Archive for Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cool look’ spurned for umbrella

February 27, 2008

As I have grown older, I have started to make changes in thinking. Most of these revisions are relatively minor changes in the way that you do things. In some cases, you begin using items which you once ridiculed and in my case it is the umbrella.

I really don't know why I spent decades disdaining the use of an umbrella, which is a simple, popular and practical object. In many ways, the umbrella is a marvel of simplicity. You merely press a button and it pops open providing protection from the elements.

As a young man I simply didn't use an umbrella. Like many men of my generation, I guess that I thought an umbrella might get in the way or that it somehow made me look like a wimp. Come to think of it, I believe the truth was that I thought I would probably lose the umbrella as I have misplaced gloves and stocking caps.

For the most part, I paid little attention to rain. I regarded it as a minor inconvenience that might cause the postponing of a baseball game. Much to my wife's frustration, I never walked around a puddle, often I marched through them. My argument was that I was too busy thinking about important matters to worry about water. That was a line of reasoning never accepted.

Anyway, in the past few years I've changed my mind about umbrellas. I always have an umbrella handy in my pick-up truck and I am proud to say that I've yet to lose one. I really don't know why I didn't like umbrellas; maybe it was the idea of invincibility of youth. Now, I know that it is a lot more important to be comfortable that it is to look "cool".

Actually the umbrella is known by many names. In the U.S., a slang term is "bumbershoot." In England and Australia, an umbrella can be known as a "brollies." In the 19th century, women didn't carry umbrellas, they had "parasols." While parasols were commonly used by women in the 16th and 17th centuries, it took a Persian traveler, Jonas Hanway to introduce the practice to men. In the 1700s, he carried an umbrella in England for more than 30 years, and men of that generation commonly called their umbrellas a "Hanway."

Actually, the word umbrella comes from the "umbra" which meant shade or shadow. While no one knows exactly who developed the first umbrella, ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks and Chinese are known to have used umbrella-like objects. Originally, the umbrella was probably used as protection against the sun. However, the ancient Chinese were the first to waterproof umbrellas. Apparently, they waxed and lacquered paper umbrellas for protection from rain. The early Europeans used wood or whalebones as the frame work for their umbrellas. These were covered with oiled canvas.

Samuel Fox invented the steel-ribbed umbrella in 1852. It is believed that he may have gotten the idea for a steel framework from women's corsets. William C. Carter, an African-American, patented the umbrella stand in 1885.

It took awhile for the umbrella to catch on in England. No less an authority than Robert Louis Stevenson is alleged to have proclaimed that carrying an umbrella was a sign of character weakness. It was even thought that leaving an umbrella open in the house would bring bad luck. Others believed that only hypochondriacs would stoop to carrying an umbrella. Despite the bad rap, it didn't take long for the English to discover the convenience of having an umbrella. The umbrella came to the United States with the early settlers.

In Victorian England, an umbrella could be more than a rain or sun shade. There were models which concealed a sword. In the Napoleonic wars, British officers insisted on having their umbrellas. In the 1890s, no proper young lady would venture out for a Sunday afternoon stroll without her colorful parasol. One book I read pointed out that when Americans became "sun worshipers" the parasol lost its popularity.

Anway, if I attend a grandson's ball game on a sun-drenched field without a tree in sight, you'll find me under my umbrella. If it is raining, I always reach for my umbrella. Being shaded or dry is far more important to me than any fashion statement. It is too bad, however, that it took me so many years to start using some common sense.

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