Tale of a Coat

*During this holiday season, some of the authors of KCET Departures will be taking a hiatus. I will too. While I'm spending some time with family and friends - as I hope you will - I've pulled a favorite piece or two from past years to repost. I've updated them only slightly.I hope you'll enjoy -- again or for the first time -- this winter's tale from November 2011.

I have a new overcoat, although it's not exactly new. I bought it at the Long Beach Assistance League thrift shopin Long Beach in August. I'd been waited for my friend Randy as he poked among the prints and paintings at the back of the store. I found the coat -- dark charcoal gray -- at the end of a rack of men's suits.

My second-hand overcoat isn't vintage, which is why it fits me. It's made of a wool and cashmere blend. ("10% recycled cashmere" according to the label.) The label also announces that the fabric was woven in Italy. A much smaller sewn-in label says the coat was made in China.

My coat seems hardly to have been used. I think I know why, Overcoats like mine aren't in fashion here. Overcoats are from another place, grayer and colder.

I bought my old/new overcoat -- just $20 -- to replace one I'd worn until the satin lining had pulled away from the fabric, until the wool became pitted in places with moth holes.

That coat -- pale gray -- was bought in 1964. My father had to return to Manhattan for his mother's funeral in late autumn that year. He had lived in Lakewood since 1946. Naturally, he didn't own a proper overcoat.

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He went to Bond Clothiers in Lakewood Center (no longer there) and got, I imagine, the least expensive overcoat they had. My father wasn't unusually frugal, but how often do you wear a heavy wool overcoat in Southern California?

My father wore the gray overcoat after returning from his mother's funeral. I have no actual memory of his wearing it, but he must have from time to time.

The overcoat was still hanging in my father's closet when he died in 1982. I took to wearing it a year or two later. To put on my father's overcoat was to be transported. I went East in that coat every time I wore it, until I wore it out.

I needed to buy a new overcoat because I walk (as a form of commuting) at least an hour a day. Early mornings and late afternoons in winter -- dark when I set out, dark when I return home -- can be too cold to find comfort in wearing just a sports coat. Waiting at bus stop at night, the wind picking up, can be even more harsh.

I'll confess, as a lifelong Angeleño, that "too cold" is any temperature less than 55 degrees.

And perhaps I've become more solicitous of myself as I've gotten older. My new overcoat (like nothing else anyone regularly wears here) is now my warmest embrace.



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