. Brack's ugly-tie contest, when readers of his little paper send in old ties and compete for a first prize at a plush seaside resort for a week. Second prize, I think, is for two weeks. In this way, the paper rids the area of ugly neckties, some of which may be badly daubed with pear salad and mayonnaise. Mayonnaise? (Don't blame this on us depraved Yankees! Up here we have the W-O/M square on the order blank: without mayonnaise. Check it, and you get maple syrup instead.)

What Mr. Brack is talking about, of course, is the kind of necktie a Yankee would never wear to a dogfight.

It's possible that down South, where manners are more fastidious, a couple of dogs momentarily estranged in the social graces will do battle on a high level of cultured umbrage. But here in our rowdy part of the country they really let go, and a gentleman will not usually put on tails and tie if he attends. A necktie unfit for a dogfight is sartorially gross, and sometimes as a way to get rid of one we stick it in a Care package marked Mason-Dixon.

Once upon a long-ago time I owned such a necktie, and I not only would not wear it to a dogfight, but I was forbidden to. It was in high-school, when we boys were being introduced to high-class manners. We began wearing shirts that didn't say Washburn-Crosby on them, and we had detachable collars and collar buttons.

The front collar button gleamed like a locomotive headlamp, but was concealed by either a bow tie or a four-in-hand. The very special four-in-hand that I sported came factory tied, glued at the folds, and was made with some kind of oilcloth garnished with imitation fabric and enameled with the hunting tartan of the Clan MacLeod of Dunvegan. It resembled a futuristic oil painting of a Hawaiian sunset superimposed on the great fire of Chicago.

Since it was permanently tied, it had a wire hook on it that fit over my collar button. After chores and breakfast I'd tidy up, hang on my patent necktie, grab my lunch bucket, and be off to school. It saved time and never intruded crass shabbiness to a dogfight.

But my patent necktie had one unfortunate fault. The hook that went over my front collar button was unreliable, and every so often my necktie would come loose and fall off, and I'd have to go looking for it.

In open country this didn't take long, because the tie would lie there somewhat like the sun bursting in orient splendor from the sea, and prominent. I was told that horses, trotting by, would see it and shy. If the tie fell behind a rock or a stump, it might take some time to track it down. Then one day the thing dropped off in school.

I didn't always know when it dropped off, and this time I sat at my desk nearly all forenoon with my collar button a-gleam. I didn't know somebody had picked the thing up somewhere and put it on the principal's desk, which was our repository for lost and found. There it was, casting its beam afar, and everybody knew what it was and where it was except me.

OUR principal, at the time, was Thomas Tooker, a gentleman of extreme gentility, always neatly dressed, and meticulously careful with his polites. He taught Latin. Entranced in my educational advantages, I was mentally aloof and distant, and I heard Mr. Tooker, down front of the assembly room, say, "This object was found in the girls' basement, and if the owner will pass forward he may have it. Thank you." Reference to the girls' basement was, of course, gratuitous, and none of us was aware Mr. Tooker had his humorous side. Having learned it now, everybody except lonely little me was ready to take part.

I got to my feet, and the entire school rose with me. Amid cheers, sustained applause, and stamping of feet I slunk down front and retrieved my necktie. Mr. Tooker bowed as I reached for it. I was able to regain enough aplomb so I turned to face the tumultuous crowd, bow, and attach my tie to my collar button, showing I was well brought up and socially aware. The cheering multitude resumed silence when Mr. Tooker rapped for order and said, "All right; all right! Shall we return to our wethers?"

But what I wanted to tell Mr. Brack is that when school let out, and Mr. Tooker was at the door to see us pass, he reached over to my patent necktie, and as if Julius Caesar were cracking a joke he said, "That's the kind we never wear to a dogfight! Where in the world did you find it?" And I didn't say, but I almost did, "in the girls' basement."

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