A Grammy award winning song called, Patches, came out in 1970 sung by blind musician, Clarence Carter. It tells the tearful story of a poor black boy that was forced to provide for family after his father passed away. I love the words to this wonderful tune, and Carter’s soulful voice makes things come alive.
I was born and raised down in Alabama
On a farm way back up in the woods
I was so ragged that folks used to call me Patches
Papa used to tease me about it
‘Cause deep down inside he was hurt
‘Cause he’d done all he could
Patches was the oldest child, and thus it was expected of him by a dying father to help support his mother and younger siblings. The ending of the ballad lets listeners know that the young man was successful.
The beginning lines mention that Patches came by his name because of tattered clothing. His folks were evidently so poor that they couldn’t afford new ones. When holes appeared, cloth patches were sewn over them. He didn’t openly complain about his nickname, yet his father disliked it, feeling bad that he hadn’t better provided for the family. I can relate to the ripped clothing part of this tale only.
My brother and I sported patches on our jeans and shirts during school years. Mom would sew up the torn elbow area in shirts, and when knees started showing through blue jeans, she’d do the same there. Somewhere during the 1960s, iron-on patches became available. Totally unlike Patches’ hurt in the song, my pain lay in different areas.
Mom’s iron-on patches were so stiff and coarse, they rubbed and chaffed my hide to the point of bleeding. She ironed them to the inside of the fabric which was like putting sticker briars down there. Patches, in Clarence Carter’s song can be thankful he didn’t have to endure this misery!
Mom tried softening those patches to no avail. She might as well have glued sandpaper to cloth. It got so bad that I’d go to the school restroom and stuff paper towels or toilet paper between patch and skin. Sitting in a classroom and being tormented like this may be one reason that my grades suffered.
This torture lasted for perhaps 10 years. There came a point when I started wearing corduroy jeans, and thankfully no patch material was available for them. By then, my folks were better at making ends meet and new clothing was no big problem.
My life was not nearly as traumatic as that poor kid in the song. I never had to work the fields or chop wood like the lyrics mention him doing. On the other hand, he didn’t have to suffer the pain of swinging or playing games at recess with an emery board rubbing against knees and elbows. It was a torture that I’ll never forget!
Just recently, my wife mentioned that she could repair several pair of my jean shorts with patches where the crotch and back pockets had worn through.
Hearing such, I quickly rounded up these items and disposed of them at the bottom of a large trash receptacle. Just the thought of what she wanted to do injected fear into my whole body.
I know Joleen’s intentions were frugal and good, but she didn’t have a clue what damage her patch job would do to delicate areas. Patches and I know, and we ain’t goin’ there!