Ties

Flushing, Michigan
May 1934

Nelson remembered to slow down before he came up on the Wilson’s house. He swerved between the patches of loose dirt to avoid kicking up dust. Starting this particular day out with dust on his clothes wouldn’t bode well for what was to come. He drove his Ford dressed in his finest clothes—a crisp, gray tweed suit he had bought with his first paycheck from the plant, a navy vest inherited when his younger brother stopped boxing and found that his clothes no longer fit, and a brand new tie.

He and his fiancee had discussed the necessity of a frugal wedding, but he just couldn’t bear the idea of walking down the aisle without something new. A keepsake of his life before marriage and family.

A few days before, he had driven down an entirely different street for Bernice. It was after a morning shift at the plant. He had stopped by his brother’s flower shop. He was helping his mother and sister-in-law unwrap the newest shipment of flowers from the farm when he mentioned his want of a symbolic tie. They tried to convince him he needed a woman’s touch.

“Bernice will be disappointed if the tie didn’t match exactly.”

“Men just don’t know how to dress themselves anymore.”

“Your mother and I can find you a deal and anyway it’s slow here.”

It was five days before Mother’s Day, just before the rush. After several minutes of debate though, he pinned up the argument with “Honestly. You two make it sound as if I’d show up to the church in just my stocking feet if you didn’t go with me.”

“It’s not far-fetched. Your brother nearly did,” Elsie said, cackling as she reached for the list of the day’s orders, and Nelson knew the subject was settled. They wouldn’t insist, and he was glad for that. He was 33-years-old; he’d soon be the head of a household. Making the purchase himself would be the first act he’d commit for the sake of his wife. Besides the proposal, of course.

The Harburns traded employment from one definition of plant to another when they moved to Flint.
A few of the Harburn men traded working with plants to working in a plant when they moved to Flint. Flint City Directory, 1931

He decided to drive the six blocks from the flower shop to the clothing store. Driving felt more formal to him and formality was what the occasion called for.  He sidled his car in between the other Fords along Saginaw Street, turned off the engine, and joined the spattering of people on the sidewalks. It was a Thursday afternoon and the first day of the year so far that the light breeze didn’t carry a twinge of moisture in it. The office workers from the bank were enjoying their lunches sitting on the benches scattered throughout the park across the street. The people and the flowers in the beds beside them pointed in the same direction– facing the sun, letting it nourish and warm them. These were the unwitting audience members of his processional.

"To suit every man's needs."
“To suit every man’s needs.”

He walked straight into Crawford & Zimmermans to the display of neckties. They were folded elegantly in six vertical lines across the broad plain of a cedar table. Each line of ties pointed with their ends in opposite directions, right then left then right again, as if ties could show modesty. The effect made the customer’s eye following the arrows to the finely-made suitcoats and felt hats that surrounded them.

Nelson thought a scarlet tie with a white maple leaf pattern would be best. The colors and pattern represented his native country. The maple leaf further added a sense of stability and growth he thought appropriate for one beginning his husbandhood. But there was a solidity to the tie with cream diagonal stripes trekking across a navy field that reminded him of the stars and stripes. He quickly decided since marriage was a commitment to the future, never the past, the navy and cream tie was the better choice.

He folded back the ties atop the navy blue one, plucked it from the series, and carefully reset the pattern to cover the gap he’d made. His decision was over before Mr. Crawford’s son, who had been occupied by a somber, walrus-mustached customer, could even make a salesman-like suggestion. When Nelson looked up, young Crawford was standing on the other side of the table from him.

“Ah, a man with aim, I see.” Mr. Crawford held out his hand to take the tie. “May I interest you in a homburg or a navy kerchief to match, sir?”

“No. Just the tie presently, thank you.”

Nelson smirked, more to himself than to Mr. Crawford, both his heels left the floor for a split second. Quick and concisely done, he thought as he opened his wallet and gave the man three coins, and this is how it begins.

++++++++++++++

It’s funny how the little things in life can signify such momentous occasions. Are there any similar stories like my grandfather’s marriage tie in your family tree?

Read the next ‘chapter’: The Jitters.

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