The Good Life: Grabbing Geezer Gear For Winter Weather

Coping with last week’s subzero temperatures was both harder and easier than it was 60 years ago.

Cold weather stiffens joints and makes muscles mushy, this year as well as in the 1950s.

These days, that stiffness is augmented by arthritis gained in my misspent youth. I was not good at sports. But I tried. One of the most common injuries was the dreaded “stoved finger.” I never did figure out the origin of the term.

We got “stoved fingers” from having the end of a finger, rather than its padded palm side, be hit by a thrown or batted baseball.

The “Owww!” of those days has given way to the “Aaahgh” of these days, as the arthritis induced by stovings, actual bone breaks and innumerable twistings, squeezings and crunchings makes itself known.

I have a litany of orthopedic alterations: Fractured skull, nose, jaw, collarbone, arm (twice), fingers, ribs and a leg. Add in the sprains and it is no wonder that I groan at the thought of going outside when a minus number is on the thermometer.

My body is much worse off in today’s cold weather.

But clothing is light-years better.

Today, one pair of socks and one set of insulated boots keep my feet warm, at least while I move around. The socks are wick-away liners inside fuzzy outer fabric. My favorite is alpaca. Good old wool is almost as suitable, and keeps its warmth once sweat has soaked the socks. I choose among three sets of boots: One L.L. Bean rubber-and-leather lace-up, Thinsulated; one rubberized LaCrosse set of pull-on hunting boots with snow-gripping threads; and my favorite, the Muck Boot Hoser pull-on model, black rubber bottoms topped with insulating foam uppers.

In the 1950s, the footwear was cotton socks inside itchy wool socks, stuffed into stretched-out shoes push-pulled into uninsulated rubber five-buckle Arctic boots. Clip too tight, and circulation stopped. Too loose, and snow got inside. Buckles broke, tangling foot to foot and tripping us into the snow.

Today, for my legs and hips, long johns are available. But I get by with felt-lined jeans beneath wind-stopping overpants, either a light camo set or bulkier but warmer blaze orange bib overalls bought for deer hunting.

Back in the day, we didn’t have money for cold weather underwear. Pajama bottoms sufficed. The preferred pants were uninsulated itchy wool gabardine, but those were supposed to be saved for church. Overalls were black-and-red checkered Woolrich bibs with saggy suspenders.

Today’s shirts are not itchy and comfortable. I start with a T-shirt topped with a cotton Henley three-button pull-on. I no longer spend extra for the Under Armor types. I don’t stay outside long enough to justify their cost.

My flannel shirt is cotton, not wool, because my down-insulated L.L. Bean Maine Warden Parka, an extravagant $400-plus hooded marvel, permits free movement while trapping insulating air. I still cringe at spending that $400, but this parka’s predecessor lasted for 20 years. For $40 a winter, I’ll stay warm.

My 1950s outer layer was Dad’s surplus World War II black wool Navy pea coat. To prevent being shot, Mom pinned a cutout rectangle of bright red cotton to its back. Blaze orange had not yet become common.

Gloves were pathetic. They were wool, but when wet, they did not insulate if exposed to wind. I even resorted threading a piece of yarn between the gloves so, when they fell off as they always would, I would not lose them in the snow.

Today, I use double-layer mittens. The inside gloves, with fingers, are wool and cotton blend. The outer mittens are softened, wind-resistant elk hide.

Inside them is magic: Packets of granulated hand warmers. You slap them to get them to chemically activate. They exude warmth for half-days. They slip inside the gloves’ inner layers, against my palms, and can be snuggled around to warm cold-tinged fingers. Similar warmers can be stuck to the soles of my socks.

I don’t now remember what I wore for a hat back then. It worked about as well as the gloves.

Today, my parka’s hood would be almost good enough by itself. For supplements, I choose between a fake-fur “mad bomber” hat with chin-strapped fuzzy earflaps and a Duluth Trading no-bill shoreman’s beanie that covers ears as well as skull. It is no thicker than my flannel shirt but about as warm as my “mad bomber” chapeau.

If I am to run the snow blower, I also don ski goggles. They, too, are modern engineered marvels, keeping snow and cold off my upper face.

An old standby is a scarf tucked around my neck beneath the parka’s chin-high zip-up. If the wind is fierce, I can slip it outside to wrap around my mouth and just below my nose, or even atop my nose.

I am older and creakier now than I was 60 years ago.

But in sub-zero weather, I am warmer yet far more limber and comfortable outside, even for hours.

But let’s face it: Indoors, is still preferable, in just one layer of clothing, heated by propane and electricity.

Then again, so is springtime.


Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: