Saturday, January 7, 2012

If This Coat Could Talk

     My winter coat is officially 30 years old. I bought it in the winter of 1982, when I was an art student at Auburn University. I was nineteen years old, and my parents had given me one of their credit cards to use if I got into a predicament. That winter was crazy cold and it snowed right after Christmas break. Despite the fact that I was going through a weird artist-hippie phase of walking everywhere barefoot or in flip flops, I'd had the presence of mind to ask for a pair of hiking boots for Christmas. My feet were toasty, but I didn't have a warm jacket, and I determined that purchasing this coat constituted a true emergency. The coat is dark blue and it has five roomy pockets. It has an 80% Dacron/20% cotton outer shell, and it was made by Cannondale. It is filled with Quallofil, a high loft, non-allergenic, synthetic fiber which was touted to behave exactly like goose down, without the cons of losing its insulation properties when wet or requiring special cleaning. At $79, it seemed like a real bargain to me.
    Mom handled the money in our family, and she was highly displeased with the fact that I'd paid $79 for this coat. My nineteen year old mind had a hard time understanding why she was unhappy with my purchase: I was cold and I needed a winter coat. What didn't she "get"? For one thing, $79 was a lot of money to pay for a coat in those days. I didn't appreciate it back then, but Mom had a lot on her plate. I was floundering through school with no direction, and was failing many of my classes. My parents were worried about me and I gave them plenty to worry about; that chapter of my life is a book unto itself. She and Dad still had three kids living at home, all of whom they intended to put through college. As a means of supplementing our family's income, my parents and my brother-in-law bought a laundromat, where Mom worked full-time. It's obvious to me now that our family's budget was a great source of consternation for her. My father was not an especially thrifty person, and just like me, he'd buy exactly what he needed when he needed it, with cost being a secondary consideration. But here's where I feel the need to defend myself. While it's true that I could have bought a cheap, crappy, nylon winter parka at K-Mart, which may have lasted one or two years until the zipper broke or a seam came loose, I sensed that this coat possessed quality, and that if I took good care of it, I'd wear it for a very long time. I've worn it every winter since then. Sometimes, I teasingly remind Mom that I'm still wearing this coat, and had it been a financial investment, we'd be millionaires by now.
    It's a good thing that inanimate objects can't be subpoenaed, because this coat has seen things that would qualify it for a spot in the witness protection program. In my starving artist days, I used to shoplift booze by flattening a six-pack of beer cans and shoving it up the front of the jacket, with each sleeve nicely accommodating a bottle of wine. This was before the advent of store security cameras and mirrors, and I was lucky I never got caught. Without going into details, this coat has made it through some wild times, and it's seen and done things you wouldn't believe. On a more practical note, my coat has traveled with me from coast to coast, as well as to Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Switzerland, Germany and Poland. It wears the salty perfume of two oceans and traces of earth from two continents. It's permeated by the dust of the Appalachians, the Cascades, and the Tatras. If I reach deeply enough into its pockets, my fingers are greeted by grains of sand from the Atlantic and Pacific shores, the Gulf coast, the trout streams of North Georgia, and the confluence of the Dunajec and Poprad rivers in Poland, where we scattered my father's ashes. This coat has served as a baby bag, a Kleenex, a pillow, a blanket, and a repository for Nick and Rory's medications. I recently discovered an old capsule of pancreatic enzymes within the recesses of the breast pocket, bringing with it a flood of memories from the days when they were tow-headed little boys who still called me "Mommy." My coat has survived thirty winters, twenty-one years of motherhood, two divorces, my childrens' battle with cystic fibrosis, my mother's fight with breast cancer, and six exquisitely painful weeks of saying goodbye to my father. I drove alone to the hospital the night Dad died, in the bitter cold of early February in 2003. I was wearing this coat, crying inconsolably, and the warmth and solace it afforded me that night were immeasurable: it was like being enveloped by the arms of an old friend.
     I have only washed this coat once or twice the entire time I've had it. I prefer it that way. Although it's not visibly dirty, it wears the patina of thirty of my almost fifty years of existence. It's in near-perfect condition. The zipper works flawlessly, the snaps and lining are intact, the seams are pristine, and it still keeps me warm. Buying it is probably one of the best investments I've ever made. It's not particularly fashionable, yet what it lacks in eye appeal, it has compensated for generously in form and function. You'd never guess it was so old. If this coat could talk, it would reveal my secrets, my sorrows, my triumphs, and it would tell you that it's had a good life. Over the years, its personal value has greatly exceeded its utilitarian design. I wear it and I remember. I feel rich every time I put it on. It is truly priceless and irreplaceable; every pocket, every seam, every speck of dirt on this old blue winter coat tells the story of me.
Beaufort, S.C., early spring 1992. I was carrying Nick because his left tibia was broken, and I still have his little red cast. See my blue coat?

