I’ve owned this black leather trenchcoat for more than 17 years, but the coat is older than I am. This coat has a story, and this seems as good a time as any to tell it.
Shortly after I got out of college, I had been looking for a trenchcoat like this one. All of the styles in the stores at that time were very boxy in shape — not at all what I wanted. I wanted a coat with a tailored waist and a belt — a timeless, classic, vintage style, and yet I couldn’t find one like that anywhere.
Around the same time, my neighbor was dying of breast cancer. It pains me to write that, and it pains me even more that she’s been gone so long. She lived across the street from the house I grew up in.
My sister and I went to school with her children. One summer, her daughter, my sister and I pretended to be triplets named “April, May and June” — three giggly brunette girls who could nearly all pass for sisters. Her husband is one of my father’s best friends. I don’t think either one of those guys could resist seeing the other’s garage door open or vehicle’s hood propped up without walking over to see what the other one was working on.
My neighbor fought breast cancer and fought it hard. There was a time when we all thought she had beaten it, but it came back and ravaged her. She was alive to dance at her daughter’s wedding, but she was gone before her first grandchild was born.
In the weeks prior to her death, my family visited as often as she was comfortable with. On one particular day when we went over, she was putting piles of loose photographs into photo albums for her son and daughter. I remember laughing with her at a funny photograph of her kids playing in the bathtub together when they were little. She had been busy getting things in order for her children and husband once she was no longer with them. That’s just the kind of person that she was.
Then, she brought out a beautiful black leather trenchcoat and gave it to me. “I know you have been looking for one like this,” she said, and then the tears came. She told me she’d gotten the coat when she was a student and that the coat was older than I was. Like everything she took care of in her life, she also took meticulous care of that coat. I’m guessing it dates to the late 1960s or early 1970s, but you wouldn’t know that to look at it. The leather is soft, supple and gloss black.
I wore her coat that fall, and I’ve worn it every year since. The coat is more than forty years old now and still as beautiful as ever, as I’ve lovingly conditioned the leather every season. Every year when fall rolls around, I take the coat out of the closet and I think of her. She was an amazing woman, mother and friend. She would have been so proud to see how handsome a man her son grew up to be and the wonderful mother that her daughter has become. How she would have loved her beautiful grandchildren. Those of us who knew her will never forget her.
Today, as you pause to reflect on all that you’re thankful for, know that our lives are blessed in so many ways, big and small. Some of us will celebrate with friends and family today, and others will think of those who aren’t here to sit at the table with us. I’m thankful for good health. I’m thankful for my family and extended family, and I’m thankful that I get to see them often. They are a huge part of my life.
I’m thankful for my home and for six years of being self-employed at a job that I love. I’m thankful for flannel sheets to snuggle in on chilly nights and warm cups of hot cocoa sipped with my kids in front of our fireplace. I’m thankful for our dog, whose rough start in life took a turn for the better the day he came home to live with us.
I’m thankful that my 10-year-old vehicle starts every day and still runs well. I’m thankful for our church family, our thoughtful and spontaneous friends, and my children’s excellent schoolteachers. I’m thankful for stocked pantry shelves and plenty to eat. I’m thankful our family has been able to travel this year and see the beauty of our country.
And, I’m thankful that when people leave our lives, they leave us with memories that can never be erased. My neighbor may not have realized it at the time, but she left me something else too — the feeling of a hug every time I slip my arms into her coat.