The mention of the word merkin on the Academy Awards last night triggered a fun memory. It’s obvious, at least it is to me, that my friends and I were in the vanguard of the Cool Crowd being as how we knew what a merkin was long before it became a popular term. Here’s how it went down.
My bridge group plus our husbands gathered in the wilds of rural Ontario to enjoy a mid-winter camping getaway. The more observant readers might feel compelled to point out that we must have been out of our minds to contemplate mid-winter camping in Canada. This seldom poses a problem for hardy Canuks like us, especially since our camping trips have long morphed into leisurely weekends of eating and drinking at a country retreat. Continuing to call our escape from the city a “camping trip” makes us feel athletic and adventuresome and buff.
Saturday dawned bright, and crisp, and very cold, so after pigging out over lunch, we all suited up in hats, scarves, gloves, and the like. My friend, Linda, pulled a reddish-brown, curly-looking thing onto her head. From a distance, the hat resembled either a matted rat pelt or, if you squinted, a really, really bad haircut.
“John hates this thing,” she confessed, referring to her husband. “He wants to throw it away, but my daughter knitted it for me and I love it.”
“That hat looks like a merkin,” Bob volunteered.
We all turned and stared at him as if he had sprouted another head. Being a writer, I nodded wisely and pretended to know what a merkin was.
“What’s a merkin?” Donna asked.
“A pubic wig,” Bob answered, injecting a note of authority by adding, “Someone at work told me.”
“Ah. That explains the curls,” I snickered.
Everyone (except Linda who was wearing the garment in question) rolled on the ground trying not to pee while screaming with so much laughter, feral squirrels and chipmunks scurried into hiding. For the next five minutes, the woods rang with merriment.
One by one, we scrambled to our feet and dusted off the snow.
“You must work with some really strange people,” Linda said, patting her hat to make sure it was positioned properly.
Bob grinned. “I’ve always wanted to work the word ‘merkin’ into a conversation.”
After our walk, during which we all speculated about the origin, not to mention strange requirement, for an item called a merkin, we all trooped back to the cottage to eat hot cheese appetizers, crack open a bottle of wine, and check out some Internet definitions for Merkin. Here’s what we found:
Wickipedia: A merkin (first use, according to the OED 1617) is a pubic wig, worn by prostitutes after shaving their genitalia to eliminate lice or to disguise the marks of syphilis.”
Oxford English Dictionary: “A counterfeit hairpiece for women’s privy parts.”
I imagined the following scene:
Setting: A brothel on the outskirts of London, circa 1620.
Anonymous John: I love what you’ve done with your merkin, dearie. It looks so natural, and a perfect match for your underarm hair.
Prostitute (Turns pink with pleasure): Why, thank you for noticing.
Years later, we still share an occasional chuckle about Linda’s choice of headgear. Merkins (among other things) are what great memories are made of.