Me in my blue coat, 32 years later. It's held up remarkably well, even though my sister says I look like I'm wearing a sleeping bag.

13 comments:

  1. Oh to have a winter coat that light ... .I remember you had left it here and it had to be shipped back to you!

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  2. Kris, I am so impressed that you are still wearing a winter coat 30 years old! I doubt I can still fit into one from 30 years ago LOL! You were right in sensing the quality of it; look at how long it has lasted. Nice photo from 1992 with Nick and it looks like a very warm and well-made coat!

    With all the memories that coat holds and the places it has been (quite the world traveling coat!), I can see the sentimental value as well as the usefulness and functionality. Shoplifting booze in your starving artist days LOL! Nice the way you got the beer and the wine in there, creative layering. :)

    The memory of how that coat offered warmth and solace from the bitter cold the year your father was dying was very moving and brought tears to my eyes. For that, and for all the years you wore the coat through your mother’s fight with breast cancer (hope she’s in remission now), your sons’ cystic fibrosis, and all those memories, never get rid of that coat! Buying it was a priceless investment. A wonderful post!

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    1. Madilyn, The coat is still in tip top condition, and as long as it's wearable, I will be wearing it! It's really like an old friend.

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  3. You know, I'm looking at your 30-year-old coat and it really is timeless. I would say that you bought it this year. Very nice.

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    1. I need to put an updated picture of me wearing that blue coat on my blog. I still can't believe it's held up as well as it has.

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  4. I remember my 30yo. down coat; gave it to a homeless guy just last year. Expensive then, but saved my ass on many a winter motorcycle trip.

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    1. What a nice gift for that guy! Bet your coat had lots of great stories, too, Mike.

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  5. Now that's what I call a very well made coat. It's had years of wear and tear but it still looks perfect and has kept you warm for 30 years and I'm sure it will easily do another 30. All those memories wrapped up in one coat, if only I could force it to tell me more, ha ha ha.

    It's a coat to be handed down from generation to generation with all the stories attached to it. You should try to contact the company that made the coat to tell them how it has served you well for such a long time (that's if they still exist).

    I was laughing when you mentioned about how you starved as an artist because I was expecting you to say you stole FOOD to survive, but you said it was booze, naughty, naughty ha ha ha.

    Well, America is going crazy right now with the Polar Votex thing happening, so you're coat will once again be put to good use. Stay warm mate.

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    1. I really should contact the company that made this coat, just to let them know how well it's held up through the years. Yeah, I was just a bit naughty back then. To tell the truth, I haven't changed much :-D This coat is getting lots of use right now...crazy cold weather we're having!!!

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  6. Kris, that coat seems to have fused with your soul on genetic-molecular basis! I have a feeling you can wash it more frequently -nothing is going to remove the patina of three decades of your existence that it carries. Now where are those Guinness World Records guys?

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  7. It is amazing the memories that come with some of the older items I have, though nothing I have has 30 years, yet. When I look through my closets and see particular shirts and sweaters, they all seem to have some stories attached. Lets hope the coat lasts you another 30 :)

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  8. Chester the jesterJanuary 11, 2014 at 7:25 AM

    Nice story Kris I feel honored to have dined with said coat ! Reminds me of my purple Eddie Bauer jacket my mom gave me back in the mid eighties.......during my divorce. She even sewed an old name tag of mine she had leftover from my childhood . Everytime I put it on I think of her fondly.......
    Prob not in as good o shape as your coat but still a good work jacket. Prob been washed 10 times or so. I will wear it for lunch soon !

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    1. Yes, Chester, I'd love to see it, especially the tag your mom sewed onto it. How cool! Looking forward to our next lunch and/or Frisbee session!

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