Hoag Family reunion, 1971
My mother-in-law, Carol, was a strong New England woman, one who was born and died in her home state of Massachusetts. She was taller and broader than me, had a powerful presence, softened by short brown curls and a ready smile. Back in the early 1970's, in between a full time job, a couple of teen girls and a rough divorce, she bought a fine Woolrich coat, teal colored twill with a tan-and-white wool lining.
A few years passed. Carol grew wider as folks tend to do in these United States, and the coat was handed to her youngest daughter, Abby. It probably never really fit Abby, except perhaps the winter she spent pregnant. Still, it was serviceable for bitter New Hampshire. The good twill broke the wind and the liner created an Indian blanket warmth. Like all coats of it's time, it was unwieldy. After putting it on, you became lumbering and bear-like.
There was a hood, too, but by the time I inherited the coat, the string was gone. In deep cold or high wind, the big hood could still be pulled over a scarf for a second line of defense. You might look like the Abominable Snowman, but this senior's world, so what?
The coat is a keeper, worn weekly. Like any article of clothing that has been in use for so long, it shows it's age. For one thing, there's a dab of yellow house paint on one pocket, now hopelessly melded with the twill. That, and a fray on that same pocket, might suggest a thrift store source when viewed in cold, unforgiving daylight.
At the jolly-holly-day season, an old coat probably seems like a weird topic, but there's a part of me that a pure Yankee at heart, despite all those upstate farm New York ancestors. Still, in the midst of so much consumption--and so much compulsion do so, just pounding on the psyche from every side--there's a part of me that resists. I remember my much loved and frugal Grandfather, and that long ago rhyme.
"Use it up,
Wear it out,
Or do without."
In later years, I'd hear it all over again, now from my husband's Yankee relatives. Even if I had the money to change it all out every year, I don't think I would. And beyond even that Yankee reason, there's memory of the two other bodies who have sheltered inside this same coat. One is a sister-in-law who has become a more of a sister, and the other was my formidable mother-in-law. When I pull it on, memories are with me just as surely as the wool and twill--which makes it so much more than just "an old coat."
Carol, Valedictorian, Springfield HS, 1943
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