By Amy McCollom
It’s jacket weather. I own a couple different jackets for different occasions now. When I was a kid, I had only one light jacket. I had a very limited wardrobe, as I think most kids did back in the 1970’s and early 80’s.
My mom always wanted us kids to look nice and respectable, so she usually picked out our clothes and made us wear them whether we liked them or not. But when my brother wanted a popular new “preppy style” jacket like his rich friend was wearing, she bought him and me the jackets. They were Members Only style jackets. He was thrilled, me, not so much.
Remember those trendy jackets, with the stand-up collars and the strap that snapped all around the neck like a band? My brother looked snappy. I looked ridiculous in that jacket, mainly because the collar rubbed the bottoms of my ears because I had a really short neck. Mine was solid burgundy polyester cotton, tight fitting, but did nothing for my body shape. It was probably a boys jacket. I think my brother had a blue one. I didn’t care that it was “in style” or that all the cool kids were wearing them. I didn’t like the style, the look, the feel, or anything about the jacket. I didn’t ask for the jacket, but was expected to wear it anyway.
Plus, the jacket was too nice to do anything in. When I wore it, I had to be careful not to tear it, snag it, stain it, sweat in it, or wrinkle it for fear of the Wrath Of Mom who spent “Good money on that nice jacket.”
I didn’t feel like myself in that jacket. None of my other clothes were “preppy” or whatever this jacket was. My jeans all had faded knees and ragged hems from playing hard, climbing fences, running from mean dogs, and falling from tree branches. I didn’t even know how to act in that jacket. It was like I was putting on a whole different person whom I didn’t understand the first thing about. It just wasn’t me.
I didn’t know anything about “style” then, and maybe it’s much more than a style. Clothes have a personality to them, I think. It was a boring jacket that had no history to it because I couldn’t do anything while wearing it. It was never going to have an interesting history, and that was another reason why I soon despised that jacket. It was holding me back from being my true self.
I couldn’t ride my bike in it, or climb a tree in it, or lie in the grass and watch the clouds go by in it. I couldn’t belly crawl with my friends under the neighbor’s grape vines to snitch grapes on a summer afternoon, or tumble down a tall rolling hill with them, or kick puddles or wade rain drenched ditches. I had to protect that precious jacket, I had to keep it nice.
When we would go down to Dudley to visit my aunt and uncle and cousins, I always felt so awkward wearing that jacket. The first thing I would do is ask to borrow one of their jackets they had hanging on hooks on the wall. They always had a row of plain old zip-up hoodies, good and worn, and there was this one on the end that was just my size. It was a faded red hoodie with knotted strings. It had a small rip in one pocket, a permanent crease where the sleeves had been folded, and was soft against my skin. It always smelled of bleach and the outdoors. I loved that old thing.
When I put the jacket on, I felt like one of them, like one of my cousins, like a part of the clan. I felt like I could ride bikes, or go trekking through the tree patch, or cross the tracks through the briars, ride Lucky, their cow, or climb on the roof and hang out. I felt like playing with a pocket knife, or the game ‘murder in the dark’ with all the kids who came around to hang out, or just walkin around the dusty roads in that dinky town to see if we could find any toads. I felt like I could do anything. I felt alive, and comfortable being alive.
That faded red jacket had many stories. I felt them, and I made some too. Then I left it on the hook at my cousin’s house and went home until next time.
I have my own jacket with a story now that makes me feel powerful, invincible, protected, safe, excitable, curious, and just truly me. Do you have a jacket with a story? I think we all need one. They are almost as good as a superhero cape. Take my word for it, you can almost fly. Wink, wink.