Mama Ida worked for the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles in Raleigh for 40 years. She could look at a license plate number and tell which office and city it came from.
Mama Ida was like a second mother to me. When my father was shot down in WWII, Mama Ida helped my young mother raise me and I always enjoyed spending as much time with her as I could.
In the summer, when Mama Ida came home from DMV, the first thing she did was to make a bee line to her closet, take off her dress and corsets and whatever else they wore back then and slip on her housecoat – at least that’s what she called it. She wore short sleeve cotton dusters with prints – usually light blue or pink. She did her household chores in the duster and cooked dinner with it on. We ate lots of fried things back then, and grease would come out of a cotton housecoat easily. Not so much in a silk or rayon dress.
Putting on a housecoat was a southern thing. Folks in the south like to get comfortable, especially after work. Summers were hot in the south and a cooler, cotton garment fit the bill. I’m the same way. When I get off work, I like to slip on a pair of shorts and a tee shirt and chill out.
But not my wife, Nancy. My bride of 51 years comes home from work and immediately heads for the back yard to pick up any sticks that may have fallen, or pluck a few weeds from her flowerbeds and she does routine outdoor chores in her dress clothes. Then she comes inside and tidies up, still in her dress clothes.
“Why don’t you put on a housecoat?” I ask, or used to ask. I have since given up. Nancy doesn’t even own a housecoat.
House coats were also called “dusters”. Typically, a housecoat was a sleeveless or short sleeve wrap-over style lightweight garment with a floral print and worn by housewives while cleaning or tending to other household duties.
Each Christmas I threaten to buy Nancy a housecoat (assuming they’re still made). But she wouldn’t wear it. She, apparently, is comfortable in dress clothes. It figures. Her daddy came from New Jersey, and a housecoat is clearly a southern thing.