My Fatherís Coat
A fifteen-mile-per-hour wind reduced the biting cold, to a wind-chill of twenty-below-zero. Trying to blink the tears from my eyes, only to have them flash freeze to my eye lashes; the copious tears flowing from my eyes were the only reason my tears did not let my lashes freeze shut. My right hand, white knuckled, clamped on the the pawl of a flag shrouded casket, ached from the strain and cold.
Slipping in the snow, the other five bearers of my fatherís casket struggled in the snow and wind as we walked toward a small hole dug in the ground. The perceived smallness loomed immense as we pivoted to lay my father on the ropes spanning his grave. The vault laying in the bottom had a small snow drift at the head formed on the fresh dirt that fell into the vault as it had been lowered.
Stepping back I pulled my knit cap lower over my neck seeking to slow the snow, being driven down the back of my coat, actually my fatherís coat. Having arrived from Florida two days prior to attend my fatherís funeral, I was woefully unprepared for the fierceness of the cold. My mom told me to wear my fatherís coat to keep warm. She knew it had kept him warm on the trips to his chemo and radiation treatments. She knew it would keep me warm too. I was lost to the irony of wearing his coat to his burial. It was not until later when mom told me to keep his coat that the irony struck home.
I wore it for the next few days we stayed in Rochester, NY before heading home to central Florida. My fatherís coat was hung away in my home office closet, almost forgotten, except when I would open the door for something and get a faint whiff of his Old Spice aftershave. Tears would start to well as I touched the sleeve, ďMy Pop.Ē I would think, and then say a prayer for his spirit.
The following winter in Florida was a cold one. We had a cold front come through and a wind-chill in the high teens brought me to the office closet. Donning my fatherís coat I noticed what looked remarkably like my fatherís hand extend from the sleeve. Turning my hand over broke the moment. Leashing my two smooth collies for their walk I stuffed two bags into the outer pocket to pick up after my pets.
I could feel my father in this coat. Hear his voice and him calling my name. Pulling a bag from my pocket a smaller bag fell to the ground. Picking it up I realized it was a bag of split shots, my father used when fishing for trout or salmon. Memories flooded my mind of countless fishing trips with my father. No matter how hard life was or how good there was a constant with my father, trout fishing. We would kid that Pop could catch trout in a dry river bed. My pop, Dakota and Moriah pulled at the leashes to move on. But I stood firm. It is hard to move forty years of memory when it locks you in place.
Putting the bag of spit shot back into the pocket I fought a urge to see what other treasures I would find if I searched all the pockets. Impulse resisted, I walked back to the house smiling, to tell my wife of the treasure I found. My fatherís coat was replaced in the office closet until it was cold enough to wear again.
Two years passed until my fatherís coat was removed from the closet again. Packing for a trip back home for Christmas I knew my fatherís coat would provide me warmth in the cold north. I had put my sunglasses in an upper pocket while driving one day. Pulling out the glasses I also pulled out a hanky of my fathers. His hanky, it held his scent and sweat. He constantly wiped his sweating brow with his hanky when he fished.
Again images of fishing with my father filled my being. I realized my favorite memories of Pop were when we were fishing or hunting; time taken to show me tracks or where a ripple in a stream could lead to dinner on our table. Be it deer, squirrel, or fish, he took time to teach us what to look for. Fishing, hunting or just enjoying the outdoors was a big part of my life growing up.
I did find a few other small items in my fatherís coat over the years. It had a lot of pockets you see. I have left every one of them in the pockets where I had found them. My life now does not take me to cold climates much any more. However whenever they do, I take my fatherís coat. In a strange city, in a rental car or in a hotel room far from home, I just have to look at my fatherís coat. A part of home is always with me. A part of Pop is always with me.
The simple gift of my fatherís coat has been a treasure I will keep for as long as I draw a breath. I have been adding a few things to my fatherís coat over the years. Perhaps someday it will go to my son. Then he can have two generations of memories to discover. SomedayÖ